When President Joseph A. Favazza, Ph.D., sat down to deliver his first virtual town hall meeting on Friday, March 20, the campus, and the world as we know it, had changed drastically within days. Instead of students preparing for the end of the semester and milling about the quad in search of early springtime sun, and faculty and staff buzzing about campus teaching and supporting students, the daily rhythms of campus life were altered. The campus had gone quiet.
Experiencing a situation not seen by Saint Anselm—nor the world—in more than a century, the college acted swiftly to first ensure the safety of all students, faculty, staff and the monastic community, and next took steps to continue academics and campus life virtually. This Herculean effort took the work of all departments on campus, which acted quickly, thoughtfully, and as one Anselmian team, to keep the community moving forward.
Creating a New Sense of Place
As students moved out of dorms, and faculty and staff transitioned off campus to work from home, Dr. Favazza knew communicating information to the community was crucial—prompting the first virtual town hall meeting, or more affectionately called “Fridays with Dr. Favazza.” In a modern twist on President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats, Dr. Favazza began broadcasting news and updates and answering questions from faculty and staff via Zoom.
“It’s important to me to be as transparent as possible, and I think when we’re on campus we make assumptions that people know what is going on—but once we were off campus it became clear the community needed information,” says Dr. Favazza.
With roughly 500 people tuning into his first town hall, the response was so positive the one-time information session turned into a weekly virtual gathering. “I don’t think I was aware at the time that this would become a weekly thing, but there was such positive feedback and there was so much information to relate we decided to continue with them,” he says.
And continue he did. Not only with a weekly virtual town hall for staff and faculty, but one for each class, the parents of each class, perspective students, incoming students, parents of incoming students and, finally, alumni.
Creating the town hall meetings, however, was just a small part of a greater effort to move everything online, and Chief Information Officer Steven McDevitt and his entire team made certain the transition was easy and stress-free for all faculty, students and staff.
“I think we were very aware of the stress everyone was under, but also how everyone in the community was concerned for one another—the faculty was especially concerned for their students,” McDevitt says.
According to McDevitt, the college already had shifted to a learning management system called Canvas the previous year that supports up to 2,000 students online, allowing faculty to share electronic content with their students, and create and use videos, quizzes, discussion groups and threaded discussions.
The next step was setting up Zoom. “On Friday, March 13 we looked into Zoom and knew this would be perfect for what the college needed—by Monday, March 16 we were setting it up, and by Tuesday, March 17 we started giving faculty Zoom licenses and began training,” he says. Since obtaining the Zoom license, McDevitt says the college has had Zoom users in 10 countries, held 5,860 Zoom meetings with 57,723 participants, and had 2,179,000 meeting minutes.
Once systems were in place, training began. McDevitt credits Cynthia DiMascio ’08, instructional support specialist, for having the greatest impact here. “We held approximately 10 or so training sessions for faculty—everything from a general overview of Canvas, how to use specific features of Canvas, and how to set up and use Zoom—that each lasted about 90 minutes,” says McDevitt. “Cindy worked patiently with all faculty to make sure they felt comfortable with everything from how to set up a microphone to using a video recorder—we had so many faculty members tell us they couldn’t have done this without Cindy.”
McDevitt and his team also looked to make sure everyone, including students, had the proper equipment for remote learning. They provided about 40 laptops to faculty members who did not already have one, as well as laptops for students who either did not have one or were sharing computers at home with siblings.
“Some of our students had very poor internet connectivity or had a computer that wasn’t strong enough to support Zoom—so we provided Verizon Wi-Fi devices to help with their poor speed internet connection,” says McDevitt. “We had one student who was driving to a nearby business’s parking lot to pick up their Wi-Fi—we knew some students were struggling and so we did everything we could to help them.”
According to Tauna Sisco, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of sociology and social work and Faculty Senate president, moving 654 classes online for remote learning would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the information technology team. “Steve McDevitt and Cindy DiMascio held all-day training sessions for us on everything from Canvas to Zoom,” she says. “For some faculty, transitioning online was going to be a steep learning curve perhaps because of what they teach—our science professors had to move all of their labs online, and it took a lot of work in a short amount of time. I’m so impressed with how all faculty engaged in new ways of educating.”
Sisco also was impressed but not surprised by the concern all faculty had for the students. “They put the student’s health, the student’s ability to learn, and the student’s wellness first,” she says. McDevitt was quick to mirror that. “We would not have learned of students in need of assistance or help with technology without the faculty,” he says. “They were reaching out to us and letting us know which students they were concerned for.”
The resiliency Sisco saw in students throughout the switch to online learning was overwhelming. “The student response was 100 percent all in” she says. “They met the challenge of E-learning, being at home and working in a different space, and taking a full course load with grace—they realized this is what was best for the community and turned their focus outward on the greater good.”
