Arcadia’s Pandemic Response

By Caitlin T. Burns | May 31, 2021

Arcadia University took a values-based, community-focused, strategic approach in responding to the disruptions that have been brought by COVID-19 since early 2020. Each initiative enacted and measure taken placed students and those most vulnerable in our community at the center, with University units and leadership setting an example of steady, unwavering strength and vision in the face of challenges. Throughout these initiatives, the University has prioritized keeping students and families informed, supported, engaged, healthy, and prepared for academic success. These values and priorities continue to guide Arcadia’s ongoing work.

Early Action Mobilizes a Community

In January, well before the first documented cases of COVID-19 were reported in the U.S., Arcadia took immediate steps to protect the University community. As the situation progressed, the University made the swift decision to cancel the South Korea Preview and then postpone travel for students scheduled to study on the 2020 Preview and Global Field Study courses

As a global community, the mood was of sadness and grief as staff and faculty overseas encountered COVID-19 in lockdown before their U.S. colleagues. The College of Global Studies (TCGS) swiftly mobilized a mass-scale return home of hundreds of students studying abroad as international locations went into lockdown. Arcadia staff in-country jumped into action, working diligently with partner institutions to move the remainder of the international courses, cultural exchange, and internships online. 

Coordinating Crisis Response

As spring break 2020 approached, significant shifts occurred hourly and prompted the University to advance to the next response level. Arcadia was one of the first institutions in the region to make the necessary decision that all academic courses, experiences, and business operations would move online for the rest of the spring 2020 semester. This swift action provided our community the time to pivot and support our faculty as they created quality learning experiences to finish the spring semester courses. 

While academic continuity remained a key priority, Arcadia took steps to care for our entire community’s well-being and minimize possible exposure to the virus. A centralized COVID-19 leadership team and emergency personnel continued to meet daily, monitor the situation locally and globally, and update the University community regularly. 

Pivoting to Become All-Modes Ready 

Personal-sized Intaglio press mailed by Manzella to students.

Arcadia remained committed to student and employee safety, from academic preparedness to community engagement. With the launch of the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring in June, the University solidified its dedication to an All-Modes Ready approach for the fall semester by coordinating with countless faculty, teaching staff, and Digital Learning Services (DLS) to redesign hundreds of courses so that they could be taught in-person or remotely, such as the creation of individualized art tools by the Art and Design Department like the personal presses crafted and mailed by Jennifer Manzella (shown right), adjunct professor of Visual and Fine Arts.  Over the summer and through the fall semester, faculty and teaching staff continued their redesign efforts as DLS endeavored to expand the University’s online tools so that students could engage with faculty, staff, and their peers.

Some graduate programs were able to return to campus over the summer to engage in redesigned hands-on experiences. Physician assistant and physical therapy students returned to campus in July and continued through the fall semester for on-campus “immersions” to hone their hands-on skills in-person with faculty. Students worked in pairs as part of pods of 10 students with the same instructor each week, following public health guidelines. The campus experience met program goals so that the students graduate prepared for clinical practice in a timely manner. Additionally, forensic science students returned to campus to safely complete necessary lab requirements to stay on-track for graduation. 

While study abroad was forced to move online in the spring and summer of 2020, TCGS was able to send students abroad in the fall to England through programs with the London Center, London School of Economics, Oxford University, and Manchester University; and to Scotland with programs at Edinburgh University, St. Andrews University, and Stirling University. In addition to its international programs, TCGS also launched Arcadia Abroad Online, which offered remote learning and internship opportunities with virtual cultural exchange events through the Intern Philly and Virtual Global Program.

As we head into the spring 2021 semester, the University has approved supplemental programming and some all-modes courses, which will be taught both in-person and online, to support the campus’s phased reopening. 

Engaging Outside the Classroom

The Department of Athletics and Recreation saw seasons cut short, except for eSports, which has been competing remotely. While all fall sports were postponed or canceled, the Middle Atlantic Conference announced tentative plans for winter sports in a manner that prioritized the health and well-being of student-athletes, coaches, campuses, and local communities.

Student Government Organization (SGO) Zoom meeting during the fall 2020 semester.

The Office of Sponsored Research formed a task force and worked proactively with faculty members to return to campus safely to re-engage in their research programs.

The Office of Student Affairs continued to engage students through a variety of programs, including the launch of the UKnighted Communities of Interest. Student Government Organization (SGO) moved online, working with clubs to ensure students were represented during informational and learning discussions. Throughout the semester, SGO worked with administrators to develop educational programs that helped students understand the University’s measures during the pandemic. Additionally, SGO approved three new clubs to encourage student engagement outside the virtual classroom.

