coronavirus - The University of Tulsa


COVID connections: Learning and public outreach flourish at TU during the pandemic

Remain six feet apart. Do not hug. Do not kiss. Wear a mask. Bump elbows if you must, but that’s not recommended either. Do not gather in groups larger than 10. Remain inside your small social bubble. Do not breathe on others. Do not be breathed upon.

During the nightmare that is 2020, humans have learned a new lexicon of rules and prohibitions that have upended the interpersonal conventions of daily life they largely took for granted during the times before COVID-19 raced like wildfire across the planet. Now, in this moment of uncertainty, worry, sickness and death, many people are yearning for connections to others.

At The University of Tulsa, the last several months have, despite the challenges, offered up a handful of inspiring examples of resilience that are focused on enabling connections, both in “the classroom” as well as between the university and the wider public.

The silver lining of online learning

The concept of the classroom has evolved between March and now. The system is not perfect; however, for some students, certain aspects can be seen as a positive change.

Thanks to online software, such as Collaborate, students can interact with their professors face to face at appointed times, but from the safety of their own homes. Zoom meetings, too, have become standard for enabling students to work together while staying safely apart. In some cases, asynchronous classes have allowed for more schedule flexibility for students.

Ryle Gwaltney, a nursing sophomore, remarked that she has come to favor remote learning for several reasons: “Before classes moved online, I had a problem with seeing the board, talking up in class and remembering what was previously taught. But everyone has their own learning style, and online classes have worked well for me. With the ability to pause, rewind and rewatch lectures, interact with the class via a chat box and actually being able to see and remember what was being taught, my classes have been going great.”

Nine English graduate students in a ZOOM screen capture
Graduate students from as far away as South Korea in an English course during fall 2020

TU’s faculty members, too, have adapted and, in many cases, thrived. Media Studies Chair Benjamin Peters believes the lessons learned as a result of the shift to online teaching might influence in-person instruction in years to come.

“There is no question that the pandemic has underscored how valuable in-person teaching is,” Peters said. “Still, going forward, professors will likely be more nimble and capable of using online teaching platforms, as well as accommodating learning needs online. There is no way to make a lab or an in-person activity go entirely online. But, under certain conditions, online discussion can draw out the otherwise introverted.” Another silver lining, Peters noted, might be that more instructors will incorporate online elements into their in-person teaching, such as tools that let students rank-order their questions during a lecture.

Digital technology is also proving useful for helping students outside the classroom. According to Sara Beam, an applied assistant professor of English, the University Writing Program, which she directs, is deploying digital technology for engaging students remotely in three main ways.

The first, she said, entails “remediating text, or asking students to adapt a text from one mode of communication into a different form, such as written text to spoken word.” The goal here is to increase students’ engagement with and awareness of how different forms work and relate. The University Writing Program has also been leveraging different options for discussion participation, including enabling students to post text, images, video and audio to discussion boards.

Finally, this semester Beam has recognized more opportunities for incorporating feedback mechanisms to see how the students feel about learning styles. Noted Beam, “we just passed the middle of the semester and many of us used survey tools to ask students for feedback so we can streamline and target instruction moving forward.”

Extended reach

The COVID-19 pandemic has also meant TU is hosting online panels, lectures and other events that would have previously been held on campus. While fewer people get to enjoy the beauty of TU’s 200 acres in person, the online experiences can be enjoyed by anybody, anywhere, thus helping expand the university’s cultural and academic resources into the community.

Screen shot of an academic article and a man wearing a blue shirt
Native American Law panel on the McGirt decision

For example, the most recent Presidential Lecture Series (PLS) presentation by Wes Moore, the chief executive officer of the Robin Hood Foundation, was the first PLS event ever held online. It drew in an audience of over 1,250 viewers from all across the nation.

Events delivered by TU’s Office of Diversity and Engagement have also experienced the expanded reach afforded by digital technology. Diversity Officer Amanda Chastang noted that a Native American Law panel she recently hosted along with other online discussions have been well-received by audiences both within the TU community and beyond.

Ease of access is a big plus when it comes to staging such events. “People only need the internet and a computer to tune in, even if they are not in the local area,” said Chastang. “We also can develop events pretty quickly as we don’t have to worry about providing food or room reservations and adhere to all of the procedural processes that go along with that. Additionally, it is really nice to have the option of recording events. If folks have conflicting schedules and are unable to attend ‘live events,’ there is the option of providing a recording, which has been really helpful.”