The Heart and Soul of Campus
Focusing on the greater good is very much an Anselmian attribute, and the cornerstone to much of what is reinforced by student life on campus, including campus ministry. Before the final decision was made to send students home, Susan Gabert, Ed.D. ’91, assistant dean of students and director of campus ministry, and the campus ministry team were already discussing ways to keep students connected with campus. “We began brainstorming what we were doing that could be transitioned online, so when the decision was made to send everyone home, we were ready to roll,” says Gabert.
It soon became clear offering regularity was going to be a key service they could provide. “We asked ourselves ‘how do we help the community stay connected and anchored to campus?’ We felt offering a meeting opportunity the same time every day was important, and a daily prayer option was the first thing to come to mind,” she says. This resulted in an Instagram Live prayer held every day at noon.
The campus ministry team built upon their daily prayer offering with Zoom hangouts and program offerings each day of the week. They also held a Zoom women’s retreat prior to Easter, and a busy person’s retreat that was planned before but then transitioned online, and a Zoom meeting titled “Alone Together: The Hilltop, The Monks and the Pandemic,” where more than 70 participants logged on to see how the monastic community was handling the Covid-19 situation and faring with quarantine life.
“This was very much a team effort and all-hands-on-deck with a talented campus ministry team working together to make this happen,” says Gabert.
Livestreaming daily Mass held at the Abbey Church was another significant opportunity to keep the campus community connected, and campus ministry along with David Helm, instructional media technician, worked behind the scenes with Brother Francis Ryan McCarty, O.S.B. ’10 to bring daily 8:30 a.m. Mass to everyone.
At first, Brother Francis admits, the monastic community was apprehensive about the idea of livestreaming Mass. “The situation has been quite an adjustment for us, but so many constituencies asked us to do this—alumni, students, faculty and staff—that it became a no-brainer.”
"All the things that make Saint Anselm College such a special place were still happening, but now they were happening virtually."
—Paul Pronovost ’91, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer
According to Brother Francis, the average number of people viewing daily Mass ranges from 150 to 200, while Sunday Mass draws more than 1,000 participants. Prior to Easter, Brother Francis noted viewers from 49 states were represented. As of late May, the total number of views was more than 16,000.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “People are so thankful and grateful for what we are doing, and that in turn overwhelms us with gratitude.”
For Gabert, keeping the community connected during this time also meant looking beyond her own department. “It’s not just about what campus ministry is doing, but we needed to look campus wide, and a tremendous help in doing this was the Anselmian Hub.”
The Anselmian Hub, created by the office of college communications and marketing, was designed to help everyone in the community stay connected to campus. The new section to the website offers interactive maps, 360 videos, upcoming virtual events, and news about new and ongoing programs.
“The transition to remote instruction happened so quickly; one day the campus was bustling and the next it was empty,” says Paul Pronovost ’91, chief communications and marketing officer. “All the things that make Saint Anselm College such a special place were still happening, but now they were happening virtually. The Hub allowed our Anselmian community to stay connected to the Hilltop and that gave us all a way to stay grounded in this uncertain time.”
Helping Future, and Forever Anselmians
The decision to send students home and for faculty and staff to work remotely coincided with one of the busiest and most stressful times of year for the office of admission and enrollment.
“Our admitted students open house was scheduled for April 3, and by March 15 we knew this wasn’t going to be able to take place in person,” says Michael Iorio ’07, assistant vice president for enrollment and director of admission. Switching gears quickly, Iorio and his team made the decision to keep in contact with admitted students by mailing items they would have otherwise received while visiting campus, including a Saint Anselm baseball cap, a sticker with college logo, and a note expressing “Be well. Be happy. Be Anselmian.”
Iorio describes the early days of working remotely with his team like working in a think tank. “Our department was constantly thinking up new ways to reach out to admitted students, and everyone on our team, and on campus, jumped in to help.”
This included offers from the athletics department and alumni relations to help with making more than 2,000 calls to admitted students just to check in and see how they were doing. With help from departments across campus, it also included creating a new virtual tour, hosting virtual academic workshops, and Instagram Live chats with current students on why they chose Saint Anselm.
Iorio and his team also felt it was important to acknowledge the huge amount of stress perspective students were under by mailing admitted students another item they would have received while visiting the campus, but with a twist. Instead of home-baked chocolate chip cookies given to on-campus visitors, admitted students were sent a recipe card for the signature chocolate chip cookie, along with a stress ball in the shape of the cookie.
Instead of home-baked chocolate chip cookies given to on-campus visitors, admitted students were sent a recipe card for the signature chocolate chip cookie, along with a stress ball in the shape of the cookie.
“The overall feedback on our efforts has been so receptive, everyone has been appreciative of how upfront and transparent the college was—our communication has been spot-on,” says Iorio. “The big question from everyone has been ‘what’s going on?’ and so our transparency has been important, and appreciated.”
