As TU’s nursing and biology departments adjust to online classes, faculty have worked to donate unused lab equipment to St. Joseph’s Medical Center
As the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Towson University to cancel face-to-face classes, professors are now moving their classes online through video, e-mail, Blackboard and other instances of distance learning.
One issue that professor Harald Beck and his colleagues in the biology department have run into is that with distance learning there is no way to have classes involving lab work. That means there were a lot of syringes, medical gowns, face masks and gloves being unused on campus.
After reading news stories about how hospitals and other medical facilities were in short supply of those materials, Towson University's biology department donated many of their lab supplies to the neighboring University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center over the weekend.
“We want to be as engaged as possible and working together to get through this,” Beck says. “We know this is a time of shortage, so we just wanted to find a way to help the community. We’re hoping that we can work with other departments in the university and deliver more supplies.”
With COVID-19 causing a critical need of many medical supplies and protective gear, St. Joseph’s Medical Center was more than happy for the donation of hundreds of supplies.
“We can’t thank our partners at Towson University enough for this generous contribution,” says Dr. Thomas B. Smyth, president and CEO of the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. “This is an amazing example of teamwork as our community comes together to meet and overcome this unprecedented challenge.”
Along with wanting to help the local community and its neighbors, one thought that came to Beck’s mind was that he’s taught some nurses and doctors who have gone on to work in the area. As he thought about them being out there helping the community, he wanted to find a way that Towson University could help.
The biology department is not the only one donating supplies to St. Joseph’s Medical Center. TU’s nursing department also donated a long list of equipment that they use for simulations.
Hayley Mark, chair of the nursing department, received an e-mail from the National Nursing Organizations and the Health Services Cost Review Commission from Maryland to see if nursing programs could donate supplies.
This led Mark and her fellow nursing faculty to donate everything they had in the department, including hand sanitizer, face masks, gloves, medical gowns and even diapers. Mark says that once the call came through, the nursing faculty jumped into action.
“Before the call even came out, our faculty were asking if we could donate the supplies,” Mark says. “Many of our faculty work part-time in the hospitals and clinics in Maryland as well as teaching at TU. They’ve seen first-hand the need for personal protective equipment.”
Beck admits that lectures over the rest of spring semester are going to be a little weird. That’s because instead of standing in a classroom full of students, he’ll be in an empty lecture hall staring directly at a camera.
So on the last day of spring break, instead of getting one more day of relaxation before returning to the classroom, Beck spent time in his office recording lectures and adjusting his lesson plans for online-specific learning.
“As an extrovert it’s not very fun giving a lecture and not getting any questions or responses,” Beck laughs. “It’s just super weird talking to an empty lecture room. But we have to get used to it, both students and faculty.
“Whether that’s producing YouTube videos, having virtual office hours — meaning doing face-to-face through Skype, on the phone or through e-mail — there are different ways we can stay connected. It’s important that we let the students know we’re there for them in these uncertain times.”
And as faculty across the university are looking to help the community, Beck is looking to help his fellow professors get used to online learning.
Beck is a member of the Academic Senate and an executive member of the TU’s American Association of University Professors. He is getting a lot of feedback from faculty, who like him, are working to familiarize themselves with online learning.
He says one of the main concerns expressed by faculty as they are trying to record their lectures from homes, that either their pets or children come running across the camera. After doing the first few lectures in an empty classroom, Beck would welcome a few distractions.
“Those interruptions are a very human moment that may connect faculty and students even more,” Beck says. “My advice to faculty is that if something like that happens, just smile and keep going. Let the students see that you have beautiful pets and little ones.”
This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel’s priorities for Towson University: TU Matters to Maryland.