Participants in an Oklahoma Center for the Humanities seminar pictured in a ZOOM screen capture
Oklahoma Center for the Humanities seminar participants

For its part, the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities (OCH) has made the best of the dire COVID-19 situation to broaden its talent pool and expand the reach of its programming. Tara C. Aveilhe, the OCH’s assistant director, observed, “via Zoom, we are now able to accept research fellows from anywhere in the U.S. and reach wider audiences for our events.” This year, for example, the OCH’s research fellows include Janine Utell of Widener University in Pennsylvania, which would not have been possible in years previous.

Sean Latham, the OCH’s director, added, “we recently had a terrific event that was digital attended by around 150 people. We were shocked to see that the audience was international and spread across several states. It’s the first time we’ve realized that OCH events might have a national audience for some of our events.” Looking toward life after the pandemic, the OCH plans to take what it has learned from this experience and continue offering digital events so that more people can get involved.

The sobering reality

Despite all these silver linings, at the end of the day, the entire TU community is deeply cognizant of the human tragedy at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Every crisis, the phrase famously goes, is an opportunity,” Peters remarked. “But, also, let’s not miss the point here: the pandemic and our response to it have largely been a human disaster. In just the U.S. alone, thousands of lives have been lost and livelihoods have been destroyed. There is so much suffering that cannot and should not be forgotten.”

For more about how TU is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit ResilienTU.


TU nursing students address community health in the midst of the pandemic

With COVID-19 raging and all in-person learning replaced with virtual instruction, faculty in The University of Tulsa’s undergraduate nursing program had to quickly figure out a way to replace clinical rotations while still ensuring their students received a high-quality, relevant education. The ingenious result was to devise a four-week model for juniors in the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program examining client education in the context of a pandemic.

Quarantine poster made by BSN juniors

“This solution made additional sense,” noted Chapman Clinical Assistant Professor of Nursing Angela Martindale, “given that this is the semester when those students focus on community health.” Martindale taught the course alongside her colleagues Lee Anne Nichols and Cassandra Barrow, both of whom also had a hand in shaping the new direction.

“From social distancing to sickness, COVID-19 has created a spark and lit sequential fires of change within me,” said Adonijah Young, one of the students in the course. “Being given the opportunity to create educational tools to instill knowledge in the community was an amazing experience.”

Young’s sentiments are echoed by fellow student Emily Thomas, who said the community rotation enabled her “to put my feet in other people’s shoes and think critically about what they are feeling and thinking during this time of uncertainty. I am confident the work I did and the skills I developed will benefit me in my future career as a nurse.”

COVID-19 and social distancing

The first week introduced students to the origin and context of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Students reviewed a simulation PowerPoint deck and completed a World Health Organization module on the topic. “Our students wrapped up this first stage by taking a short quiz and earning a certificate of completion,” explained Nichols.

Healthy lifestyle during quarantine posterWeek 2 involved four simulations covering the COVID-19 pandemic and explored the impact of social distancing at local, state, national and global levels. The epidemiological curve was examined at each of those levels, as well as the pandemic risk mitigation plan for both Oklahoma and the United States to flatten the curve. “A main element of our exercises this week was to explore the nursing perspective at each level,” said Barrow. “In support of that goal, our students’ clinical activity was to identify between 5 and 10 ineffective and between 5 and 10 adaptive responses to social distancing right here in Tulsa.” The students then worked in small groups to create PPT decks that shared their findings and presented a nursing diagnosis.

Nursing, pandemic ethics and public education

“During Week 3, students worked in pairs or groups of three to develop a white paper, suitable for the public, on nursing and pandemic ethics,” Martindale noted. These drew on assigned readings and discussions dealing with topics such as the role of nurses who lack personal protective equipment when taking care of patients who have COVID-19. The course wrapped up with a case study/simulation exercise. For this, students wrote individual care plans dealing with an aggregate of patients battling COVID-19. “Having community health online was a very good learning experience for me because I was able to research topics concerning our community on my own and find information on how we can help,” said student Averee Dubach.

Coronavirus educational posterOther assignments included developing educational tools for homeless people, families with children at home, the elderly and patients in clinics. “By the time the rotation was over,” remarked Nichols, “we had over 84 brochures developed to teach aggregates of clients affected by the pandemic.” Many of these brochures will be shared with community partners as our society continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Impacts: From the personal to the global

The final assignment involved having each student write a reflective paper discussing how the pandemic had affected health at the local, state, national and global levels. They were also tasked with writing about how social distancing had impacted them personally. As Carol Coffman put it, “Although finishing my junior year of nursing school away from people was not ideal, it was necessary and allowed me to reflect on my role and take responsibility as a future nurse.”

