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Column: Reflections on hosting a mass vaccination site, and a look ahead

To the Valley News
Published: 5/6/2021 10:20:05 PM
Modified: 5/6/2021 10:20:03 PM

River Valley Community College, like all educational institutions, had a unique year. We shifted classes online and became experts in personal protective equipment. Our in-person classes looked like a science fiction novel with students and faculty adorned in masks, gowns and face shields. Technology kept students and faculty connected even while in different locations. Staff became adept at advising from home.

Despite the challenges, I believe RVCC became an even stronger community partner. While our students, faculty and staff have always been committed and dedicated to our communities, an opportunity for the college to serve as a vaccination site strengthened those ties.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we looked for additional ways to help. When the state began searching for mass vaccination sites, we knew right away that our campuses — in Claremont, Lebanon and Keene — would be a good fit and that our locations and facilities matched the model outlined by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. With this opportunity, not only were we given the chance to support the vaccination effort, many of our students who are training to become health care professionals would be given the opportunity to assist in the process.

I am very proud of how we mobilized to do our part and how our staff worked so hard to accommodate the National Guard and others to run this large-scale program. After Claremont and Keene campuses were selected as vaccination sites, we focused on logistics and how to minimize impact on students. With the majority of our students taking classes online and only 40% on-site to use labs or other hands-on resources required in their programs, we had the extra space needed for such an undertaking. Our maintenance staff was highly committed and worked hard to have the buildings open seven days a week so the National Guard personnel and health care workers would have access to the facilities they needed.

It’s been a busy spring at our Claremont campus, where clinics started in December and ran through early April. More than 15,000 vaccines were administered, including more than 1,000 on the last day. More than 60 of our students in allied health programs were actively involved in administering vaccinations in Claremont and the separate site in Keene.

RVCC’s Allied Health programs are our most popular. We provide a significant number of medical personnel to not only our local region, but throughout New Hampshire. The vaccination clinic gave these students an opportunity to see what a mass-scale health care operation looked like and, for some, it complemented their required training.

Like most of our students, they have shown amazing resiliency and have maintained their dedication to their program of study despite these challenging times and indeed, many found themselves inspired to new levels of professional commitment.

Our students have been just as successful in completing classes and programs during the COVID-19 pandemic as before it. Early on, we started doing additional outreach to students to try to keep them connected. We assigned remote liaisons to every student last spring and we kept that up in the fall. We have staff regularly calling students to check in and maintain those important personal connections. There are a lot of things that we did during the pandemic that are going to improve the student experience into the future.

The faculty and staff at RVCC are committed to helping our students succeed regardless of external factors. We want them to leave prepared to enter or advance in the workforce, or continue their studies at a four-year institution. If you look at our demographics, many of our students begin in the lowest 20% of income in the state. Within five years of graduating, most have strengthened their economic status and have moved up into the 60% income bracket for the state.

The resilient class of 2021 will be graduating soon — and we are looking forward to small, in-person ceremonies with safety precautions. I’m optimistic about their future because they persevered through a challenging year and learned a great deal. So did we as a college community.

I’m grateful to the students, faculty and staff for this perseverance and I am thankful that we could play a role in helping our communities become more protected from the pandemic. As we work toward normalcy in the coming months, we look forward to partnering with organizations across the region to meet their training and workforce needs. In addition, we will continue to strive to help our students achieve their academic and professional goals.

Alfred Williams is the president of River Valley Community College.

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