William Woods University

LEAD gets creative during the pandemic

Touring Taiwan virtually, celebrating Latinx heritage, learning about powerful women in history and taking a nature walk are a few LEAD events available to students during the month of September. But the program, which is marking its 20th year at WWU this year, is like everything else on campus during the age of COVID. That is to say, a little different.

With the campus not able to have as many in person and live events due to the pandemic, the LEAD (Learning, Educating, Achieving, Developing) calendar for the fall semester of 2020 is dotted with many and varied online, virtual and Zoom events. 

“Our sponsors are being very creative,” Student Life Office and LEAD Coordinator Debbie Schick said. “By having events on for the entire month, students are not tied to a specific date and time and, therefore, should have ample time and opportunity to complete the event.”

As always, Schick encourages students to get their points early, to check the LEAD calendar and their points often. 

Outside the Box

The two events Darianne Maclin, WWU Director of Diversity and Inclusion, is hosting this month include a virtual tour of Taiwan and an interactive bulletin board celebrating Latinx heritage. The Tour of Taiwan takes place online and allows students to explore various sites across the Asian island nation, and then complete a form for credit. The Latinx Heritage bulletin board allows students to learn about four Latinx figures who have made significant contributions to the world, and research about their lives and impact.

Darianne Maclin
Photo taken before March 2020

“Planning virtual LEAD events is largely new to me, so I am having to think outside-the-box and try to find ways that students will want to learn virtually,” Maclin said. “I hope students can get excited to learn about other cultures in new and innovative ways. Hopefully, by touring another country virtually or by researching leaders and change-makers from various communities, they will feel inspired to create positive change and connect with others.”

Along with Maclin, more events are being planned by Venita Mitchell, Dean of Student Life, to last the entire month of September. One of those events is called Unladylike 2020, where students can select two of the videos to watch and then use the reflection form to answer a couple of questions. Each video is less than 15 minutes and presents a mini documentary juxtaposing from past to present.   

With this being an election year and the celebration of 100 years since the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote, Mitchell was looking for an event that highlighted the women’s suffrage movement and more.

“Things we take for granted are a result of the courage and resilience of many of these trailblazing women,” Mitchell said. “I hope students leave with an appreciation for the barriers these women broke through for all humans, and perhaps some motivation to be a part of the history we still need to change today.”

Walking the walk

Matt Dube, Professor of English was in a Zoom call this summer about trying to reimagine how to hold LEAD events under COVID and heard a suggestion to schedule events outdoors whenever possible.

“I am definitely not an outdoorsy person, but one of the podcasts I really like had been talking about how the pandemic really fired up one of the host’s interest in bird watching—that she’d been going for walks to stay sane and trying to identify birds as parts of adding some structure to the walks, or some sense of accomplishment instead of it just being another chore,” Dube said.

Matt Dube

Those two thoughts made an impression on Dube, and he came up with an outdoor LEAD event that would consist of taking a lazy stroll around campus with a sense of purpose, with some fun discovery instead of nothing at the end. He spoke with Biology Professor Robin Hirsch-Jacobson about good apps for identifying plants and animals, and the one that was suggested – iNaturist – turned out to be perfect for the purpose. The app is easy to use and effective, and Dube looks forward to seeing how the change in seasons will bring new things to see. September is selected for the Nature Walk because it’s outdoors and one can do it at their own pace.

“In the midst of all our campus landscaping, there’s still some wild nature to be discovered, and I wanted students to see some of that,” Dube said. “If students can think about campus as a place, as a biome, I think that would be a revelation. I hope students have a richer sense of where they live and how it’s an entity in itself, a living, changing, constantly different environment.”

Exceeding expectations

One of the students that has done the LEAD events virtually is student athlete Kate Doerhoff ‘21. She did both the Tour of Taiwan event and the Nature Walk.

“I like LEAD events virtually because you still get to do the activity but can complete it whenever you have time instead of rushing to them in between classes and practices,” Doerhoff said.

Another student Bailey Tutt ’21 also had attended some LEAD events including the Nature Walk and Unladylike 2020. She enjoyed hiking The Woods and learning more about the outdoor campus with the Nature Walk LEAD event especially.

“The nature walk was nice because it got me outside and looking at the things that I don’t normally pay attention to on campus,” Tutt said.

COVID has created an interesting challenge for activities this fall and has forced the campus community to take out their sketch pad and find creative ways to present campus activities. With innovative ideas the order of the day these days on campus, students are finding ways to still fulfill their LEAD award and building intimate relationships, even during a global pandemic.

For more on the LEAD program, please visit https://www.williamwoods.edu/student_experience/undergraduate_student_experience/lead_award_program/index.html