USC Upstate responds to COVID crisis

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Students continue to model Spartan pride and safety protocols, having pledged at the beginning of the semester to do
their part to help protect the campus community.

Life on campus morphed almost overnight as USC Upstate students, faculty and staff learned with the rest of the country that COVID-19 was spreading rapidly in the United States. Spring Break 2020 was interrupted by messages instructing students to stay home, rather than return to campus. Professors scrambled to learn online platforms to ensure that their students could finish the semester’s coursework, while university leadership enrolled in a crash course on how to keep a campus safe during a pandemic.

Preparing for an unusual fall semester, USC Upstate published its Spartan Safe Start Plan and a Campus Reopening and Mitigation Plan, which details preventive measures. The university was an early adopter of face coverings, social distancing and hand hygiene. A COVID-19 Response Team, co-chaired by Mary Bucher, special assistant to the chancellor for Public Health, and Shirleatha Lee, dean of the Mary Black School of Nursing, worked closely with leaders across campus to establish health and safety protocols for classrooms and common areas on campus.

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Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Public Health Mary Bucher continues to guide the university in its response to COVID-19, providing updates as state and national experts issue new data, while managing testing and contact tracing on campus.
“Our challenge was to balance the need for a positive learning environment with the realities we all faced, and continue to face, during this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Interim Chancellor Derham Cole. The COVID-19 Response Team uses the latest data available to advise departments across campus about how best to minimize spread of the virus.”One of the best ways to mitigate spread, of course, is to limit the number of students in classrooms at any one time. To help facilitate communication between professors and students, both those on site and those learning from home, the university installed cameras in all classrooms. The cameras enable faculty to engage with students in real time, providing interaction between professors and students and mimicking as closely as possible the normal experience of teaching and learning.

“One of the biggest challenges for me is not having non-verbal feedback,” says Emily Kofoed, assistant professor of Communications Studies. “I actually didn’t realize myself how paralyzing it could be to not have a room of people whose reactions I could immediately read. So, I’ve had to adapt to finding new ways to get people to share how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking.”

Kofoed admits that as a rhetorician, she has had a bit of an advantage in meeting the challenges of online teaching, but stresses that techniques she has found helpful are not difficult to achieve.

“There are several ways you can go about making the online environment more engaging,” she says. “Part of it lies in making sure there are stakes attached to what you’re doing, whether there’s a quiz related to the lesson, or an assignment that requires feedback, or asking students to pair up, all of which can make students feel more connected to the work. I don’t believe, for instance, that people can always watch one video and absorb and understand the content. It’s a process. I like synchronous classes because of the opportunity for students to learn from one another through their interactions.”

Despite difficulties around gathering, faculty and students continue to participate in service learning, which has provided another way to remain engaged with others. Seeking to serve the Upstate community during the pandemic, senior nursing instructor Latasha Gooden, with the support of the Mary Black School of Nursing, partnered with the Charles Lea Center and Palladium Hospice & Palliative Care to initiate the COVID-19 Virtual Interaction Outreach program. Since May, the program has provided nursing students and faculty volunteers with opportunities to connect virtually with individuals who reside in a residential care facility, extending to them much-needed comfort, emotional support, and encouragement. Additionally, Upstate nursing volunteers could be spotted during the fall delivering food for Cherokee County Meals on Wheels.

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New cameras allow professors like Emily Kofoed to connect with both students in the classroom and those learning from home.
Students in Ginny Webb’s Microbiology class (BIOL 330) aim to spread awareness of various infectious diseases and methods of disease control. They regularly partner with Spartanburg County’s Oakland Elementary School where biology students teach hands-on lessons to kindergarteners about disease transmission and hand washing.“This project is a wonderful opportunity for our students to serve the community while reinforcing infectious disease content learned in class,” says Webb, associate professor. “Students take ownership of their projects and become invested in making a difference."

Cole commends the university community for stepping up to the challenges of the past year. “The pandemic has required a sustained commitment to ensuring that our faculty, staff and students experience the best this university has to offer—in education and as an employer,” he says. “I am proud of what we have accomplished together.”

David Church ’92 Leads SCCHE

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A lifelong resident of the Upstate and a USC Upstate alum, David Church was recently named chairman of the Spartanburg County Commission for Higher Education (SCCHE). Church is the vice president of Oncology and Support Services for the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System (SRHS), and was unanimously chosen by his fellow commissioners.

Church has held numerous executive roles with SRHS. Earlier this year, he began leading Spartanburg Regional’s COVID-19 Task Force Steering Team, which continues to direct the system’s response to the pandemic. When SRHS needed space for one of the area’s first drive-through testing sites, Church reached out to USC Upstate.

“Our connection with USC Upstate is long and deep,” said Church. “We share a commitment to serve the communities of the Upstate, and value the respective roles each plays in contributing to the region’s high quality of life. That relationship may be more important now than ever.”

“David is one of our outstanding alums who has proven himself to be a dedicated leader in the medical field and the community,” said USC Upstate Interim Chancellor Derham Cole. “We are very excited to continue our work with the commission with David at the helm.”

Church earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Marketing from USC Upstate in 1992 and a Doctoral of Healthcare Administration degree from the Medical University of South Carolina.