F&M’s Virtual Care Community: faculty, professional staff commit to checking-in on students in wake of COVID-19

By Susan Knoll || Contributing Writer and Care Coordinator at Franklin & Marshall College

As the reality of the COVID-19 crisis was starting to crystallize, my colleague Nakia Perry (Orientation Coordinator and Asst. Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life) and I received an intriguing proposal from Margaret Hazlett (VP of Student Affairs): could we ensure that every student has at least one professional staff member who is checking in on them over the next several weeks? The concern was that, as students went off to their own corners of the world, we would lose track of them and some would inevitably “fall through the cracks.” As much as possible, the College wanted to keep that from happening.

Many people might hear that and think: “Someone to check in with 2,400 students? You’re crazy.” Well, call us crazy, because Nakia and I didn’t flinch. We know the level of care and concern shown to students by all members of the community during normal times, from custodians to the senior staff, from professors to Department heads. Over time, we’ve repeatedly seen the myriad ways in which all corners of the campus come together to help students in need. So, with this latest proposal, we knew it could be accomplished.

Within a week, we sent an email to almost all professional staff with a simple request: Would you agree to be part of our Virtual Care Community and to take on a cohort of about 20 students? The response was immediate. Staff from every branch of our campus wanted to participate: ITS, Department Coordinators, Custodial Staff, DPS, Library Services, Institutional Research, Admissions, Alumni Services, the Alice Drum Women’s Center, the Center for Opinion Research, Advancement, and then some—there are too many to list. Within two weeks, we had every student personally assigned to a staff member. 

Understandably, there were some who wanted to help but who doubted their ability to do so. They were worried that they did not have the right skillset. They didn’t have a counseling or social work degree, so how effective would they be? But the truth is that sometimes, most times even, it’s enough to let a student know that you are simply there and willing to listen.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my years as an instructor for Youth Mental Health First Aid is that protective factors are as much of an indicator of a young person’s ability to succeed as risk factors, perhaps even more so. And the protective factor that has always stood out to me more than the others, the one that guides my work as a social worker, is the importance of having an adult in your life who cares about you. 

This kind of care isn’t difficult to provide, and it’s within everyone’s power, no matter your qualifications. Setting up the Virtual Care Community aligned well with two things I knew to be true: showing a little care goes a long way, and the staff at F&M are up to the task. 

Susan Knoll is F&M’s Care Coordinator. Her email is sknoll@fandm.edu.

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