As the pandemic continued, the Arcadia community rallied to support first responders, hospitals, shelters, and other organizations by donating surplus materials (shown right), handmade masks, and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) throughout the region. Additionally, TCGS provided housing at its Princess Elizabeth House in London to medical students from Whittington Hospital when they were pulled to duty early to help combat the virus.

Facilities, Maintenance, and Housekeeping team member packing PPE kits.

As the community worked to find a new normal, the Knights for Nutrition Food Pantry recognized the need to stay open during this turbulent time. Working with Student Affairs and Metz Dining Services, the committee ensured that the pantry was able to support the students who remained on campus and those in the surrounding community with fresh foods, hygiene supplies, and nonperishable items. Also, the CARES Act Grant review team awarded CARES funding to more than 700 students and families.

Health, Safety, and Support

Since the pandemic brought its disruption in spring 2020, the University kept the community informed and connected through frequent messaging and web presence. Friday Forums helped supplement faculty and staff collaboration, while adapted events like Grad-AWAY-tion and the Living Our Values Experience (LOVE) Pilot Teach-Ins and Act-Ups fostered a virtual community. 

Student Health Services (SHS) helped keep students at the center of care, while the University formed a COVID task force to lead decisions for campus facilities, which was led by Public Health experts on campus. Over the summer 2020, SHS worked with departments and offices to develop the Health and Safety Plan, which continues to be updated as information becomes available and situations evolve. 

As the University eyed a partial reopening of campus for the spring 2021 semester, it knew that it would only be possible with collaboration and cooperation. Educating the University community of students, faculty, staff, families, trustees, and friends continued to be a central component of Arcadia’s planning and processes. 

The COVID Care Team, along with Digital Learning Services, Human Resources, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, and other units produced Canvas courses for students and employees, respectively, that detailed expectations and guidelines for Arcadia’s health and safety for the spring 2021 semester. The course included videos from Provost Rutenbeck, Dean of Students Andrew Goretsky, and Arcadia’s public health experts, as well as student-produced videos on the importance of mitigation efforts. The course concluded with a Community Compact that students and employees signed, which outlined the expectations and guidelines that all Arcadia community members were to follow, which were grounded in helping to protect themselves and others.  

With an ongoing coordinated web presence, the Covid-19 pages assembled information about the various departments, events, and housing, as well as the overall status of campus into the Covid-19 webpages. With the Covid-19 Dashboard on the Arcadia website, the community could track testing and results through daily updates.

Student Health Services Director Theresa Smith and Assistant Savannah Bullinger at the vaccine clinic in April.

With the partial reopening of spring 2021, which brought approximately 1,000 students back to campus, SHS has continued to drive student testing procedures. Surveillance testing continued through the spring, as students approved as commuters or residents were tested once a week. Faculty and staff who were approved to return to campus also were included in regular testing.

In April, more than 500 Arcadia University community members took advantage of Rite Aid pharmacists visiting campus to administer the first of two Pfizer COVID vaccine shots. SHS helped transform the Great Room—which also serves as the surveillance testing area—into a vaccine clinic for the day. Over the course of eight hours, pharmacists administered the first dose to 505 faculty and staff members, and their families. After injection, Nurse Practitioners from SHS and Physician Assistant (PA) faculty observed patients for 15 minutes for any signs of reactions.

Community members returned to the Great Room on April 29 to receive their second dose, and in May, Rite Aid returned to administer a second round of vaccines to community members who have not received it elsewhere. These efforts helped to vaccinate hundreds of members of the Arcadia community, and the vaccines were available to students, faculty, staff, and families. 

After such a trying and challenging academic year for all involved, Arcadia was committed to providing members of the Class of 2021 and their families with a memorable Commencement experience. Determined to celebrate safely and in person, the University held six ceremonies over two days for the more than 900 graduates. Family and friends cheered on graduates, who sat in sections—or pods—of six that were socially distanced on Haber Green. 

At the Friday ceremonies, President Ajay Nair addressed graduates, stepping to the podium as Lil Baby’s “Bigger Picture” played, while Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeff Rutenbeck addressed graduates at the Thursday ceremonies, which awarded master’s and doctoral degrees to the members of the Class of 2021. 

Due to the University’s mitigation and vaccination efforts, Arcadia plunged into the summer with plans of a fall semester of a predominantly in-person living, learning, and working educational experience on campus. Though Arcadia will remain diligent in its health and safety efforts and continue its community collaboration on testing and mitigation, especially in terms of variants that may arise, the University is committed to keeping students at the center of its efforts and in protecting the health and safety of all its members, including the most vulnerable among us.  

For more information about Arcadia’s efforts during the pandemic, visit