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Hurricanes Rising Together

Resiliency. Determination. Grit. Creativity. Innovation.

These are all things the GSW family displayed when life as everyone knew it flipped upside down in the early months of 2020. Students forced to move home, leaving their friends behind and thrust into an all-online learning environment practically overnight. Student-athletes’ and coaches’ seasons ending abruptly, some seniors never to play their beloved sport again. Graduation, concerts, senior shows, and sporting events cancelled. Faculty compelled to suddenly migrate all academic courses online and pivot to remote learning. Staff tasked with navigating how to deliver student services and communicate with each other in a virtual environment. Alumni-owned small businesses forced to close, some temporarily and some to never open their doors again.

While these things proved challenging, the Hurricane community is a force to be reckoned with. Everyone immediately pulled together for a common purpose, and the GSW spirit extended beyond what we’ve ever seen before. A worldwide pandemic revealed our strengths, affirmed our core values, unveiled new talents, fostered growth, and united each and every one of us.

On Thursday, March 12, 2020, Georgia Southwestern announced the suspension of face-to-face classes for two weeks. On Friday, March 13, 2020, the Peach Belt Conference cancelled the remainder of the 2019-2020 Season. On Monday, March 16, 2020, the University System of Georgia (USG) released that all 26 institutions, including GSW, would move to remote learning for the remainder of the semester, which would later include summer classes as well. On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, the cancellation of Spring 2020 Graduation was communicated. The same day, all residential students were notified of the plan to move out of the residence halls. And then on April 3, 2020, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued the statewide shelter in place executive order.

As you can see and will recall, things moved swiftly. But the GSW family sprang into action.

Moving all classes to the online format (or other alternative delivery methods) was a transition made easier by GSW’s decades of success as an online education leader. The talented faculty and staff from the College of Business and Computing and the Office of Information and Instructional Technology helped rapidly shift everyone to remote instruction and a successful teleworking environment.

Mary Cooper with handmade maskWith PPE (personal protective equipment) shortages across the nation, the GSW community stepped up and put their personal talents and newfound idle hands to work. Longtime GSW employee Mary Cooper began sewing masks out of old GSW t-shirts, first for high-risk family members and co-workers, then for local healthcare workers. While still continuing to work full-time and take care of her elderly aunt, Mary has managed to sew over 300 masks and counting.

With spring sports cancelled, coaches and a few student-athletes assisted Americus-based equipment manufacturer TSG Resolute in assembling face shields. The local company shifted their focus back in March to help address the nationwide shortage of protective gear and found themselves in great need after a tweet from Gov. Kemp boosted sales. The Athletics staff worked day and night, in four-hour shifts to maintain social distancing, turning out roughly 10,000 face shields per day and have successfully assembled more than 655,000 in 2020.

woman assembling face shieldsAlso helping to address the PPE shortage was GSW’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences and the Department of Public Safety. The USG, in partnership with Governor Kemp and GEMA, requested the state’s public universities to redirect any spare PPE and other critical medical supplies to healthcare workers fighting COVID-19. The two departments gladly coordinated efforts to inventory and collect their supplies, which are typically used for research, campus maintenance, nursing programs and on-campus health clinics, and distributed them to Phoebe Sumter Medical Center and Middle Flint Behavioral Healthcare. Between the two entities, GSW was able to donate 4,000 gloves, 900 surgical face masks, 600 shoe covers, 600 hair covers, 300 polyethylene gowns, 75 surgical gowns and 75 N95 masks.

Ramona Mulleins Foreman in uniformWhether on the battlefield or in a New Jersey hospital, Lieutenant Colonel Ramona Muellins-Foreman, D.N.P., always answers the call to serve on the frontlines. Ramona, assistant nursing professor at GSW, was one of 85 medical professionals in the U.S. Army’s Urban Augmentation Medical Task Forces to assist clinical staff at University Hospital in Newark, N.J. back in April to help combat their staff shortage.

With healthcare workers and essential personnel working around the clock in the ongoing fight against the coronavirus, members of the GSW community saw a unique opportunity to support local small businesses while also fueling the hard-working individuals within our community. Numerous departments and student organizations ordered food from local restaurants such as Pat’s Place, Roman Oven Pizzeria and Café Campesino which was delivered to hospital staff, postal workers, first responders, and those still working on GSW’s campus.

Another need recognized was that of international students unable to leave campus and still living in the residence halls. GSW’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry was looking forward to a Spring Break mission trip which was cancelled, but found another way to minister through gift bags, care packages, and weekly to-go meals for those who found themselves thousands of miles away from home during such a scary time.

And then are our alumni – our amazing, resourceful, and compassionate alumni. They came up with creative and inspiring ways to keep their small businesses afloat, serve their communities’ immediate needs, and use their hard-earned GSW education to fight COVID-19 head on. Stories began to roll in of all the remarkable things they were doing. We wanted to recognize these remarkable individuals – and so, Amazing Canes was born. This was a series on social media highlighting the incredible acts of our Hurricane alumni in their line of work or in their personal time. Find the full stories of these outstanding alumni on GSW’s Facebook page using #AmazingCanes.

While we may not look back on 2020 with fondness, there was plenty to boast about. GSW recorded the highest enrollment in school history with 3,162 students. We successfully completed AACSB reaccreditation in the College of Business and Computing and CCNE reaccreditation in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. GSW’s Men’s Golf Coach Darcy Donaldson was named National Coach of the Year and led the golf team to a #1 ranking within the Peach Belt Conference. We held our first-ever virtual commencement ceremony for Spring and Summer graduates, and were able to invite them back to join Fall graduates as we celebrated the culmination of their college journey with four in-person ceremonies in December to proudly finish out the year. The second annual Day of Giving raised $33,000 for the University. Multiple renovation and construction projects are underway. But most importantly, we worked together to overcome many obstacles and predictions of failure, strengthen our resolve, and deepen our belief in the value of our century-old institution.

Despite a worldwide pandemic that required unprecedented decisions and actions, the GSW community rose to the occasion together with resiliency, adaptability and determination. Georgia Southwestern stayed true to its mission of providing an excellent educational and co-curricular experience for our deserving students. No matter how long COVID-19 has the world in its grip, GSW will persevere and continue to provide students with the opportunity to earn their degree, realize their potential, and be positive contributors to society.

Story by Chelsea Collins. This is an excerpt from the 2020 Aeolian magazine.