Photo above: Joel Gugino, a member of the technical service staff at Penn State York, was one of 34 staff and faculty volunteers who contacted every Penn State York student either by call or email. The Student Wellness Call Project’s goal was to connect with students and make sure they had the things needed to be successful during remote learning brought on by the spread of COVID-19. Image: Missy Gugino
Working from kitchen counters, dining room tables, home offices and living rooms, more than 30 Penn State York staff and faculty have worked together to check in with each campus student individually to make sure every student has the resources and support they need to thrive during the transition to remote learning.
Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Penn State transitioned to remote learning on March 16. The Student Wellness Program, as it is now dubbed, saw Penn State York staff and faculty touching base with each of the campus’ more than 700 students now at home around Pennsylvania, the United States and the world.
The Nittany Lion statue on campus behind a blossoming cherry tree.
The Student Wellness Project was the idea of Ryan Service, director of enrollment services, based on discussions he had with Director of Student Affairs Scott Simonds. The two were exploring the idea of contacting new students during the first three weeks of class each semester, when Service realized that the same idea could be applied to checking in on students to see how they were adjusting to remote learning during this period of social distancing.
More than anything else, Service and Simonds wanted every student to know there were Penn State staff and faculty ready to support them.
“Letting our students know we care about them and are here to help is important,” said Service.
Service and Simonds got together with Andrew Caldwell, director of Advising and Career Development, and the trio made things happen.
Caldwell gathered student information for a spreadsheet over a weekend, and his project partners contacted faculty and staff asking for volunteers. Service and Simonds also put together a document with suggested resources and other information that callers could use to easily answer questions. In a true display of Penn State’s “We Are” spirit and commitment to its students, 34 volunteers from across campus quickly responded to the call.
“The response of the staff and faculty demonstrates that their concern for our students extends far beyond classroom walls.” --Penn State York Chancellor David Christiansen
“The response of the staff and faculty demonstrates that their concern for our students extends far beyond classroom walls,” said David Christiansen, chancellor of Penn State York. “Because social distancing requirements prevent students from coming to campus, members of our faculty and staff reached out individually to each Penn State York student to check on their personal well-being. This initiative underscores the caring community that we have at Penn State York.”
Ryan Service, director of enrollment services at Penn State York, meets with his team via Zoom to plan for the upcoming virtual events being offered from Accepted Student Programs and Spring Open House to financial aid sessions and special topics.
Thanks to this outreach, students without computers or internet service received help through Penn State Information Technology Services, while other students were connected with the Nittany Success Center for tutoring, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for support, and were directed to other campus resources and FAQs.
Callers also shared information about the variety of events and activities happening virtually, from Student Government Association (SGA) and THON meetings to events and activities offered through Student Affairs.
“This initiative was a simple, but meaningful way to reclaim that which is in our control by reminding our students they are not in this alone,” said Caldwell. “We remain invested in their success.”
“The student wellness check was just another opportunity our staff and faculty took to go above and beyond for their students. In these heavy times of uncertainty, it was an immense comfort to be reminded we’re not alone." --Penn State York SGA President Kara James
Several of the volunteers who assisted with the effort said they just wanted to serve as a friendly voice and offer support to let students know that people care about them.
“The students have appreciated the calls and we’ve been able to deploy appropriate resources to students we've identified with needs,” said Simonds. “Contacts were made with both domestic and international students.”
A sidewalk on campus lined by blossoming trees in spring.
For Kara James, a Penn State York student and SGA president, these wellness calls were so appreciated she shared her thoughts about them during the SGA’s most recent virtual meeting via Zoom – and found that many other students echoed her thoughts.
“I’ve always been amazed by the lengths Penn State York employees will go to ensure the wellbeing of me and my peers,” she said. “The student wellness check was just another opportunity our staff and faculty took to go above and beyond for their students. In these heavy times of uncertainty, it was an immense comfort to be reminded we’re not alone. I am eternally grateful to have such incredible faculty and staff in my corner who genuinely want the best for each student at the Penn State York campus.”
Many callers have continued to stay in touch with “their students” by phone and email to keep connected during these unprecedented times.
“Overall, the students I’ve spoken with have expressed genuine appreciation while also reporting things are going well considering the circumstances,” Caldwell said. “The calls my staff and I have made, enabled us to quickly identify a few students who needed additional support. As a result, we’ve been able to proactively connect them with resources available at the University and in the community.”
All three organizers of the project are quick to note that it would not have been possible without so many volunteers. They said they were moved by both the number of volunteers and also by the range representing both faculty and staff in a variety of positions across campus.
“So much of what is happening in the world right now is completely out of our control,” said Caldwell. “This initiative was a simple, but meaningful way to reclaim that which is within our control by reminding our students that they are not in this alone. We remain invested in their success.”