How UNC adapted to changes from the coronavirus and met the challenge with strength, innovation and care.

It wasn’t a typical UNC spring semester. Instead of hammocks strung between trees on Central Campus, study sessions out on Gunter lawn and fittings for caps and gowns, students returned from spring break to move out of dorms and finish classes remotely, and faculty and staff were working long hours to move courses online and address student needs. The cancellation of commencement and championship games left students and athletes feeling adrift and at a loss. Research came to a standstill. The coronavirus (COVID-19) sent waves of uncertainty and grief into March and April as stay-home orders changed the shape of spring.

As UNC Magazine was entering its final stages of production in mid-March, we decided to develop this special issue to share with you not only a sense of the unprecedented events on campus as they unfolded, but also the response of Bears who rose to meet the challenge in support of our students and the community.

We’ve organized these stories chronologically over seven weeks — between March 4 and April 22 — pulling out highlights of reports coming from the university’s coronavirus task force.
The first communications to the community went out on March 4, as the president and his leadership council organized responsive, proactive teams across campus to meet rapidly emerging challenges. On March 18, the task force began sharing Daily Operational Updates with online video recordings of their meetings.

While the updates shared vital information, they also reflected efforts across disciplines and departments on campus.

For continued COVID-19 updates, log on to  COVID-19

December 31, 2019 

What would come to be known as the novel coronavirus is first reported from Wuhan, China, as pneumonia with an unknown cause.

January 21

The first case is reported in the United States.

January 30

The World Health Organization (WHO) declares a global public health emergency.

March 4

UNC’s Dean of Students, Gardiner “Tuck” Tucker, Ph.D., shares a message with students ahead of UNC’s spring break, outlining travel concerns, preventative measures and caring for the community. It would be the first of many communications with students and the campus community.

“We are concerned about the well-being of students affected by the impact of the outbreak, including worries about family members in quarantined areas as well as travel restrictions,” Tucker wrote. He also addressed issues of civility. “Many of our affected community members live daily with anxiety and should not have to experience jokes, blame or other hurtful expressions. UNC is an inclusive and global university, so this time calls for increased awareness and understanding of how this situation affects all students, faculty and staff from local areas, around the country and abroad.”

Blaine Nickeson, associate vice president for administration, writes to the entire campus community, sharing some of the first changes the university institutes: “Per recent CDC guidance, UNC is suspending study abroad activities in South Korea and Italy. The Center for International Education is working to make sure all students that were studying in those countries are back home or on their way.”

March 5

First confirmed COVID-19 cases reported in Colorado.

March 11

UNC President Andy Feinstein announces that classes will move to alternate delivery (mostly online) for at least the two weeks following spring break (March 14-22), with a two-day break on March 23 and 24 for faculty to prepare for the transition.


WHO calls the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis declares a state of emergency in Colorado with 17 presumptive cases statewide.

March 12

Study Abroad, International Students Among First to Feel Impact

Well before the first reported case of COVID-19 in the United States, UNC’s center that supports study abroad and international students had already mobilized.

As the virus hopscotched through China, South Korea and Italy, the Center for International Education (CIE) stayed in regular contact with the 46 UNC students studying abroad this spring, providing guidance and helping them return safely home.

Travel warnings to countries experiencing outbreaks started being issued in late February. CIE responded by offering voluntary program withdrawals to all students studying abroad. CIE Director Olga Baron and her staff hosted a virtual town hall with over 200 international students to advise and answer questions.

By March 12, with the first reported cases in the U.S. and UNC moving in-person classes online, all study abroad programs for spring (and eventually fall) were canceled. International students who elected to stay were provided room and board on campus. Despite the disruption, the focus remained on helping students stay on their academic track. 

“Many students were able to continue their coursework remotely, and those who were not worked with academic units and advisers to find solutions,” Baron said.

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 March 14-22

 UNC on spring break.

 March 16 

President Feinstein announces that all classes will move to alternate delivery for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, all in-person meetings and events are canceled for the remainder of the semester, and spring 2020 graduate and undergraduate commencement ceremonies are canceled.

 March 18 

UNC’s coronavirus task force begins meeting daily to share updates and information with the university community.

The task force includes university-wide subcommittees focused on specific areas of impact for students, faculty, campus infrastructure, technology and finance. Feinstein and his cabinet consult daily with local and state officials.

Operational Updates

Student Impact

As laboratory courses contemplate online options, UNC Provost Mark Anderson, Ph.D., commends faculty for finding ways to meet learning objectives in the virtual environment and offers insights into some of the challenges students may face in isolation.

“When moving into an online environment, it’s critical we be mindful of the isolation students can oftentimes feel, making sure we’re upfront about how to maintain the connection between the students of the course,” he says. “So, one thing we’ve talked about with the deans is making sure that students understand how to be in touch with each other in an online environment, maintaining that classroom community connection.”

Tucker gives a shout out to Information Management and Technology (IM&T) for helping them get their advanced technology online so counselors can work from home. “One of the biggest impacts is students becoming isolated ... In all the different ways we’re moving — through email, phone, Teams, Zoom, Skype, and even YouTube — there’s a concerted effort to connect the students and address impacts,” he says.

