With the click of a mouse, Grove City College students this week wrapped up their final exams, completing an unexpected transition to online education and the most unique semester in the private liberal arts and sciences college’s 144-year history.
Campus has been absent in-person instruction since March, when it was closed and students were sent home to shelter in a place other than their residence halls to slow the spread of the coronavirus and ensure the safety and health of students, faculty and staff.
On Monday, College President Paul J. McNulty ’80 announced that Grove City College would prepare for a return to classes and resume its distinctive residential program, which fosters community and faith formation, as scheduled on Aug. 24. The College, he said, was prepared to meet “perhaps the most pressing challenge that American higher education has ever faced.”
“We have reached a milestone week in this memorable academic year. Our resilience has been put to an extreme test, and, by God’s grace, we have risen to the challenge,” McNulty told the College community.
The first and biggest challenge Grove City College faced during this pandemic was to continue providing 2,300 students with an excellent, affordable and Christ-centered education – remotely. The College swiftly moved 800 courses to online platforms so students could continue their studies wherever the pandemic had taken them. The historic shift was completed in just days thanks to a longtime commitment to “digital unity” across the institution and the academic agility of Grove City’s faculty, staff and students.
Microsoft Teams software already installed on laptop computers issued to every student, faculty and staffer provided a key tool to continue the in-person classroom experience in a time of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Classes met online at their regularly scheduled times, professors maintained virtual office hours and academic standards remained unchanged. While many colleges and universities shifted to a pass/fail model, Grove City College retained normal grading policies during this unique time, reflecting a standard of academic excellence and focus on student success.
“We think this is best for the students who need an accurate GPA representation of what they’ve done, to gain admission to graduate schools or send transcripts to employers,” Dr. Peter Frank, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, said. “I know faculty and students have been working hard in classes and we want to honor the work each has done,” Frank said.
The College stepped up to provide online assistance, resources and support for students ranging from research help and remote access to materials in Buhl Library to innovative moves by the Office of Career Services to connect students with internships and post-graduate employment, to weekly inspirational emails from President McNulty.
Faith formation efforts usually centered around Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday Chapel services were replaced by regular video content and select meditations from Chapel Ministries staff and campus leaders. The Grover community did its part to bless others during these times. The College’s donation of protective goggles to AHN Grove City in the early days of the pandemic, a widespread mask-making effort led by Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation that saw students, families and strangers teaming up to meet a pressing need and many other individual and collective acts by students, faculty and staff demonstrated an uplifting love of neighbor and service to the common good.
Extra-curricular activities and major campus events were largely casualties of the coronavirus pandemic, including the spring sports season, arts performances, the Institute for Faith and Freedom’s annual conference and Family Weekend. Commencement exercises set for this weekend were postponed and members of the senior class are weighing in on the best option for an in-person event to confer degrees, most likely in the fall. The College will honor the seniors of the year and the sportsman and sportswoman of the year later this week with an online recognition ceremony.
Throughout a semester of change, some things stayed the same: the unfailing determination of students, faculty and staff to press on, adapt and remain true to Grove City College’s vision and values.
"Even amid the uncertainty of the pandemic I still felt so cared for and supported by the school. The encouragement has come from the top and has trickled down through so much of the leadership that I have been blown away,” senior Anna Cook ’20, of Cranesville, Pa., said. “I have specifically been blessed by the way my professors have gone above and beyond to be flexible, extend grace and make the rest of the semester, however strange, the very best that it could be.”
There is still much uncertainty ahead for our nation. But what can be certain is that Grove City College will continue to strive for excellence, that students will continue to persevere and that the College will remain a beacon of light in this season. “The College is now marshaling resources – including on-campus expertise alongside outside community health services – to chart a safe path to the start of a new fall semester,” McNulty said this week. “Students and families should know that Grove City College is determined to be prepared to the best of its ability to deliver the learning and living experience for which it is so highly regarded.”
“I’m truly optimistic about the College’s future knowing that the Lord will use our earthly trials for His glory and our good,” McNulty said.