When Hurricane Harvey landed near Houston in 2017, the category four storm destroyed thousands of houses and left much of the city underwater. At the time, officials at Western Governors University, annationwide, knew scores of them were experiencing the devastation firsthand. Even before Harvey, Western Governors officials kept an ear to the ground for events that could hinder students’ ability to take assessments, specifically.
The university uses those tests to help. But the cataclysmic event spurred officials to expand those efforts, now called the Environmental Barriers Program, to provide individualized support to learners whose is disrupted by natural disasters, not just those taking assessments. That’s when it took off,” said Debbie Fowler, senior of student success at Western Governors.
Today, the program’s team members survey the news for natural disasters, determine how an event could impact many Western Governors’ students, and notify their assigned mentors so they can offer support. That can include linking the affected students to resources or allowing extra time on assignments.
“The secret is being able to leverage the large staff of… who already have that relationship with their particular students,” Fowler said. A single mentor on average.
Western Governors adopted the program last spring, when thelife in the U.S., to address students’ pandemic-related needs. “We were just so unbelievably thankful that we had that system set up when COVID hit,” Fowler said. “We saw every flavor of impact.”
The Environmental Barriers Program assists thousands of Western Governor’s. According to a university webinar held last summer, the year after Harvey, the , identified more than 11,000 students who might be impacted, and followed up with about half to help them continue their studies.
But the pandemic presented a new challenge. Early last March, nearly 300 students living in, one of the areas first hit by the virus, needed assistance due to the pandemic. Two weeks later, that number 7,500 students nationwide. Officials knew they to expand the program.
They began holding daily meetings, where the Environmental Barriers team updated university leadership about where the coronavirus impactedthey needed. The students’ needs. The university already had a system to , such as being displaced from their homes. According to the webinar, they modified it to capture pandemic-related issues, including when a student was dealing with complications.
Kelly Leibee, a nurse in Texas, was one of Western Governors’ students who struggled during the. In the early days of the health crisis, the 45-year-old single mother studying for a master’s in nursing said she witnessed people dying from and feared bringing the virus home to her child. I would be at work all with that,” Leibee said. “I’d and st,udy, and truly my brain was just — I couldn’t focus.” Her mentor contacted her, recommending that she contact a counselor and encourage her to pursue her studies.