Student Impact

UNC announces it will pay work-study and hourly students and student employees through the end of April. “This is an important commitment to our students, many of whom rely on this income to meet their basic needs, food and shelter in a very unsettled time,” says Marshall Parks, director of Human Resources.

 March 19

As faculty and staff prepare for classes to move to alternative delivery methods, tutoring services become available online, including the Math Lab and the Writing Center. And, as fall semester registration approaches, professional advising moves online.

March 20

Students receive information about checking out laptops on loan from Michener Library. Over the next few weeks, more than 150 students receive laptops for use while classes are online.

Student Impact

For seniors embarking on job searches, COVID-19 adds a layer of separation and complication. The Center for Career Readiness’ support for seniors includes individual appointments online or via phone, virtual drop-ins to chat with career counselors, and online review of resumes, cover letters and other search-related documents. Instead of visiting classes in person, career readiness counselors present to virtual classes. They also work with employers to make sure students have access to virtual hiring events.

With the cancellation of UNC’s K-12 Educator Employment Day (one of the largest in Colorado) career counselors collect educator candidate resumes. They’ll coach students on moving forward with job searches during lockdowns.

Center for Career Readiness

Student Impact

Virgil Pierce, Ph.D., director of the School of Mathematical Sciences, sets up a virtual Biochem Math Study Center to advise and support students. Pierce offers direct conversations with students through Twitch TV, and a Math Student Lounge offers virtual space where students can study, discuss and socialize for academic support online.

 March 22

With the end of spring break, students return — with many moving out of the residence halls. To help support students who choose to remain in residence halls for the rest of the semester, 56 resident assistants decide to return to campus.

Student Impact

In an effort to address student stress over alternative course delivery and the many changes and cancellations taking place, UNC’s registrar’s office extends the individual withdrawal deadline to April 17. The extension is designed to give students time to adjust to online classes.

 March 23 

The Big Sky Conference announces cancellation of all athletic activities, including practices and workouts, now through May 15.


Numerous UNC departments and teams donate Professional Protection Equipment (PPE) for health care workers across the state.

  • 89 Eye Protection/Goggles
  • 1,010 Surgical Mask w/o Shield
  • 873 N-95 Respirators
  • 50 Medical Caps
  • 2,250 Biohazard Bags (Est. 22 boxes)
  • 129 Disposable Gowns
  • 37,970 Disposable Gloves (Est. 380 boxes)
  • 350 Drapes

 March 24 

UNC announces first case of COVID-19 among the campus community.

Student Impact

With job loss and other closures related to COVID-19, students find themselves needing assistance and support in ways they haven’t in the past. UNC offers student legal services for situations related to landlords. The Student Outreach and Support Office offers non-counseling support and guidance with issues like food insecurity, housing insecurity and mental-health concerns. Students are assigned case managers to help guide them.

Student Outreach and Support

 March 25

First day of alternate course delivery. For the first time in UNC’s history, most students returning to class after spring break are not returning to campus.

 March 26

Statewide Stay-at-Home order for Colorado, issued by Gov. Polis, goes into effect.

Connected Community

Koreen Myers, in her first month working as professional development coordinator in Human Resources, creates an online toolkit for employees working remotely, offering tips for staying connected, staying productive, health tips, work-parent balance tips, mental health resources, food resources and other local resources.

Organizational Development

 March 27

Students receive a survey explaining housing options and asking if they will remain on campus or move out of dorms.


 Campus buildings move to lockdown beginning at 5 p.m. Access is only available to people designated essential personnel.

 March 28

UNC leaders meet with the state architect to identify residence halls for use as an alternate care facility at the state level. The architects are being tasked with identifying 100-bed blocks throughout the state between hotels and facilities like college residence halls.

Student Impact

Cultural Centers work to help students who may feel isolated or are missing the campus community by providing emotional support, offering one-to-one and drop-in appointments and hosting virtual social gatherings and academic study sessions. Each finds innovative ways to connect:

Native American Student Services (NASS) hosts weekly social gatherings and academic study sessions using Zoom, and Kelly DiGiulio, a student intern, creates bi-weekly social media videos on art therapy and self-care.

Asian/Pacific American Student Services (A/PASS) hosts a graduation and end-of-year celebration with Instagram Live featuring performers who had been scheduled to come to the now-canceled annual Luau and also hosts weekly social gatherings and academic study sessions using Zoom.

Marcus Garvey Cultural Center posts highlights of notable African American women during Women’s History Month and offers virtual wellness sessions, as well as one-to-one meetings and online drop-ins.

César Chávez Cultural Center shares wellness videos and hosts weekly Zoom community rooms for student engagement and discussion, Netflix gatherings and social hours each week.

Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) shares daily videos on self-care, academic tips and tools for social distancing and posts articles regarding the queer community and culture, articles on queer history and queer artist spotlights. They also host 15 affinity groups with 23 digital meetings during April to support students in hostile living situations.

Center for Women’s and Gender Equity (CWGE) posts daily blogs related to current women’s and gender issues and how they’re being impacted by the coronavirus; the Stryker Institute for Leadership Development establishes weekly community gatherings online with topics centered around situations students may be experiencing.