While the admission and enrollment team worked hard to meet the needs of future Anselmians, Kimberly DelGizzo, executive director of the career development center, and her staff have been working diligently to help the outgoing class of 2020, and all students, navigate a post-pandemic job and internship search.
“From the moment we left campus, all of our services transitioned online,” says DelGizzo. This included offering online drop-in sessions—10-minute meetings that aren’t required being set up in advance where counselors provide help on cover letters and resumes. Students also still have access to Handshake—a recruiting platform helping Saint Anselm students connect with jobs and internships across the country.
DelGizzo and her team also offered webinar series such as “At Home” for students to learn about strategies to engage with their career journey while at home. “Career Chat Live” invited representatives from companies such as Enterprise Holdings, Granite Telecommunications, Kronos, and Rise Wealth Management for mini-information sessions with students, as well as to learn what these companies are doing during the Covid-19 situation, and what students should be doing now to become career-ready.
Connecting with students, especially seniors, is a top priority for the career development center. “We felt it was extremely important to check in with our seniors after commencement,” says DelGizzo. “Our staff called each senior to first check in and see how they’re doing—we know some of our students are having a difficult time—but also to find out if there’s anything our office can be doing to assist them with their job search, and remind them of the services and programs we offer.”
While the current job market may look bleak, DelGizzo is quick to point out some good news. Right now, through Handshake, there are 3,527 full-time positions, 867 internships, 260 fellowships, and 52 volunteer opportunities posted. “We know some employers are pulling back and some are delaying start dates, but companies are very interested in our talent at Saint Anselm, and companies want to maintain relationships with our talent,” she says.
The importance of focusing on others is not something only practiced on the Hilltop. It’s instilled in all of its students through coursework, student life and campus activities, and then carried on by alum in their lives after graduation. There’s no better example of this than the friendship and recent partnership to help a community very much in need during the Covid-19 situation.
When the Covid-19 situation was just beginning to arise, Craig Welton ’03, chief development officer for Northeast Arc in Danvers, Mass., an organization that helps people with disabilities become full participants in their communities, knew the Northeast Arc communities would be impacted greatly. “When Covid-19 first broke, we knew we’d be in desperate need of hand sanitizer—it was one of the first things to go,” says Welton. “The individuals we support, it’s so crucial to have a clean environment.”
That’s when Welton thought of his friend and former football teammate Sergio Bonavita ’03. “Sergio and I have been friends since freshman year and I knew he had opened a brewing company and distillery, Westfield River Brewing Co. and Tobacco Road Distillers, in Southwick, Massachsetts,” says Welton. “I had heard how some distilleries were switching their operations to help with the need for hand sanitizer, so I reached out.”
Bonavita couldn’t have been happier to get the message: “I called him back and asked, ‘How much do you need?’”
Within a few weeks Bonavita had produced 300 gallons of hand sanitizer for Northeast Arc. “This also helped about 20 other service providers in Massachusetts who support people with disabilities,” says Welton.
The partnership, according to Welton, is a perfect example of what he learned on the Hilltop. “What struck me most about going to Saint Anselm was developing a community of people you knew you could depend on,” he says.
Bonavita agrees. “At Saint Anselm, we were always taught the world is bigger than us,” he says. “There’s a bigger community out there that you need to be aware of.”
For Father Hugh Vincent Dyer ’97, administering to the needs of others is how he spends every day. A Dominican friar whose community is St. Catherine of Siena in New York, N.Y., Father Dyer made the decision to leave his community of brothers to move in to the nursing home where he has been serving as chaplain.
According to Father Dyer, this decision was about making sure he didn’t put the nursing community at risk by inadvertently passing along something he had picked up from his brother priests who were serving in hospitals. “My residents were the most vulnerable,” he says.
In addition to broadcasting daily Mass to the residents via CCTV, leading the Rosary prior to daily Mass, and being available for council, Father Dyer pulled from his humanities education from Saint Anselm to create what he calls the “Cultural Miscellany” show. “I’m reading residents poetry, playing etymology games, and showing classic movies,” he says. “At Saint Anselm I was exposed to great and beautiful texts, and to have the opportunity to share that with this community is a powerful thing.”
Father Dyer points to the Benedictine ideals of hospitality and welcoming others as having influenced his life. “These lessons filter down in ways unimagined, and help to inform the culture of this community at a very difficult moment,” he says.
While Father Dyer never could have imagined his path would have led to him to this moment in time, he is prepared. “It has been unexpected work, but not work I was unprepared for—and that is thanks in part because I went to Saint Anselm College.”
We Are Family
In response to the uncertain times our students are facing, Saint Anselm College created the Anselmian Student Relief Fund. This fund assists students who are encountering financial emergencies and exceptional needs that might prevent them from continuing their education on the Hilltop. As of late May, the fund has raised $70,141.42. To support students in need, please visit www.anselm.edu/giving.