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WHEN DISASTER STRIKES, COLLABORATION IS KEY

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By Warren Nichols

It’s hard to believe seven months have passed since Hurricane Harvey made landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast. It dropped more than 50 inches of rain on the greater Houston area, including several communities served by College of the Mainland. To be certain, the Storm of the Century tested the will of a city and its citizens. For College of the Mainland, it also tested our ability to  maintain campus operations for students, faculty and our administration. Long before Harvey made landfall, College of the Mainland had a disaster response plan in place to ensure every campus unit, from academic affairs and human resources to campus police and marketing and communications, knew what to do in the event of a natural disaster. Of course, no one could have predicted the magnitude of Harvey’s damage, but having a plan kept everyone focused on their roles as campus leadership worked to ensure the well-being of students and employees while restructuring the delivery of classes for the upcoming fall semester. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, College of The Mainland made the decision to delay the start of the fall semester a full two weeks to give students and employees time to recover. In fact, the campus was the first educational institution in the Houston area to announce a delay of its fall semester. With flooded streets preventing campus leadership from meeting at the campus, regular conference calls were scheduled to create a framework for thoughtful decision making, reduce confusion, and build a true sense of cooperation among campus leaders. Administrators and key staff up and down the line were invited to participate and all input was valued. Early discussions centered on schedules for campus damage assessments and contractors to repair damage. In time, we focused on collaborations with faculty to restructure 16-week courses to a 14-week semester. College of the Mainland leaders worked with faculty to recommend alternate times to replace classes missed while the campus was closed. Faculty and administrators also created several 12- and-seven-week courses for select programs, a big help for students needing even more time. After all, students shouldn’t suffer academically because of the storm. Meanwhile, marking and communications staff stayed in contact with faculty using Sharepoint, the College of the Mainland website and social media. In the days that followed, staff with student services, financial aid and academic advising returned to campus where they connected with every enrolled student via text and e-mail to check on their needs and inform them of the new semester schedule. The college extended the deadline for tuition payments while a relief fund raised nearly $6000 for employees and students in need. In short order, the College of the Mainland Foundation added another $15,000 to the fund.

THE COLLEGE IN THE COMMUNITY

While campus-wide collaboration was instrumental in the college’s swift response to Harvey, we realized the college was an important community partner, too. Employees were encouraged to step up and help students, employees and the community severely affected by flooding. A research analyst at the college created a Sharepoint document where employees could request or offer specific help for flooded homes and other needs. Other employees volunteered to wash clothes or help clean out houses. Some provided transportation, tools or cleaning supplies to their colleagues. The employee group, COMPeers, volunteered at a nearby Harvey relief distribution center while our student life office and student groups went to homes in impacted neighborhood to remove water damaged belongings, flooring and Sheetrock. Others acted individually. One Collegiate High School employee donated an air conditioning window unit to a student affected by  the flood. Another employee and his family volunteered at a nearby storm shelter. College of the Mainland employees collected school supplies for the Santa Fe Independent School District while others used boats to rescue families during the worst part of the flooding. Once the semester started, more than 300 students attended a Meet The President lunch, a chance to welcome students and assure them of the college’s commitment to their recovery efforts. Speaking of students, fall enrollment actually increased despite the storm—a reward for the dedicated efforts of our team to connect with every student enrolled for the fall.

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