People-Sharing aka Brain Capital
Institutional thought leadership and organizational skills have filled gaps in community services, staffed testing sites, and administered new healthcare field facilities. Students have donated their time and ingenuity to meet community needs. Creative ideas range from an app that generates recipes based on a photo taken of ingredients on hand in the pantry to organizing a phone-a-friend program to connect with senior citizens impacted by social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders.
The opportunity for sharing knowledge rose to even higher levels at land grant and research-intensive universities. Faculty and principal investigators created prototypes for low-cost ventilators and developed some of the first saliva-based COVID-19 tests. Health science faculty and staff were also invited to serve on local COVID-19 task forces to provide strategic depth and insight.
Where pre-existing, deep-rooted community partnerships were in place, broad resiliency planning combined with emergency management and economic recovery efforts. Institutions pre-planned for repurposing residential, academic, research, and special event facilities in unforeseen ways to address short-term public health concerns. These strategies also looked ahead – allowing spaces to flip to welcome students and staff back when campuses reopen. From Alaska to Florida, labs were converted seemingly overnight to produce sanitizer for public and hospital distribution.
An exemplary pandemic response shared by Franklin & Marshall College
and Lancaster General Health, Penn Medicine
evolved from almost 15 years of concerted town and gown collaboration over multiple changes in leadership. The campus Alumni Sports & Fitness Complex was planned with Lancaster General Health to convert to a post-acute care facility. The New College House Student Residence was utilized by medical staff and emergency responders to house themselves away from their families. To ensure campus and community preparedness, the campus doctor from the Lancaster General Health and Wellness Center shared updates and guidance on the local pandemic’s situation. Plans were also finalized, if needed, to empty a residence hall for an in-situ campus hospital to accommodate any student testing positive for the coronavirus, provide a floor for isolation, and another for quarantine.
Campus outdoor space continues to be offered for community use in multiple ways – access to nature for mental health and well-being, fresh air for disease prevention, gardening areas for food production, and gathering space that is flexible for social distancing while meeting in groups. The evolving balance between controlled and open access is still being determined based on context and population density. Some institutions we interviewed restricted access after experiencing overuse, habitat destruction, vandalism, squatting, and hazards to personal safety. Other institutions opened their campus grounds, arboretums, and access to trails to the public. Many instituted procedures for reserving timed access, providing one-way pedestrian and vehicular loops, and expanding virtual access to various collections.
With the proposed reopening of campuses for fall 2020, access to open space will be more important than ever. Both small liberal arts colleges and large state universities are exploring the capacity and capability to host outdoor events, instruction, and reflection space. Investments in a constellation of supportive landscapes is justified. Permanent support structures, flexible furnishings, shading and solar heating, IT access, and appropriate lighting will be resources for both students and neighbors to enjoy. Conversely, as students live and recreate off-campus, the public realm of sidewalks, parks, and plazas will be essential to augment the campus experience.
The future of town and gown relationships moving forward will be more collaborative, communicative, and resilient. Whether urban or rural, large or small, astute communities and institutions will jointly develop policies for ensuring public health and student responsibility. Local retail, businesses, neighborhoods, and schools will benefit from an infusion of support that comes from student service, internships, and patronage. Faculty will shift from applied to engaged learning and research – where the proof of accomplishment is real community change. Auxiliary services will be structured to serve student and community needs. Dual-use facilities will be planned to provide both the essential functions of the institutional mission as well as mitigate and adapt unforeseen events.
As the pandemic passes, the most successful marriages between higher education campuses and surrounding commercial and residential neighborhoods will have blurred boundaries, optimized shared spaces, and combined human and financial capital to ensure social, economic, and environmental wellbeing.
This narrative was completed as part of The Evolution of Campus research project and co-authored by Krisan Osterby.