By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Missouri Western State University President Dr. Elizabeth Kennedy experienced her first commencement as president last week. She credits the school's COVID response team for making the in-person event possible.
"We had a reduction in COVID cases in our students," Kennedy said during KFEQ's The Hotline. "Our numbers were always low, but they fell by 85 percent from the fall semester to the spring semester...which allowed us to have a wonderful commencement."
Missouri Western held commencement inside Civic Arena. It was moved from Spratt Stadium to the arena due to the possibility of rain. The University held two separate ceremonies to allow for social distancing, and to allow for all students and guests to take part.
"It's my favorite day of the semester," Kennedy continued. "It represents the culmination of our work, the faculty's work and everyone at the University. We're all part of the Griffon family. It was a beautiful event and I'm quite pleased with how it turned out."
Before the school year started, MWSU assembled a COVID response team comprised of multiple staff members from the science department, as well as marketing and athletics, that met with administration to determine the best path forward.
"We have all of these folks who meet to talk about what are we doing and pay attention to the best practices and following the science," Kennedy said. "Which I think has served us well. There was a time last November where cases were really going up in the city and we saw that on campus, but we were able to mitigate it."
Kennedy says that mitigation effort went beyond mask requirements, social distancing and hand sanitizer stations.
"We kind of closed the doors to outside groups coming to campus," she said. "We minimized how we did activities. We made sure everything was physically distanced, the mask mandate and those kinds of things. So, we were really able to maintain it."
Kennedy says MWSU spent a portion of its CARES Act funding to replace aging air handling and HVAC systems in buildings across campus. Studies have shown that proper air flow and ventilation are key components in slowing the spread of COVID-19
The systems that were replaced were between 25-45 years old, according to Kennedy.
Thanks to these efforts over the last 14 months or so, Kennedy says students and faculty can look forward to a more normal fall semester coming up.
"For fall, we have 85 percent of our classes will have a face-to-face component," she said. "Seventy percent of those will be 100 percent face-to-face in a traditional format. Now, they'll be in the room, but we'll still have some degree of physical distancing and those types of things going on."
Numerous colleges and universities across the country are requiring students to be vaccinated before coming back to school. Kennedy says Missouri Western will not require the vaccine, but rather make the shot more accessible to students.
"We're looking at ways to bring vaccination clinics to campus," Kennedy said. "So, during the summer before the semester starts. Of course, it depends on what vaccine you can get. So, those are questions we have to deal with."
All-in-all, Kennedy strikes an optimistic tone as she gets ready to start her first full school year as the University's president.
"We're open, we're back and we'll be in person," she said. "You will have the collegiate experience that you're looking for and we provide affordable excellence."
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