Campus & Community

Simmons University Responds to COVID-19

It has been almost 80 days since Simmons began preparing and implementing a plan to move academic and social life online for thousands of students. Moving a university from a real campus to a virtual one isn’t easy, but Simmons’ decade-plus of experience in online graduate education helped the University and its students ease the transition.

“To successfully move from teaching in a traditional classroom setting to entirely online in a matter of weeks is a testament to the talent, professionalism, and commitment of the Simmons faculty,” said Deputy Provost Catherine Paden. “It also speaks to the strength of educational infrastructure and support that Simmons has developed over the years.”

But the life of a university is more than academics — education and formation may start in the classroom, but they continue in student activities, dorms, and the everyday social interactions that come from living in community with others. Those aspects of university life are harder to achieve in a Zoom meeting, but Simmons students and staff have managed to hold more than 50 online student and community life events since going virtual in mid-March.

“Anyone who has spent time on the Simmons campus knows that one of our strengths as a university is the close-knit community that forms among students, faculty, and staff,” said Lynette Cook-Francis, Senior Vice President for Student Engagement and Enrollment Management. "This is a time of unprecedented stress for everyone, and we are finding that students need Simmons support services more than ever. Students continue to take full advantage of wellness and counseling support. Athletic coaches continue to train their teams from afar and support their athletes.”

The transition to an online environment took about two weeks — from President Helen Drinan's announcement on March 13, to the first online classes after an extended spring break. During that time, Simmons also closed its residential campus, assisted undergraduate residential students in moving out of their dorm rooms, canceled the remainder of the spring athletics season, and transitioned staff and administration to remote work, all in keeping with local, state, and federal public health rules and guidelines — and making the last two weeks of March likely one of the most changeful in Simmons’ history.

Thank you for staying flexible and strong, and optimistic about our future. I’m proud of our community and hope to see everyone in person as soon as it is possible to do.
- President Helen Drinan

In the interest of fairness and equity, Simmons announced on April 3 that students would receive refunds or credits for unused room and board for the current semester. Graduating seniors will receive refund checks for the unused portion of their room and board, while continuing students will receive a credit on their university account, with the option of requesting a refund.

At the same time, Simmons established the Support Our Students (SOS) Fund, which provides students in need with direct financial support. Through the donations of generous alumnae/i, faculty, staff, and other community members, the SOS Fund has already raised more than $116,000 and will be used to help students pay for items such as alternative housing and transportation, mental health and medical needs, lost wages due to social distancing, as well as groceries and personal items.

While Simmons and universities around the globe work to continue to provide education, service, and support to students during the current public health crisis, the work of recruiting future Simmons Sharks goes on. At Simmons, that has meant shifting undergraduate student recruitment events from on-campus to online, with keystone events like accepted students day, moving to live events conducted online via Zoom.

“I have been so impressed with Simmons’ ability to quickly move our undergraduate academic programs online to ensure our students get the experience and outcomes they expect from a Simmons education,” said Director of Undergraduate Admission Kate Innes. “We are also continuing to connect virtually with our future Sharks, and it’s important they know that the Simmons community can’t wait to be back on our Boston campus as soon as we can be, and there’s a place for them here to dive into their passions and fulfill their goals for the future.”

Simmons is also working diligently to honor the undergraduate Class of 2020 graduates. On April 3, President Drinan announced that commencement would not be held as scheduled at the Blue Hill Bank Pavilion in Boston on May 15 — since then, Simmons has announced virtual celebration that will incorporate several Senior Week traditions, virtual commencement for all eligible undergraduates, and has invited the undergraduate Class of 2020 to walk across the stage at the Pavilion in May 2021.

For campus-based graduate students, the traditional Doctoral Hooding will be conducted as a Virtual Hooding and Commencement. Simmons will also hold two Graduate Virtual Commencement Ceremonies on May 15, as had been scheduled for the Pavilion. The sheer size of the graduate student group has led Simmons to conclude that the University cannot extend them an invitation to the 2021 Commencement. Deans and Program Directors will be considering how to invite graduate students back to campus with their cohorts in the future.

While we don’t know what the world will look like 80 days from now, we do know that Simmons will continue to follow the guidance of public health officials, and will put the health and safety of that community above all else.

As President Drinan wrote in her most recent letter to students, families, faculty, and staff: “Thank you for staying flexible and strong, and optimistic about our future. I’m proud of our community and hope to see everyone in person as soon as it is possible to do.”

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