RU Invigorated After Pandemic Years; Prepares For Future Growth
By Olivia King
Content Director: Online
A review: In case you don’t remember
For two full years, learning, work, activities and athletics at Rochester University changed dramatically as the community dealt with the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Classes were held online via Zoom or Google Meet, social and athletic events and group gatherings were canceled. Campus was silent and vacant as the world around us came to a halt.
By fall 2020, RU instituted a return to campus, with strict restrictions: face masks were required, people took their temperatures and did daily health screenings, any chance of being infected led to individuals having to quarantine for 14 days. Employees cleaned every surface on campus several times a day and, of course, everyone stayed six feet apart. Many classes were held virtually, and no large gatherings were held, including chapel.
By fall 2021, students and employees started to trickle back to campus, but masks, health screenings and social distancing were still required to try to protect the campus community as much as possible while striving for some semblance of normalcy.
And by March 2022 as more and more people received their COVID vaccinations and the spread was slowing, the mask mandate was lifted and health screenings were no longer required. Isn’t it nice to see people’s faces again?
Dr. Brian Stogner, president of RU, said the campus got through the worst part of the pandemic pretty well, but “it was a horrible experience for everyone at one level or another. I’m grateful that we got through it in reasonably good health as a campus community. We invested a lot in trying to make sure that the campus environment was as safe and healthy as we could’ve made it.”
Where we are now: Normal?
Now life seems to be normal, and students, faculty and staff have started this fall semester with an invigoration of life on campus.
In August, RU held its first in-person Academic Convocation ceremony since 2019. Students, staff and faculty gathered at the RU Alumni Center to celebrate being back together, to recite the Academic Covenant and start the year off strong as a community.
“Seeing the students gathered together is always a highlight for me, especially after the summer when so few students are on campus,” Stogner said. “Students are the lifeblood and reason for being at any university, and I am personally energized and motivated by being around them. Convocation is a great way to kick-start the year.”
Stogner said reciting the RU Academic Covenant together is one of his favorite moments of Convocation. He said he hopes that the Academic Convocation inspired students to feel a deeper commitment to academic work and establish a greater sense of community and belonging among the campus community.
Not just a restart, but growth
This fall, about 650 traditional students started classes at RU, which is a record number, and several new programs are in the works.
Stogner said the administration is trying to create opportunities for people all the way from freshmen to graduating seniors. “We have the largest number of traditional students this semester that we’ve ever had and are very excited about a lot of things.”
The university is starting RISE, a mentoring program to help students build connections with alumni and friends of RU to provide the support and resources that students need to be successful.
The college has added new majors and is working toward the development of two new master's degrees, one in psychology and one in sport leadership. These will be added to the one master’s degree that RU already offers in missional leadership. The university has completed the Higher Learning Commission visit for these programs and a recommendation has been made. Stogner said he is anticipating approval of the programs by the end of the year, and then publicizing and recruitment for the inaugural classes will begin.
“We are really hoping that by informing students here at RU some of our students will want to pursue graduate work here,” Stogner said.
As a smaller university, these new programs and an increase in student enrollment show just how much RU is truly thriving after the pandemic.
Small but big time
Stogner said the marketplace is difficult for small universities as population numbers of high school seniors decrease and paths after high school are changing, but RU has tried to take advantage of the positive aspects of being small.
“We can be more personal. We can make up for what we lack in breadth to make up for in the depth of our connections with people,” he said. “We’ve added a lot of new athletic programs which provide opportunities for student-athletes to come and be a part of our community that’s helped us to sustain and grow our numbers.”
The increase in RU’s student body brings more hustle and bustle back to campus. During online classes and isolation, the campus was often empty and rarely filled with students.
“I am thoroughly enjoying the campus atmosphere. There is life on campus and we have a larger number of residential students than we have had in many many years,” he said. “We can find ways to help students get more out of their education, to get more out of the opportunities that exist outside of the classroom.”
A welcoming place
Stogner said he wants to open RU’s doors to students who may not have truly received or experienced the true love of Jesus and dig deep into the institution’s identity of what it means to be a Christian institution.
“It’s been heavy on my mind how we can really further our identity as a Christian university,” he said. “For me, it’s not only about the campus chapel services or that we study theology, those are important things, but those are not the defining characteristics of a Christian university. What defines us is the values that we hold and the mission that we take on. A big piece of that is to be a welcoming and hospitable place for people who come from the margins, or people who may not have experienced the radical hospitality of Jesus.”
Stogner and the university community want others to know that everyone can be accepted and welcomed onto the RU campus.
“We will be welcoming and inclusive of all believers and unbelievers, all races and ethnicities, all political persuasions, all socioeconomic statuses, all orientations, and citizens of every nation,” Stogner said. “As we create and foster that inclusive and welcoming environment, we will strive to keep in front of us the reminder that it is because Jesus is Lord, that we emulate his model of hospitality, welcome and inclusion.”
As the 2022 school year continues, students, staff and faculty will help RU to thrive and to be an accepting, exciting community for all.
Stogner said, “I hope that students know how to get plugged in and how to reach key people on campus for the things that they need to be successful. Maybe it’s faculty or people at the Center for Student Life. One of our new elements in Student Life is the new well-being office. Everybody is here to provide this type of support for students. It is why we get up in the morning and come to work. I want students to know that they are our priority!”