by Bill Bush
HESSTON—When Hesston College canceled activities and moved to online instruction in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, they couldn’t simply close the dorms and send everyone home. Many students still needed a place to live.
About fifty students remain in the dorms, which is more than any of the Hesston College Mennonite school counterparts in the country and more than the other private colleges in Kansas, according to Rachel McMaster, Director of Marketing and Communications at Hesston College.
Prior to moving to online classes, about 275 students lived on campus.
All of the students have been moved into one building (Erb Hall) to help save on utilities, but everyone has their own room to promote social distancing.
The college has continued to provide meals for the students.
“We felt like if we’re going to continue to serve our students in the way that we have promised we would serve them, then part of that is also feeding them,” McMaster said.
Mealtimes are staggered and students have to leave space between each other while eating.
Over half of the international students on campus this semester returned home to be with family during the pandemic. Still, about twenty-five remain on campus. They make up about half of the remaining students.
About a quarter of the students remain because they proved they had a legitimate reason to stay on campus. Most of them don’t have the resources at home to be successful with online classes.
The final twenty-five percent are aviation students who need access to the airplanes to continue their training, though that option remained in question for a bit. The school purchases fuel from the Newton Airport, which had considered shutting down. The airport remains open for now, but if it closes then the school will have to shut down the aviation program for lack of fuel.
McMaster said the biggest challenge for Hesston College students—those that remain and those that are studying from home—is the loss of community.
“Some deal with it better than others but, yeah, for some it’s been a struggle,” McMaster said. “Faculty and staff are doing everything they can to try and create some semblance of normalcy. We want to do whatever we can for our students in whatever way they need.”
On one of the nice days last week, Student Life put out a bunch of chalk and encouraged students to draw something on the sidewalks and called it an outdoor art gallery.
On one Friday evening they scattered board games so students could play together in groups of four. At the same time, they promoted the game night on social media and encouraged students at home to play games with their families.
Campus ministries plans to hold a virtual discussion session using Zoom to get students together.
“Whoever wants to just get on and talk about whatever it is they’re feeling, or the struggles they’re having or the good things that have come out of this for them,” McMaster said. “So it’s just a time for students to connect with each other even though we’re spread out across the world right now. That was one thing that was really important as we started implementing our action plan for this was to just come up with whatever creative ways we could to continue community engagement.”
Graduation was scheduled for May 16 and is still up in the air.