Student Emma Rutter summed up the profound impact of the reimagined clinical rotation on her development as a caring, effective health care professional: “As nurses, we must remember that health is not singular. If our patients are ailing, our community is ailing. We learned how to advocate for an entire aggregate and plan how to take steps to affect the masses. The lesson I am most thankful for in this community rotation is: Your community needs you, and you most definitely need your community. There is always hope when there are those who continue to try.”

Students Emma Rutter, Trenton Hazelton and Carol Coffman wearing blue scrubs
BSN juniors Emma Rutter, Trenton Hazelton and Carol Coffman in the days before the COVID-19 pandemic

If you would like to inquire about using some of the BSN students’ educational resources at your organization, please contact Wendy Palmer at the TU School of Nursing (


TU faculty offer ways to support first responders during COVID-19 crisis

Research from The University of Tulsa looks to help first responders and health care workers as they continue battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

*Pictured is TU alumnae who working on the front lines and facing the virus daily.*

Left to right is Abigail Schmitt, Avery Culpepper, Madeline Oleksiak, Maddy Studebaker and Kaylie Schneider.

The pandemic has changed how millions of Americans work or learn, shifting offices or classrooms to their homes. Despite the mass changes, first responders and health care workers do not have the choice to work from home, and many of them are walking into the front lines of a battle against the virus every day. With those brave people in mind, TU faculty have been doing everything they can to help, including sharing their knowledge and expertise. Elana Newman, McFarlin Professor of Psychology, is an expert in disaster mental health with a specialty in journalism. She worked with journalists in New York for nearly a year after 9/11 and has helped journalists prepare for and respond to many disasters, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Journalists and health care workers are two distinct professions, but many common threads run between the two, according to Newman. A lot of the advice she might give a journalist also can apply to health care workers.

“With a pandemic like COVID-19, when these workers are out in the field and interacting with the sick every day, they’re bringing that stress home with them daily,” Newman said. “They question will they get their loved ones sick? Will they harm family members, friends or neighbors? What might they face tomorrow?”

The stress is gripping not only at home but on the job as well. Because of limited equipment and resources, first responders and health care workers are witnessing events that transgress their moral beliefs and expectations. “That leads to something called ‘moral injury,’” Newman said. “It’s unlike PTSD because it is an ethical or spiritual maladaptation, but it manifests in real-world effects like stress, feeling ill, guilt and a lot more.”

Left to right is Sierra Adair, Keli Solomon Miller, Marci Brubaker, Kristen Rodriguez and Michelle Proctor. 

Fortunately, despite the grimness of the circumstances, Newman has advice for anyone working grueling shifts with the sick and dying. “Some of the stuff is obvious: exercise best judgment and be safe. Remember to take care of yourself first and foremost, because if you aren’t well, then you can’t take care of others. It’s also important to take time off, even when things get crazy, for self-care. It’s a way of retaining energy for the long haul, as a boundary and finding pleasure to stay healthy and provide for others.”

She also has tips for anybody else going through this pandemic, explaining that the anxiety many people are feeling is normal, but it can be overcome.

“With so many unknowns, we’re all feeling anxiety, but there are ways to cope with that. Make a list of what you can control and what you can’t control — having a sense of control is important. It’s also important to stay social, even while we are physically distant because as humans we need social interaction,” Newman explained.

She offered one more piece of advice for anybody who is feeling that, because of quarantine, they are not able to live a productive life: “Having a sense of purpose is crucial in times like these, and meaningful things that can be done right now are making masks, sending thank you notes and any other act to express appreciation. Not only will this give a feeling of purpose to the creator, but the product will go toward fighting against COVID-19.”

Dr. Gerard Clancy, TU professor of community medicine, added five other ways that people who are not serving on the front lines of COVID-19 can help. According to Clancy, staying home is the best way to support medical care workers. “The one thing I’m hearing over and over again from leadership in the health care system and physicians is, ‘This is real. If you want to help us, stay home and slow the spread of this virus,’” Clancy said.

For people with extra medical supplies, donating those to the health care system can meet the serious demand. People with the ability to make supplies also is very beneficial. “Every mask, every face shield, every pair of gloves helps a great deal,” he said.

When it comes to interacting with health care workers, Clancy says it is important to understand what they’re going through: “They’re working shifts after shifts. They’re working tons of hours, they’re exhausted, they don’t have the supplies they need and they’re vulnerable to becoming traumatized. Any kind of support you can offer them would be appreciated, but some of the best ways involve listening to them talk about what they’re going to if they want to share but not forcing them to talk about anything if they don’t. Getting a good meal in front of them can go a long way, as well. Good food tastes even better to them, at this point.”

While first responders and health care workers are fighting what is probably the most grueling war of their careers, applying these ideas from TU faculty will send a message to the heroes that they are not alone.