By: Teresa Araque
The year 2020 has been an extraordinary experience in the unpredictable.
“The disruption of COVID-19 has impacted just about every aspect of our lives, both personally and professionally,” said Dr John Meyer, president of Hodges University. “And not just in our region, but worldwide.”
For higher education, the impact has meant changing the delivery of education to entirely online for several months.
“Fortunately for us, that change really has been minimal because we already teach the majority of our classes online, and it’s something we have been doing for 25 years,” said Dr. Meyer. “Our professors know how to engage students in an online environment. “
Having every operational aspect of Hodges University online is the result of implementing an existing plan. “Actually, the scenario we are in now, with all faculty and staff working remotely, and all students online, is part of our emergency plan,” said Dr. Meyer. “That plan was designed for a scenario like a hurricane. In our 30 plus years in the community, this is the first time we’ve had to implement this plan for such an extended period of time. What we’ve found is that overall, it has worked pretty well.” Even with a remote operating plan, the goal is to get faculty, staff, and students back on campus sooner rather than later, and to do so in a safe manner.
“For our healthcare programs, which do require our students to have clinical, hands-on experience, it meant we shifted the online learning to the front of the schedule, leaving the clinical and lab aspects next,” Dr. Meyer continued. “We want to ensure that our students receive the most comprehensive and applicable education and training possible, and in healthcare, they cannot graduate without that hands-on component.”
As the state of Florida moves into Phase II of reopening the state, Hodges University became the first in the state to welcome students back onto campus on June 1 st . “We have started with our Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) students,” said Dr. Meyer. “Our instructors and students wanted to get back on campus, not only for the camaraderie each class develops, but also to get the clinical and hands on training they need.”
The PTA students came back to campus in Fort Myers to the newly renovated Health Sciences Building. This building stands three stories with over 48,000 square feet of classroom and lab space dedicated to teaching the health professions. The PTA students have two spacious labs and a computer classroom. “From just a dream to now, the whole process has been amazing,” said Dr. Cindy Vaccarino, PT, DPT, and PTA Program Director. “We have so much more space for taking what we’ve learned in class and applying it.
Our new labs include the equipment that you would see in a physical therapy practice. We’ve added a kitchen so that we can also teach our students to help patients learn to manage activities of daily living while also recovering and regaining mobility and strength.” The instructors and students attend class in personal protective equipment (PPE), and are screened each day before entering the building.
“As excited as we are to be back, we are taking precautions as well,” said Dr. Vaccarino. “We use hand sanitizer constantly and follow state and federal guidelines. The students are truly committed this profession and their learning. They are more than excited to be back in the classroom and so is the faculty. The students have been resilient during this time and this continues to show as they put on their PPE and start working with each other again.”
The goal is to continue phasing in more on-campus classes over the summer. Dr. Meyer said that the next group of students to come back on campus would likely be the nursing students and Emergency Medical students in July. Additional health sciences lab classes will also begin the process to move back on campus.
“Ultimately, we plan to be fully operational on campus for the start of fall classes,” said Dr. Meyer.