Cadets, along with many faculty and staff members, are now away from post for an extended period of time, but the support services that help them are still available, typically just a phone call or a mouse click away. On the academic side, resources such as the Mathematics Resource Education Center, the Writing Center and the Office of Career Services are providing their services online. The following is a partial list of other on-post services that are also supporting cadets and faculty while they are away from post.
Overall, it’s been a quiet spring at the VMI infirmary. But behind the scenes, Dr. David Copeland, Institute physician, has been busy with two tasks: Helping cadets get refills on their medications and looking over the medical records of incoming cadets to make sure they’re medically qualified for VMI’s intense physical training. That’s a task he undertakes every year. In addition to these duties, Copeland has been monitoring the spread of the coronavirus and serving as a member of the VMI Coronavirus Task Force.
In mid-March, Copeland was needed when approximately 14 international cadets returned to barracks after the spring furlough. He asked the cadets questions about where they had been and took their temperatures before admitting them to barracks. International cadets are a group “uniformly easy to take care of,” Copeland noted, but he and Jenny Crance, nurse practitioner, were available in the infirmary each day if needed.
VMI’s employee wellness program, meanwhile, has gone online with recorded workouts for yoga, cross training, high intensity interval training and more. Employees are also receiving email newsletters about health-related topics from CommonHealth, the state employee wellness program, and nutrition from Parkhurst Dining, VMI’s food service partner.
Also ongoing through the wellness program is WW@Work, formerly known as Weight Watchers. That group is holding virtual meetings each week through Zoom and also has a private Facebook group.
Like nearly all other operations on post, the VMI Bookstore has had its normal way of doing business upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
This time of year, the bookstore would normally be doing a brisk business with the final admissions open house of the year and spring alumni reunions, both bringing visitors to post. This spring, though, with the bookstore closed since mid-March, those sales have evaporated.
“We’ve lost sales through the month of April. Admissions open house, that’s gone. Then there’s graduation, too,” said Dalton Briley, who manages the bookstore for Follett, a Westchester, Illinois-based company that manages thousands of college bookstores nationwide.
Briley is currently the only bookstore employee still working – and he’s only coming in on Mondays and Fridays to manage online orders, the volume of which Briley described as “steady.”
With typical bookstore operations suspended, an email was sent out to cadets in late March, letting them know that if they need to sell books at the end of the semester or return rental textbooks, there are two options: Either going online to print a return address label or waiting until they’re allowed to return to post to sell or return their books in person. This year, there will be no late fees for tardy return of rental textbooks.
Staff in the information technology department have worked hard since mid-March to prepare cadets, faculty and staff for the transition to distance learning and working from home.
Thankfully, IT had already scheduled a firewall upgrade for spring furlough, which brought with it higher bandwidth and more licenses for use of VMI’s virtual private network, or VPN, which allows employees to access the Institute’s servers when they are away from post.
“Before this crisis, we only had a handful of people using a VPN,” said Col. Wes Robinson, director of information technology. Robinson added that members of his staff had to create “quite a few” training documents on how to use not only a VPN, but also Microsoft Teams, which allows a group of people to collaborate on a project from multiple locations. Help desk staff also shifted their hours, working from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. so they could better accommodate cadet and employee schedules.
Like many people across post, Robinson can see future good coming from the coronavirus pandemic scenarios. “It will expand the use of several technologies that we use,” he commented. Both he and Brig. Gen. Robert “Bob” Moreschi, deputy superintendent for academics and dean of the faculty, noted that prior to the pandemic, approximately 30 percent of the faculty didn’t use Canvas, which is VMI’s learning management software system. Now, nearly all faculty are using it.
Preston Library closed its doors Wednesday, March 18, and does not currently have a reopening date. Cadets and faculty can still access the library’s holdings, though, via the distance learning portal. Among the distance learning portal’s options are setting up a Zoom chat with a reference librarian, accessing databases remotely and requesting a scan of the relevant section of an interlibrary loan item, since it’s no longer possible to request physical copies of books and other publications.
The VMI Archives, which contains many resources relating to VMI history and Civil War history, among other topics, is also available online. Archives staff are available by phone and email. They, too, can provide scans of documents needed by researchers.
The library’s ongoing renovation, scheduled to be completed later this year, has been unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic. “Library construction continues to follow the phased sequence established at the outset,” said Col. Diane Jacob, library director. “The main [fifth] floor is on schedule to be complete in late June.
Center for Leadership & Ethics
The Center for Leadership & Ethics was forced to cancel the Environment Virginia Symposium, a 30-plus-year tradition at VMI, as the global pandemic worsened in March. Also scrubbed from the calendar were many other events, among them the superintendent’s annual leadership dinner, future activities involving this year’s Leader in Residence, Gen. Richard “Butch” Neal, and the ethics team’s participation in the U.S. Naval Academy’s annual military ethics competition.
This spring, Col. Dave Gray, director of the CLE, and his staff are busy planning for next year. The annual Leadership & Ethics Conference is scheduled to be held at the end of October, but the STEM education conference traditionally held in early October will be postponed until the 2021-22 academic year. Workshops planned for the 2020 Environment Virginia Symposium will be held at the 2021 symposium.
Earlier this year, the CLE launched a podcast called The VMI Leader Journey. It includes interviews with cadets, alumni, and speakers the Center has hosted at VMI. New episodes are released approximately every two weeks. The podcasts can be found on the Center’s website at www.vmi.edu/cle and on Podbean as The VMI Leader Journey.
Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing