Reconnect Our Campus | Case Western Reserve University

Reconnectour campus

Young male student walking past Thwing Center on the CWRU campus

Returning to classrooms, vaccinating our neighbors—and proving the power of partnership in a pandemic

Persevering through an ever-evolving pandemic

How planning and pivoting became two primary skills of 2020-21

One of the pandemic's most pernicious aspects has been its exceptional ability to extend hope—then suddenly take it away.

As the start of the 2020 academic year approached, Case Western Reserve appeared ready: Sanitizer stations stood all over campus, upgraded technology could accommodate remote learners, and thousands of masks were available on campus.

A male student performing in a jazz ensemble
Photo by Matt Shiffler

A student performs during a physically distanced Jazz Ensemble practice in Wade Commons in 2020. During these sessions, students wear two masks—the first with a hole to play an instrument through, and the second worn as an additional layer when they're not actively performing.

But then cases spiked. Health risks required cuts to housing capacity, upending many students' plans. Those who could still come had to contend with Ohio's quarantine rules for those from high-case rate states. And faculty and staff continued to adjust to increasingly fluid circumstances.

Think for the Good of My Neighbor...Think for the Good of My Health...Think for the Good of My Community.

Faculty, staff and student leaders compiled a Community Commitment video, while others distributed it online and on posters around campus.

As students arrived and classes began, the commitment contributed to a sense of collective mission.

It continued even after COVID-19 cases began to climb again in late fall, ultimately forcing a return to work-from-home practices that extended through much of January. Students and faculty made the most of the month, participating in a "January session" designed to allow learning to continue while risk remained high. Faculty offered 63 short-term remote courses, and four-fifths of the university's undergraduates took at least one of them

128,238 COVID-19 tests administered to students, faculty and staff

63 New short-term courses

By the time the spring semester started in February, federal officials had granted emergency approvals to the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, with Janssen's soon to follow. In early March, CWRU began vaccinating Cleveland residents through a collaboration with the city, and then, gradually, members of the campus community, their family members, and students from area colleges and high schools.

Such progress against the pandemic made 2021 diploma ceremonies possible—albeit outdoors to limit transmission risk. By then, the campus COVID-19 transmission rate stood at 0.04%—1/50th the figures seen in the fall.

As Interim President Scott Cowen told the Class of 2021 at commencement ceremonies: "You all proved during the pandemic that you are strong and adaptable. Resilience emerges when we face adversity. You are going to be alright—no matter any uncertainties or setbacks you may face in your next chapter."

Our best shot

A woman wearing a mask administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a masked man while a nurse sits in the background at a CWRU vaccination clinic.
Photo by Angelo Merendino

The campus came together to protect each other—and our Cleveland community

A masked Case Western Reserve University student in a dress points to a branded bandaid on her arm after receiving her vaccine.
A masked female Case Western Reserve University student holds a sticker depicting Spartie the mascot wearing a mask after receiving her vaccine.
A masked male Case Western Reserve University student wearing a backpack sits on a folding chair after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine.

1,491 students, faculty and staff who volunteered to work CWRU's vaccination clinics from March to June

2 campus gynamsiums transformed into vaccination clinics

15k+ doses distributed at CWRU between March 1 and June 30, 2021

When Case Western Reserve received its first doses of COVID-19 vaccines in March, the university had a huge cadre of capable volunteers eager to help inoculate Cleveland residents: students, staff and faculty from across the campus.

They pitched in with tasks from registration to post-dose observation, with more than 120 undergraduate and master's nursing students—alongside faculty, community partners and medical students—administering doses from March through May. Students also volunteered at vaccine sites across the city, giving them an unforgettable educational—and life-experience.

"At CWRU, we're really fortunate to be able to do clinicals in the hospitals," said undergraduate nursing student Maggie Puc-Lakomy. "But doing these vaccine clinics—to be able to meet people from across the Cleveland community, and our smaller community at Case Western Reserve—its just been really rewarding to know we're helping out the people around us."

That feeling was particularly palpable on the clinic's first day, when volunteers distributed 540 doses to eligible Cleveland residents.

"It's brought me to tears multiple times—hearing people say they can't wait to hug their children again and their mothers," said Megan Koeth, executive director of resiliency, who leads the university's vaccination sites. "It's been a really great day."

Continuing care for our community

Two dental students cleaning someone's teeth at the dental clinic.
Photo by Nick McLaughlin

Patients, students and faculty cheered when Case Western Reserve's dental clinic opened in the summer of 2020—even if it marked the second such occasion in 12 months.

Part of the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic, the 132,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art structure was originally unveiled in mid-2019. But nine months later, COVID-19 forced its closure.

Given that dental students and faculty provide affordable, high-quality care to more than 19,000 patients a year, school leaders were eager to resume serving them.

So, with guidance from university and local health officials, they enhanced safety protocols, decreased overall patient volume and ultimately got the go-ahead to welcome back patients.

"By investing early and working together, we were able to safely resume in-person learning and clinic operations," said Dean Kenneth B. Chance (DEN '79). "Our success is thanks to our people—our faculty, staff and students—who showed unwavering courage, tenacity and resilience in the face of adversity."

9 specialty clinics, plus 1 comprehensive care clinic

19k+ patients treated annually, 11,000 of whom are Cleveland residents

Dancing together, oceans apart

As a professor well recognized for his skill in fusing technology and dance, Gary Galbraith (CIT '86; GRS '88, theater) was more prepared than most when COVID-19 sent classes online.

After all, he was the innovator who'd previously connected dance classes across the internet, and enabled his students to interact seamlessly with holograms they couldn't see.

But amid a pandemic that required everyone to maintain distance, what his students wanted most was to perform together—even if they were spread around the globe.

His answer: "Spaces and Places," a piece featuring 14 students expressing their art from three continents. Those in Cleveland stepped and swooped around campus landmarks, while peers in China and Ghana leapt through high grass and twirled by the ocean.

Captured by devices ranging from 360-degree cameras to standard smartphones, the footage came together in a single 10-minute video after Galbraith spent weeks editing. The response?

"I've had people tell me that they cried tears of joy watching the video," he said.

A source of legal guidance through the pandemic era

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, so too do the questions surrounding it. Hospitals' early ethical dilemmas involving access to scarce ventilation support, for example, have since given way to legal debates about vaccination mandates.

Long nationally recognized for leadership in health law, several law school faculty quickly became the media's go-to experts for answers. Their insights appeared in hundreds of news outlets—from The New York Times to NBC News, CNN to Conde Nast Traveler, USA Today to United Press International.

"COVID-19 has raised fascinating legal and ethical questions with which scholars and policy makers will grapple for years to come," said Sharona Hoffman (LAW '17), co-director of the Law-Medicine Center and the Edgar A. Hahn Professor of Law.

"Keep in mind, we have seat belt laws. We have speed limits. I think if we want to accept the benefits of living in a society, we also have to accept there are some constraints on individual liberty." School of Law Co-Dean Jessica Berg to USA Today on yielding personal freedom to the public good

Assessing steps for a safe return

When COVID-19 forced higher education to move online, the question of when in-person instruction could resume loomed large—as did the potential price tag.

Working with researchers from Harvard Medical School's hospital affiliates, Weatherhead School of Management Assistant Professor Pooyan Kazemian applied a COVID-19-specific computer simulation model to gauge the effectiveness of preventive measures on college campuses.

Among their findings: Calculations showed that combining mask wearing, physical distancing and routine testing was economical and, more importantly, up to 96% effective.

"Our vaccination clinic was a great opportunity to be able to literally save lives."

Megan Koeth, Executive Director of Resiliency

Interim President Scott Cowen smiles behind a Case Western Reserve University podium at commencement on stage alongside three other people in academic regalia.
Photo by Matt Shiffler

Cowen comes home

When Scott Cowen (HON '11) agreed to serve as Case Western Reserve's interim president starting Oct. 1, 2020, he expected to return to familiar ground. After all, he'd been a member of this campus community for nearly a quarter-century as a Weatherhead School of Management professor and former dean, and he'd also spent 16 years leading Tulane University.

But by the time Cowen began, he found himself confronting an unprecedented challenge: steering the university through a once-in-a-century pandemic.

With COVID-19 case counts surging and no vaccines yet in sight, Cowen leaned on two key lessons learned over decades of leadership: Communicate directly, and trust the experts. His biweekly "Thinking Out Loud" messages offered the campus comfort and reassurance, while his reliance on faculty and others outside the university ensured campus leadership acted on the best information available.

4 days of in-person, outdoor commencement ceremonies

When federal officials approved vaccines, Cowen made sure the campus and local residents could receive doses. With increasing vaccination rates, he balanced safety and ceremony in allowing commencement exercises for the Class of 2021—outside with masks. It was a celebration Cowen said will forever stand out as among his most memorable commencements, thanks to the exceptional people crossing the stage and the community they helped build.

As Cowen wrote in his final campus message: "It was an absolute joy to work with so many of you."

"You showed up to class and work in a new world despite feeling vulnerable and ill-prepared. You demonstrated resilience, courage, and dedication. In my mind, you are all heroes."

Interim President Scott Cowen

Revitalize Our Community

Three women wearing winter coats as they walk together in the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood