Buncombe County has worked with countless partners throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that everyone in our community has the information they need to stay safe and healthy. There are several high-risk groups and settings within our community that required special attention and creative solutions to continue operating while observing state and local public health guidance. UNC Asheville was among these, tackling complex challenges with creative solutions.
The UNC Asheville community is made up of 3,300 students and nearly 1,000 employees. Under normal circumstances, the fall semester would have started with high-energy events to welcome incoming students, new-student orientations, and in-person seminars, studios, and labs. Instead, the campus worked as a collective to reduce the impact of COVID-19 by re-imagining every aspect of the typical college experience including classes, internships, and service-learning opportunities.
The administrative team worked with faculty and students to come up with creative ways for students to engage with the subject matter while promoting safety and health. Innovative solutions, strategies, and communication came directly from students via Student Health Ambassadors and student organizations working together with staff and faculty on best practices.
“While UNC Asheville's success compared to other campuses could be attributed to scale, there’s something else at work at UNC Asheville - a shared culture of care, compassion, and mutual respect. We outlined our community expectations early on, shared videos of what the campus experience would be, and continually shared best practices, thanks to regional university partners, both public and private, and the expertise of the Mountain Area Health Education Center,” said Sarah Broberg, special assistant to the Chancellor for communication and marketing.
Sarah continues, “ We became more creative in the ways we had class, held concerts and events, completed internships and undergraduate research, and gathered together as a community. Because even when COVID required us to stay apart, we became closer as a campus, and for our students, social distancing didn’t equate with a lack of a social life. They engaged more with the topics of their time and community initiatives, from the election to racial justice, as well as the impact of COVID-19,” said Broberg.
These initiatives were successful at reducing the impact of COVID-19 on campus. The fall 2020 semester came to a close with only 27 cases of COVID-19 among students and employees. UNCA also reported the lowest prevalence of COVID cases out of all 17 campuses in the UNC System.
UNC Asheville and Buncombe County Government would like to extend a huge thanks to all of our residents for working together to keep the staff and students safe this semester.
“Keeping our University safe, keeps our community safe. The successful completion of our fall semester is more than just a UNC Asheville success story, it isa Buncombe County success story because UNC Asheville’s more than 4,000 students and employees live, work, and contribute to the economy of Buncombe County as conscientious members of our community. Our approach this fall was community-centered and adhering to our campus community expectations contributed significantly to the low prevalence of COVID-19 on our campus,” added Broberg.
The lessons we can all take away from this success story are:
- The 3 Ws work!
- Creative ways to connect with one another are everywhere if you take the time to look for them.
- Improved health and safety is a result of operating within a culture of care, compassion, and mutual respect.
We can all learn together during this pandemic and keep best practices in mind as we celebrate this holiday season. Practice the 3 Ws, look for those creative ways to connect, and always operate from a place of care, compassion, and mutual respect for your friends, family, and neighbors.