Gabbard: We are here and we are ready, no matter what comes next

McHenry County College President Clinton Gabbard speaks during the winter commencement ceremony Dec. 13 in Crystal Lake.
McHenry County College President Clinton Gabbard speaks during the winter commencement ceremony Dec. 13 in Crystal Lake.

My grandchildren will turn the ages of 4 and 1 during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. My granddaughter may only remember this, at some unconscious level, as the season her cuddle-time increased dramatically, with both parents working from home.

My 4-year-old grandson may well remember this as the season when his parents seemed mostly bewildered. They have described his emotions as mercurial, one minute randomly giving them spontaneous hugs, saying, “I love you so much,” out of seemingly nowhere; the next minute wildly searching for random stuff around the house to become the objects of his fury.

We FaceTime them, reaching out to the screen, with as much love as can be electronically passed, and are usually exhausted at the end having watched the challenges of their sequestered lives.

I can’t say for sure how the employees and students of McHenry County College will remember the Pandemic of 2020. Their personal lives are already showing the strains of huge disruptions, as spouses are furloughed, their children struggle to learn with a computer, and everyone seems to now know someone who has been personally, tragically impacted by the virus. Quite frankly, this is harder than anyone would have imagined.

However, along with their personal and family stories, I believe that our employees will also remember this as a time that the mission statement of the college, “Our Focus is Learning, Student Success is Our Goal,” bursts to life, giving everyone a unique opportunity to come together and live out the very basic tenants of servant leadership.

COVID-19 has, for MCC employees, reminded us that we are creative, nimble professionals who are determined to inspire students to learn, even in the toughest of times.

Our faculty, upon the first hint that we would need to transform our physical classrooms into virtual learning spaces, placed the student at the center of their hearts and minds, and took to transforming their teaching into this new style of classroom.

Our staff who support student learning outside the classroom, started transforming nooks and corners in their homes to begin serving students remotely. We recruited 93 people across the college, from cooks to mailroom clerks, development officers to basketball coaches, to become online class Student Navigators.

Each online class now has someone from the College checking in with them daily, making sure they are getting comfortable with the technology, trouble-shooting problems with connectivity, and generally reassuring students that they will be OK – that they’ve got this.

This is all evident through what we have seen and experienced thus far:

• Conducting about 900 class sections online

• More than 90 employees skilled up and re-deployed to serve students in a new, online Student Navigator role

• Increased funding though our emergency Student Success Fund so that we can deliver technology tools to our students immediately

• Several hundred students attending live Zoom Q&A sessions to get their questions answered real-time by student support experts

Over and over again, our employees are expressing their love for their community, through serving the students we have been entrusted to teach and support. And the deep satisfaction of our staff feeling useful, even if while sitting at their basement-become-office computer, helping our students figure out how to thrive online, just may be a dominant memory of COVID-19, for each of us.

I can only imagine the additional stories of success that will emerge in the weeks to come. And I look forward to sharing these with our MCC community as we continue to face each day with optimism and hope.

Our students inspire us to serve every day, and this pandemic, that will eventually end, has reminded us that crises make us all leaders, when we step forward and are willing to serve.

• Dr. Clint Gabbard is the President of McHenry County College.

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