January 13, 2021
By Elsa Wenzel
To deliver our signature brand of liberal arts education both safely and successfully, Rollins has been hard at work repurposing spaces and redefining collaboration.
As if on cue, a pair of waterbirds act out the lesson from environmental studies professor Emily Nodine’s Biosphere course. From a new outdoor classroom on Rollins’ very own white-sand beach just steps from glistening Lake Virginia, Nodine had just introduced new concepts of interactions among species.
“Right as we were talking about different types of competition, an anhinga started bullying a great egret off the dock,” she says. “Students correctly identified the activity as interspecific competition, since it was two different species and the anhinga was interfering with the egret’s access to a resource.”
This serendipitous moment not only exemplifies the importance of a Rollins liberal arts education that’s focused on applied learning, but also stands as proof of the College’s ability to adapt in the face of extraordinary circumstances. With uncommon creativity and resilience, classes moved outdoors, new safety protocols were implemented campus-wide, and digital technologies connected remote and in-person students so that personalized learning and meaningful mentorship remained at the forefront of the Rollins experience.
“Everybody in our community is being remarkable about the mask wearing, the social distancing, the hanging in there through all of the hard times with this,” says Susan Singer, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Rollins is a community where everyone—students, faculty, and staff alike—really care about each other. This is a place where it’s not all about me.”
At Rollins, relationships are continuing to develop. Students are building bridges across cultures despite the inability to travel. Young leaders are emerging through reimagined opportunities for community engagement and experiential learning. Music, theater, and the visual arts are broadening audiences online and exploring the moment’s most relevant issues, while science labs have been outfitted for safe, socially distanced research and student-faculty collaborations.
“I’m excited when I think about all we’ve learned this semester,” says Ashley Kistler, associate dean of academics. “We can use this to make us better teachers moving forward and continue to improve the student experience.”
Under the Sun
With 236 days of sunshine and many more days over 70 degrees than not, America’s most beautiful campus is setting the standard in outdoor learning. In addition to the original outdoor classroom outside Orlando Hall, Rollins has created six new open-air classrooms, where more than 40 classes were taught this past fall in everything from philosophy and ethics to religion and economics.
“Students get to interact in smaller groups as the professor has more space to move around outside in ample space and open air that make it COVID-safe,” says chemistry professor Ellane Park, whose favorite spot is on the sprawling Bush Lawn, where a large tent shades sessions in Intro to Chemistry and Chemistry of the Nano-world.
Students like Mia Brady ’22 found it helpful to be outside for classes like Biosphere and Ecological Design, overlooking Lake Virginia’s myriad wet habitats from both the patio behind the Cornell Fine Arts Museum and the lakeside beach, where they got to observe the environment in action.
“It was so cool to take these classes outside because we were surrounded by the subjects we were talking about,” says Brady, an environmental studies major and coordinator of Rollins’ Sustainability Program. “The material really came alive.”
From sandy stretches of beach to waterfront green spaces to courtyards-turned-classrooms, some of Rollins’ most iconic alfresco spots have become new enclaves of learning and innovation.
Rollins’ extensive classroom enhancements are nothing less than what you’d expect from one of the most innovative colleges in the South, an accolade the College recently received in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of the nation’s best colleges.
Our IT department fortified infrastructure and brought cutting-edge equipment into 75 classrooms, where brand-new media carts house a 65-inch TV, cameras, and sound bars to transmit high-quality live feeds between students and professors. One hundred ultra-high-definition IPEVO cameras enable faculty to bring remote learners onto a shared whiteboard, and breakout discussions and text chats via video conferencing platform WebEx keep the dialogue flowing.
“The professors at Rollins truly make sure that the virtual students feel included,” says psychology major Jessica Gonzalez ’21. “In my virtual class with [sociology professor] Amy Armenia, she utilizes breakout rooms, which have led to some really thought-provoking discussions.”
The Department of Music consulted with infectious disease physicians to develop a strategy to keep practicing and performing—a plan that involved installing virus-trapping air filters and limiting exposure to air returns. Safely separated classes and rehearsals are aided by 44 plexiglass screens, and students have access to state-of-the-art microphones, audio processors, and laptops for at-home recording sessions.
“It doesn’t feel like there’s anything abnormal about the way we’re engaging,” says music major Hannah Stokes ’22, “but that is because of the extra mile the department has gone.”
