STRONGER THAN BEFORE - WCJC adapts to new normal in the midst of COVID-19

September 22, 2020
STRONGER THAN BEFORE - WCJC adapts to new normal in the midst of COVID-19

Sept. 22, 2020





Wharton County Junior College student Isaac Zepeda of Bay City dons a face covering while working on an assignment on the Wharton campus. WCJC has implemented wide-scale changes during the COVID-19 pandemic to help mitigate risk for students, faculty and staff.

WHARTON, TEXAS – The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way most institutions and companies do business, and Wharton County Junior College is no exception. College faculty and staff have spent the majority of this past year monitoring and adjusting to a host of wide scale changes based on the recommendations of healthcare and emergency response agencies.

That WCJC successfully adapted to these alterations – while maintaining the college’s primary goal of providing an affordable, quality education to area students – is a testament to the dedication of college employees, said WCJC President Betty McCrohan.

“During this past year we have been faced with challenges on an unprecedented scale, yet the college’s employees have met those difficulties with resolve and dignity and have taken the steps needed to continue to provide services to our students,” McCrohan said. “I could not be prouder of our great institution.”

One of the most significant aspects of the college’s coronavirus response has been the conversion of most courses to an online platform. As a nationwide shutdown took effect back in March, college staff had to quickly determine how to finish out the semester while no longer offering face-to-face instruction.

“Our foundational commitment throughout this time remained what it has always been: To provide our students with a quality education while ensuring that they could achieve their goals in an environment that promoted their overall health and safety,” said Dr. Amanda Allen, WCJC’s Vice President of Planning and Institutional Effectiveness. “The most significant change was the overarching conversion to an online environment.”

To say such a change was daunting is quite the understatement. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the college offered less than 200 online courses each semester. As of September, the college now offers more than 800 online classes.

Michele Betancourt, WCJC’s Director of Distance Education, was tasked with getting faculty up to speed on online instruction via the Blackboard platform. At that time, roughly 40 percent of faculty had never used the platform.

Live training sessions were offered as well as a series of five training modules. Faculty, staff and student support services were also expanded to accommodate any questions or issues that might arise.  Other college procedures also had to be adjusted, such as the moving of convocation week meetings to an online environment, the transition of the Adult Education and Literacy program to an online format, the reconfiguring of vocational courses that maintained a face-to-face component and the merging of course sections.

Betancourt singled out her staff with “rising to meet the challenge” while crediting the college’s faculty with stepping up to the plate to make everything happen as quickly as possible.

“We have had faculty who prior to COVID-19 had never touched Blackboard and they ended up creating some amazing online courses,” she said. “I can’t express enough how amazing our faculty have been throughout this process.”

Dr. Allen agreed that college faculty – as well as staff and administration – did an outstanding job in the midst of an unprecedented crisis.

“While the challenges have been great, I am so proud of the innovation and commitment that everyone showed to ensure that we continued to instruct, support and care for our students,” Allen said.

One of Allen’s top goals since the pandemic hit was the development of the WCJC Reopen Plan, a series of health and safety protocols developed to mitigate risk for students, faculty and staff. The plan entails three phases that cover everything from new instructional guidelines to campus sanitization to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The plan’s general framework was developed in March and April and since then all three phases have been implemented, with alterations made as new information became available.

“One of the most significant challenges throughout this process has been to stay up-to-date with the best information available,” Allen said. “Recommendations and requirements from our various agencies and authorities have continued to change, sometimes on a daily basis, and keeping pace with those changes has kept us on our toes.”

Additional modifications to the college’s daily operations are likely to be necessary in the future as the pandemic continues to affect the lives of people around the nation and globe. Allen believes WCJC will meet those new challenges head-on.

“Everyone, truly every single person here at the college, has been asked to change, innovate and adjust in ways that we never could have expected, and every person deserves recognition for that work, dedication and drive,” she said. “There will be more challenges in the months ahead, but I am confident in our ability to persevere and emerge even stronger than before.”