Coming Together When Feeling Apart

by Jack Barger ’01
illustrations by Cody Watson ’20


Part of what makes UF and its collective body of faculty, staff, students, and alumni so prepared for both obstacles and successes is our ability to respond to each other’s needs, as well as that of our surrounding community.

The advent of the Coronavirus COVID-19 epidemic pulled each one of us away from our campus in many different ways, but it also brought us together. It became even more clear than ever that where and when there is a need at and around UF, there are people who are there to meet it with exceptional results.


Like every other college across the country, UF was forced to move to remote learning, or virtual classrooms, to continue educating Oiler students. But, if there was a blessing to be found in this particular challenge, it was that it shone a light on the level at which UF faculty are willing to commit to each other and the students who make up their classes.

When Amy Schlessman, D.H.Sc., D.P.T. Assistant Professor in Physical Therapy and a current mentor for the first-year Teaching Partners Program at UF, saw the need to assist faculty with everything that comes with moving courses online, she immediately sought to fill it by initiating what she called “We are All in this Together Wednesday,” during which she not only hosted both day and evening virtual office hours for students so that they could ask questions about the coursework and find solace and support, she did the same for first-year faculty and any other folks who needed the time. It wasn’t just instruction that she and a handful of other faculty provided; it was the encouragement and support for the human spirit, from the formidable hurdles down to the small. Schlessman mentioned that providing simple reminders, for instance, such as coaxing instructors and students to have their laptop power cord handy at all times in the event of a battery dying during an online meeting, was often just the helpful advice someone needed.

Professor of English and Lead College Credit Plus Faculty Liaison, Nicole Diederich, Ph.D., echoed the notion that UF is made up of folks who rally together when tested by the need for new approaches. “What helped was relying on colleagues for help and support,” she said. “My colleagues in the English Department, my colleagues in ITS and ATS, my colleagues throughout the University—all of them offered tutorials, suggestions, resources, good humor, grace, and patience as we worked on the transition together.”

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The switch to remote learning was obviously a potential challenge for students as well. They were going to need to receive the same quality instruction that they had gotten before the change, but from back at their homes instead of on campus. With classes and labs temporarily online, Justin Rheubert, UF Instructor of Teaching in Biology said, it was certainly possible for students to entertain the idea that classes might be easier or somehow “less than.” But Rheubert and other faculty made it clear that the learning that students would be a part of at UF, virtual or otherwise, would largely depend on them working hard to find their own success. “They were expected to get up and do the work with the same schedule. You can’t slack off in biology or anywhere else in college,” Rheubert said. And, though that would inevitably cause some additional stress, it quickly became apparent that Rheubert and others would take on a bit of additional weight in the early stages so there would be less for others down the road, particularly students. “Think about it,” Rheubert continued. “I had one class to take care of; students have, sometimes, upwards of seven classes. We needed to do all we could to alleviate that anxiety for them.” He worked hard to mimic as closely as possible the lab experience that students got physically, from having them visit a website to look at the virtual microscopic anatomy of the digestive system as if they’re looking at a slide under an actual microscope, to, when focusing on exercise physiology, measuring things like their heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure after physical activity at home, before recording and studying the data. 

Students in Associate Professor of Education Dr. Nicole Williams’ classes learned certain skills to use both for their classes and for their future careers. “As a teacher educator, “she said, “it is not only important for me to teach my students online but also model best practices in how to teach online. Many of my students, especially my graduate students, were in P-12 classrooms that needed to transition online.  The knowledge and skills I teach them via Canvas, Zoom, Google, etc. are immediately applicable and necessary for them to teach their P-12 students.”


There were, of course, additional urgencies that reared their heads, those that occurred off campus, but that could be attended to, as it turned out, by the University. When Director of ESH Programs, Kevin Smith, started getting calls from institutions in need of PPE Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), he and some others, including UF President, Katherine Fell, decided that UF would donate some of what it had to three area hospitals. “All of our college areas stepped up to volunteer,” Smith said. “College of Sciences, College of Health Professions, Pharmacy, Biology, Chemistry, Criminal Justice, and Findlay All Hazards. We all knew that this stuff needed to get to the frontlines, to the doctors, nurses, and first responders who might have needed them before we would. It was amazing.”

UF’s College of Pharmacy did their part to step up and give needed assistance also. They began making hand sanitizer in their labs for various local health care systems, hospitals, pharmacies, and others. Several faculty members contributed to the collaborative effort of collecting materials, preparing ingredients, and compounding the mixture to the required specifications. Tonya A. Dauterman, Pharm.D., Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Associate Dean of External Affairs and Advocacy, and Chair of Experiential Education, said that they used the guidelines set by Governor Mike DeWine regarding social distancing and followed the FDA and World Health Organization parameters to maximize the highest quality product made in a non-industry setting. “We learned there was a need in the community and wanted to provide support any way we could,” Dauterman said.

Clearly, what will remain the norm for UF is the willingness and desire of its faculty and staff to model the determination it takes to get through tough challenges, whether academic or otherwise, to show students that what they do at any moment will help them to discover hidden abilities and strengths for the future. At UF, the potential for meaningful lives and productive careers is still being crafted, and that will never change. It’s yet another example of the continuous coming together of UF to create not only positivity, but kinship.