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Student Life Office shows ingenuity after campus closure

A team headed by the Housing and Residence Life Office developed a plan for students to safely collect their belongings after the announcement that the semester would resume online

Cate Zenzen  | 

Storage area in Shamblin

In the midst of uncertainty and change, the Lipscomb Student Life team have proven their grace under pressure. In mid-March, while students were away on Spring Break, the university announced the semester would be completed online. While professors adjusted their classwork and students changed their plans, the Office of Student Life quickly strategized how to move 1,546 students out of campus residence halls. 

“Our Housing and Residence Life staff specializes in adaptability. They plan well, but they shine the brightest when unexpected chaos ensues and someone needs to step up and make something happen. They quite literally respond 24/7 to every imaginable scenario, so although this unprecedented challenge was extremely difficult, responding with compassion and courage is just the sort of thing they do every day,” said Al Sturgeon, vice president of student life. 

The team developed and implemented an extensive plan in only 24 hours, managing the process without face-to-face contact with the students. Through email, text, and phone conversations, students signed up for a time slot to safely collect their belongings. Head residents were even able to program keycard-access doors to open only for the 25 students assigned to a particular day.

The residence life team was particularly anxious to clear out Elam Hall as the dorm is scheduled for internal renovations over the summer. With students from all over the world, the distance from home to school prevented 30 students from moving out within the designated time. The Head Residents managed a team to physically move students’ belongings from the Hall to Shamblin Theatre, which was converted into a makeshift storage area. The team used tape to create “rooms” on the floor to keep things separate and neat. Many students have since collected their things using the loading dock in Shamblin Theatre, while others will return next fall to find their things already in their assigned room.

This team included Rachel Smiley, director of housing; Jonathan Williams, director of residence life; and resident head directors Mike Smith, Nate Barton, Jackson Smith, Jessi Mestan, Nora Johnson and Kimberlyn Perkins. Other student life "heroes" Falon Barton, Tasha Coleman, Maddy Fowler and Jody Sturgeon packed boxes while Prentice Ashford and Kyle Dickerson helped with the moving process. 

“I have the most incredible team. It is important to note that this was a huge team effort,” said Laurie Sain, dean of housing and residence life. 

While Elam Hall was cleared out, students and parents were contacted to develop plans to complete the move-out process. Some items were stored, others shipped to students’ homes, including a complete computer system belonging to an Animation major. All belongings were labeled and tracked on inventory sheets and not one item was lost or misplaced. 

To accommodate those students unable to return home, the residence life team developed criteria required for students to remain on campus. This included commitments to complete, such as an internship or lab residency, unreliable internet service at home, or a high risk of creating a health crisis for family members at home. Within the week of graduation, the number of students living on campus went from 30 to seven, as some graduated and others were able to return to their home countries or more secure off-campus housing. Those continuing to reside on campus were assigned their own rooms with Sodexo providing meals for them. 

“There are very few students remaining on campus this summer who cannot return to their home. For those that remain, we secured kitchens and cookware for meal preparation following health and safety guidelines. More importantly, our residence life staff continues to be here to provide guidance and advice for any needs that arise,” said Sturgeon. 

The Office of Student Life is now in the process of creating a contingency plan for next semester. While the team is cautiously optimistic about opening in the fall, it is understood that the move-in process will look drastically different. Ideas such as tightly-scheduled time slots, paperless check-in, and even a reconsideration of the number of students per room have been discussed. Yet, the housing and residence life staff are confident in their ability to take on further challenges. 

“I feel like after having climbed this mountain, we can do anything! We know how to adapt,” said Sain.