Veterans Services, through a podcast, spotlights UNC faculty and staff who have served or are serving and highlights resources and support available to veterans and military-affiliated students on campus.

Equity & Inclusion

 March 29 

 

Student Impact

As faculty work to find ways for students to cope and stay connected through the changes and challenges of social distancing, Audiology Professor Jenny Weber, Au.D., CCC-A, challenges her students to complete an extra credit assignment that focuses on mental health:

“Do something to take your mind off the negative right now and focus on the good and the positive,” she says. “I believe sharing with everyone on the discussion board will all help us keep connected as a class. Keep it positive. We’ll get through this together.” Her students share stories about taking regular walks, post photos of their pets, and upload images of art they create.

Student Impact

The Campus Recreation Center moves activities online. Students can visit Instagram, Facebook and Instagram TV for UNC’s weekly fitness challenges, workouts of the week, some classes, and the Recreation Center’s health and wellness tips, and can participate virtually in intramurals and competitive sports.

 March 30

 

Connected Community

Chelsie Romulo, Ph.D., assistant professor of Geography, GIS, and Sustainability, uses 3D printers to create PPE for Colorado health care workers. Romulo, who is printing the bottom part of the face shield that holds the clear plastic in a curve to protect the face, joined the NoCo Face Shield Project, a group that is printing “Prusa 3DPrinter COVID-19 Protective Face Shields” for local hospitals that don’t have access to enough face shields as protective gear.
 
 Read More

Connected Community

Kendyl Kelly and the Office of Student Life create United to Nurture our Community (UNC) — A Card Campaign. Student groups and members of the community are invited to send messages of support to people in Greeley who live or work in long-term care facilities, nursing homes and hospitals, as well as the 350-plus UNC students and residence advisors who are remaining on campus for spring semester. As of late May, the UNC Card Campaign has mailed more than 1,400 cards out to the community.

Read More

Student Impact

To offer entertainment options, the Office of Student Life links students to national programming, including livestreams and free virtual concerts.

Office of Student Life

 April 2

Summer classes, which begin May 18, will move primarily online for the summer.

April 3

Gov. Polis asks Coloradans to wear non-medical, cloth face masks when going out.

Student Impact

Student Outreach and Support sets up a process with Housing and Residential Education so that any campus community member aware of a student needing an alternative-living situation can submit a student of concern report, and a case manager will assist them. The team also creates a coordinated outreach plan to contact, via phone or video call, every residential student on campus to check in, see how they’re doing, and provide some human connection.

 April 8 

Faculty Senate votes in favor of adopting a satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading option.

Read More

Connected Community

While on administrative leave as a cook for Dining Services, Julia Riley makes masks for her coworkers — as well as for health care workers. Working eight or nine hours each day, she estimates she’s made a couple hundred masks, which her husband Neil (who is UNC’s catering manager in Dining Services) sends out or delivers for her. 

Read More

 April 10

The U.S. Department of Education announces the release of approximately $14 billion to students and institutions of higher education from the recently enacted CARES Act. Of that amount, UNC may expect approximately $7.65 million, of which 50% will be used for financial aid grants for students.

Connected Community

Bear Connection website shares operational updates and resources for UNC students, families and alumni.

Bear Connection

Student Impact

UNC provides more than $400,000 in important financial support to student employees through payroll, with 477 students working remotely, 670 on paid administrative leave because they aren’t able to work remotely, and 63 students working on campus (including nine in the police department and 54 in housing).

 April 13

UNC’s College of Performing and Visual Arts announces the cancellation of its 2020 summer arts season, including all Little Theatre of the Rockies productions and Concert Under the Stars performances.

Student Impact

UNC’s Go On And Learn (GOAL) program, an inclusive higher education program for cognitive diversity, is designed for students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. In-person contact with students is one of the program’s cornerstones, so moving online is particularly challenging. Executive Director Christina Ruffatti and her team create alternative programming and services, including a Facebook group for parents, virtual peer meetings, regular webinars, exam proctoring online, registration advising, cooking classes and Netflix watch parties.

GOAL

Student Impact

Center for Human Enrichment (CHE) and the TRiO student support services provide comprehensive academic services to support the 200 first-generation students at UNC.

CHE

April 15 

 

Student Impact

The Office of Academic Community Engagement (ACE) offers online resources for students who want to volunteer in the community, including ways to safely connect to service opportunities with community partners. Students can help with meal delivery, food banks, grocery deliveries and connecting with agencies like North Range Behavioral Health, Kiwanis and United Way. 

ACE

Connected Community

UNC’s football team and the Alumni Association volunteer at the Weld Food Bank.

 April 17

Lynn Cornelius, the interim director for the School of Art and Design; Pam Meadows, the director of UNC Galleries; Jane Monson, digital initiatives librarian; and Rachel Dineen, the art design librarian, work together to create a final senior show online for seniors.

Read More

 April 22

Board of Trustees meets via Zoom to discuss potential budget implications of COVID-19 on UNC. 

April 30

President Feinstein announces UNC’s plan for students, faculty and staff to be back on campus, and for in-person instruction to resume in August.