Global Discovery Here at Home
Just last month, Rollins was once again recognized among the nation’s top 10 institutions for the percentage of students who study abroad. Even with passports tucked away, the far-reaching work of gaining global perspectives and increasing cultural fluency remains very much in progress at Rollins.
“Cultivating yourself as a global citizen is going to look different in the near future, and there are actionable ways in which we can do that,” says Jacqueline Bengston ’22, who interned virtually this summer with Netherlands-based Fenix Humanitarian Aid.
Several Rollins students who months earlier were lining up journeys to East Africa through the Global Livingston Institute (GLI) instead joined its new Virtual Global Fellows program, which connected them with remote development work in Uganda.
Faculty had to pivot too. Those like environmental studies professor Barry Allen long accustomed to driving home issues like sustainability in the field had to rethink ways to engage students through experience. So Allen decided to examine the painful effects of the ecotourism slowdown in Costa Rica, where students would normally travel for his National Parks and Protected Areas course.
The pandemic hasn’t kept Rollins from living up to its distinction as Florida’s Most Engaged Campus, where enduring relationships with community partners provide a foundational force in creating the next generation of global citizens and responsible leaders.
Just ask Alana Goodwin ’22, who worked alongside local nonprofit New Hope for Kids as part of her community engagement class, Difficult Dialogues in Health Communication. Students joined forces with communication professor Sarah Parsloe to plan a digital version of New Hope’s annual Children’s Grief Awareness Day and participated in a digital workshop with Michelee Puppets, making puppets of their own and learning how their creations could serve as communication tools to help grieving children.
“This course has taught me a lot about the importance of connecting with others even if we can’t physically be together,” says Goodwin, a double major in psychology and health communication whose experiences and relationships at Rollins have inspired her to become a professor.
Meanwhile, 40 Tars continued their service work as Bonner Leaders, 12 students were chosen as 2021 U.N. Millennium Fellows to promote positive change, the Democracy Project registered 210 Rollins students to vote, and the College’s signature Immersion experiences shifted from overnight journeys to one-day virtual deep-dives on pressing topics like social justice and food insecurity.
Everyone from The Daily Meal to Peta2 regularly gives Rollins top billing as one of the nation’s best colleges for food. And now we’ve added a few more items to the menu, including mobile ordering, contactless pickup, Instagram-ready meal kits, and late-night deliveries.
“We can compete with any restaurant on Park Avenue,” says Carolina Ossa, Rollins Dining Services’ marketing manager.
At Skillman Dining Hall, plexiglass shields separate tables and serving stations, where staff now handle all food items, and on-site dining requires a healthy reading from the CampusClear app. Tars grab favorites like jackfruit tacos or buffalo chicken salad as prepackaged meals perfect for carryout, with several contactless options for payment, including dining dollars, credit cards, or meal swipes.
“I love the mobile ordering option because it lets us avoid the cluster of a line,” says Jessica Gonzalez ’21. “And the signs Dining Services put up that indicate which tables have been sanitized are really helpful too.”
For Tars who prefer their residence halls for chow time, Rollins’ new culinary creation, Blue & Gold Apron, offers DIY meal kits like seared orange salmon with pecan sauce (move over, HelloFresh!) delivered straight to their door.
On campus, grabbing a Starbucks latte is a smartphone swipe away, mobile ordering enables delivery or pickup from multiple on-campus eateries, and the C-Store has expanded its offerings to include everything from baking ingredients to personal shoppers.
Physical distancing has not prevented faculty and students from forging strong bonds through personal advising and collaborative research.
This past summer, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, our industrious students and inventive faculty teamed up through Rollins’ Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program to conduct groundbreaking original research both virtually and on campus in everything from food deserts to the misappropriation of slavery in popular culture.
“The students all seemed to become more independent as a result of the remote or mixed-mode research,” says physics professor Chris Fuse, who helms the program.
He conferred via WebEx several times a week with Muse Ngoma ’23, who was 7,800 miles away in Lusaka, Zambia. They tracked their progress in identifying galaxies that don’t follow astronomical color norms, such as red spirals and blue ellipticals.
“It worked quite well, and we’re continuing the project into this semester,” says Ngoma, a computer science major who dove back into the project in person this fall.
Committed to all forms of personal expression, Rollins’ arts communities are expanding their digital audiences, representing underserved voices, and tackling provocative themes.
The theater season produced face-to-face and streamed performances, starting with Annie Stripped, a trio of one-act plays performed both in person for a small audience and virtually from spots around campus. The Wolves told the story of a girls suburban soccer team, with the tennis courts standing in for the Annie Russell stage.
“We are not first responders, we are not life savers, but what we are doing is important,” says theatre arts major Madison Spence ’21.
Studio art professor Dana Hargrove swivels a selfie stick and tripod to stream painting techniques during class, circling the in-person students at a distance on the Cornell Fine Arts Center patio. Nearby behind the Cornell Fine Arts Museum—which has implemented free online ticketing and WebEx artist talks—studio art major Andrea Czafit ’21 has crafted tent-like structures spaced six feet apart to represent a sense of togetherness despite the isolation brought on by the pandemic.
Czafit also worked alongside fellow art majors Renee Sang ’21 and Melissa Rodriguez ’21 to install a pop-up art installation that showcased their work aimed at themes of environmental justice, gender stereotypes, and racial discrimination. In lieu of a formal reception, visitors were invited to pop by the exhibition, where they could scan a QR code to send questions and comments to the artists.
Groundwork for Greatness
Without missing a beat, Rollins’ Center for Career & Life Planning has harnessed new possibilities enabled by virtual connections.
This fall has seen an uptick in academic internships and applications for the competitive Career Champions Mentorship Program, with 90 students vying for 50 spots to engage with alumni from AdventHealth to the World Bank. A new open-door Virtual Career Studio offers custom assistance every weekday in everything from resumes to interview tips, and one-on-one advisory appointments remain booked and growing.
“Our students can take advantage of a larger range of opportunities virtually than they ever could before,” says Anne Meehan, interim director of career development.
Of these virtual opportunities, coveted international internships rise to the top. Students like psychology major Regan Iberal ’22 worked as a sustainability intern for a social impact hub out of Shanghai, while Tyler Nagy ’22 applied his double major in mathematics and public policy and political economy to the drone industry for a global manufacturing organization based in Shenzhen, China. Experiential learning continued as travel stopped, showing students in real time the importance of skills they’re learning at Rollins in critical thinking, adaptability, and creative problem-solving.
“I may have been working from home, but I learned a lot about China’s culture,” says Nagy, who aspires to a career in data science. “Now I have a great international internship to add to my resume that will bolster my job prospects in the future.”
Keeping Tars Safe
Rollins’ disciplined, science-based approach to mitigating the impact of COVID-19 includes partnering with Orange County and the AdventHealth medical system. Rollins’ public COVID dashboard leads other academic institutions with its “A” rating from an esteemed group of medical and data experts. Symptomatic incidents at Rollins have remained under 1 percent this fall, with a handful of COVID cases being contained at a given time.
“There’s no way to avoid COVID visiting Rollins, but we don’t want it to spread within our campus community,” says Susan Singer, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “That’s within our control.”
From testing to tracing, here’s how we’re keeping the Rollins community safe.
The Tars Promise lies at the heart of Rollins’ virus containment strategy. Saving lives hinges upon personal responsibility, requiring community members to wear masks, wash hands often, keep six feet of personal space, and limit large gatherings. Honesty and mutual support are crucial to ensuring that people stay at home if they feel ill or may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
Rapid on-campus COVID-19 tests offer results in 30 minutes, with separate sites for asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals. Understanding COVID-19 in Rollins’ population involves following patterns from the CampusClear app, reports to Student Affairs, and samples of wastewater from residence halls. A partnership with Protean Biodiagnostics offers free PCR tests with a 48-hour turnaround.
Central to Rollins’ risk-reduction approach is a morning wellness check on the CampusClear app. The Wellness Center reaches out to students who report feeling ill to determine next steps. Ill students stay in their rooms with meal deliveries, cards, care packages, and frequent check-ins. The newly opened Lakeside Neighborhood offers single bathrooms, providing ample room to comfortably house those who test positive.
Within several hours of a positive test, trained contact tracers reach out to anyone who has been within six feet of the person for more than 15 minutes over the course of a day. Isolation follows until they are cleared as virus-free.