How are you doing? What do you need? How can we help?

Listening to students’ answers this semester has meant increasing support and adding more virtual experiences for those who need to isolate or quarantine. Members of a new care and support team and isolation assistants are ready to assist and connect with students who need to remain on campus.

“We know this experience is not easy or ideal,” said Frank Shushok, vice president for Student Affairs. “Student feedback has been truly important. It has helped us design needed support.”

Staff members from the Dean of Students Office manage TechCares, the care and support team.

“We don’t expect students to love the experience, but we want them to be successful as they navigate it and other aspects of their personal and academic experience,” said Byron Hughes, dean of students. “We want to make them as comfortable as possible and walk with them each step along the way.”

Team members make daily calls to see if students need anything beyond the support they are already receiving. They take notes and follow up.

Abbey Erwin, assistant director of Fraternity and Sorority Life and team member, calls about five students each day, usually in the late afternoon or early evening. “I knew I wanted to do anything I could to help support our students who are in quarantine and isolation,” she said. “I hope they can hear me smiling at them through the phone—and I hope they know that there are so many Hokies who care about them.”

Isolation assistants are similar to resident advisors (R.A.) but do not meet with students face-to-face. “They stay in touch, answer questions, and deliver supplies that students need or forgot like aspirin or toothpaste,” said Sean Grube, director of Housing and Residence Life.

Kits for students in isolation and quarantine
Sean Grube, director of Housing and Residence Life, packs kits in New Hall West for students who need to isolate or quarantine on campus. "Caring for students who need to isolate or quarantine has truly been a team effort," Grube said about his staff. Photos by Luke Williams for Virginia Tech.

Caring for the mental, physical, and educational needs of students who need to isolate or quarantine is a university-wide undertaking.

If Schiffert Health Center determines a student on campus needs to relocate, Housing and Residence Life works with them and their family to decide where. Students are encouraged to return to their permanent address if they are able to be more comfortable.

Students who need to relocate to the university’s isolation and quarantine housing – East Eggleston Hall and New Hall West – receive emails with instructions and information about what they need to bring, new virtual experiences and program options, wellness events, and more. Students on campus can get assistance moving through Housing and Residence Life. When they arrive, they can expect linen packs, isolation kits, and meals delivered to their door.

They can connect with peers who need to relocate as a precaution or to recover. Cook Counseling Center offers a weekly support group that meets each Monday at noon. Nurses from Schiffert Health Center follow up as needed to discuss results, amend treatment plans, and respond to concerns or questions.

Off-campus students also have access to virtual experiences and support, including check-ins from the Dean of Students Office and academic assistance.  

Full relocation protocol and more information is available on the university’s website. Students and families can learn more about the process and find answers to frequently asked questions.

Kaden Migdal and Utah Kershner and Nevada Kershner
Left: Isolation Assistant Kaden Migdal. Photo by Christina Franusich for Virginia Tech. Right: Juniors Utah Kershner and Nevada Kershner. Photo by Mary Desmond for Virginia Tech.

When juniors Utah Kershner and Nevada Kershner needed to isolate on campus in late September, they weren’t quite sure what to expect. The twins, both of whom are human development and family science majors, were surprised that so many people reached out to check on them.

“I got calls from my boss at Squires, Schiffert Health Center, Housing and Residence Life, Hokie Wellness, and the Dean of Students Office, all asking if I needed anything,” said Utah Kershner. “I even had multiple professors reach out to me to check on me, which I thought was amazing. I felt cared about by everyone.”

Still, he said, communication could have been better in places and more information would have been helpful.

“I’m not going to lie,” Nevada Kershner said. “It was rough being in isolation, but I felt I was well taken care of. I thought the food situation would be a big stressor for me, but Dining Services worked hard to make sure that was not an issue. They did an amazing job ensuring that I had enough food, and they accommodated any requests I had.”

Hughes encourages students who have concerns or need help navigating support to start with the Dean of Students Office.

“We know it’s a very different experience,” Hughes said. “We want everything to be as seamless as possible.”

Written by Tammy Tripp.