Making IC Happen

By Grace Collins ’23, Desiree Holz '23, Leah Aulisio-Sharpe ’22, James Baratta ’22, and Marisa Thomas '23, February 12, 2021
Ithaca College staff members worked long hours to ensure safe and seamless return to campus.

At the end of January, 2,460 residential students returned to campus for the start of the 2021 Spring semester. Returning to South Hill after spending, in some cases, the better part of a year away due to the Coronavirus pandemic, you’d forgive them if they needed some time to adjust to being back with classmates and professors, walking the halls, sitting in classrooms and eating in IC Square.

What those students might not see is the months of tireless, behind-the-scenes work by countless Ithaca College staff members to ensure they would be returning to a safe and welcoming environment.

In this story, we highlight just a few of the many IC community members who helped make the spring semester a reality.

Residential Life

For the staff on the college’s Move-In Committee, coordinating move-in for students was a bit like hitting a moving target.

Testing requirements, mandatory quarantines, and constantly changing data and state mandates meant that the staff on the committee had to constantly adapt their plans to getting students safely moved back into their residence halls.

The committee, chaired by Dean of Students Bonnie Prunty, was formed in the spring of 2020 with the intent of planning for a return to campus in Fall 2020. However, when the college made the decision to extend remote instruction, the committee quickly pivoted.

“When we were finally able to sit at the table and welcome students back, it was an amazing experience. We all felt genuine joy and pride. It was a great front-facing moment just to be able to answer student questions and laugh with them.”

Marsha Dawson, director of residential life

“When the decision was made to go remote for the fall, you would think that that might be a relief that we could have a little downtime,” Prunty said. “Instead, we thought, ‘how can we use this as an opportunity to practice and test out things so we’re ready when more students come back in the spring?’”

Members of the Residential Life team at move-in

Residential Life staffers were all smiles — behind their masks — when it came time to help students move back to campus. (Photo courtesy of Jenny Pickett ’98)

Prunty, who also chaired the Student Emergency Relief Fund and Transportation committees, said that some of the biggest challenges with regard to the move-in process came from continuously changing New York state mandates, like the shift from a 14-day quarantine to a “test-out” 72-hour quarantine option for travelers from non-contiguous states.

Jenny Pickett ’98, assistant director of residential life, also played an instrumental role in making the return to campus a reality. She said that one of the biggest breakthroughs in planning for move-in came in late December when the college decided to switch its coronavirus test from the nasal swab to the saliva test. This allowed students and employees to take the saliva test on their own time and return their sample to drop boxes around campus.

“It gives us a lot more flexibility than having a test that needs to be administered by specific practitioners in the Athletics and Events Center,” said Pickett.  

Pickett also worked to coordinate the move-in logistics for students who were quarantining at hotels because their roommates had already arrived and been cleared to live on campus. In an effort that included a large amount of collaboration with transportation and dining services, students were taken to hotels on sanitized buses and provided with bags of perishable and shelf-stable food for the duration of their quarantine.

Residential life staffers at move in

Marsha Dawson (right), director of residential life, and wrap-around care manager Samm Swarts waiting to greet students at move-in.

Many of these students shipped their belongings to campus to be stored while they completed their hotel quarantine. A total of 175 volunteers worked a total of 965 volunteer shifts to assist in storing and moving student belongings, including the 1,151 pieces of mail that were received on campus and delivered to student rooms between Dec. 10 and Jan. 5.

For Marsha Dawson, director of residential life, all that hard work paid off when the students arrived back on campus.

“When we were finally able to sit at the table and welcome students back, it was an amazing experience,” she said. “We all felt genuine joy and pride. It was a great front-facing moment just to be able to answer student questions and laugh with them.”

It was also, Dawson added, an affirmation of what makes Ithaca College a special place.

“I feel this amazing sense of belonging looking back on this whole process,” she said. “It was inspiring to see so many departments, faculty, and staff all coming together and work towards a common goal."

The Registrar’s Office

In the past 12 months, the Office of the Registrar has had to oversee two massive shifts regarding student learning. Last spring, Registrar Vikki Levine and her team put in countless hours of work to ensure students had an effective and smooth transition to remote learning in partnership with numerous offices across campus.

Students returning to campus hasn’t meant a return to normal for Levine’s staff, however. It’s simply shifted the challenges — and required significant collaboration.

During the registration process, Levine and her office worked closely with the college’s IT department to allow for live chatting and screen sharing with students, in order to help with any issues that arose.

“We wanted to make sure that we could take all the services we traditionally provide in person, and provide them remotely,” she said.

Ensuring students were enrolled in classes was the first challenge. The next one was even more daunting — ensuring that the classrooms were able to keep students and faculty safe and socially distanced. That required redefining what constitutes a classroom.

Working closely with the Office of Facilities, and Conference and Event Services, Levine and her team turned spaces that traditionally housed 100 people for large group gatherings into spaces for 30 to 50, such as Emerson Suites, Clark and Klingenstein Lounges and the Haines Forum in the Peggy Ryan Williams Center.

“There have been places for growth and places to make some new relationships and work really well with some new colleagues.”

Vikki Levine, registrar

Now, Levine and her team have shifted their focus once again, to collaborating with the Office of the Provost to ensure everyone is prepared in the event that a coronavirus outbreak requires another shift, discussing how to communicate and help execute changes that may arise.

All of this collaboration has allowed Levine to grow in her job, while meeting new people in departments across campus.

“It’s been hard, but I have found moments of positivity,” she said. “There have been places for growth and places to make some new relationships and work really well with some new colleagues.”

By The Numbers

Just how much work went into preparing the campus for the return of students? Take a look:

7 — Saliva test kit drop boxes built and placed around campus

965 — Volunteer shifts dedicated to move and store student belongings

1,151 — Pieces of mail delivered between Dec. 10 and Jan. 5

1,200 — Hot meals delivered to students in quarantine or isolation

3,000 — Chairs moved to ensure proper social distancing in classrooms

5,000 — Bags of shelf-stable food packed for the students' arrival on campus

15,000+ — Signs and stickers hung and placed around campus to remind students about mask-wearing and social distancing

The Office of Facilities

The college’s facilities team has taken on the challenging task of reconfiguring campus spaces to comply with public safety guidelines.

Under the direction of associate vice president Tim Carey and led by Ernie McClatchie, executive director of facilities, grounds, and transportation, and Eric Nichols, director of facilities services, the facilities teams adapted their plans for a spring opening by taking stock of what worked and what didn’t work at other institutions that reopened in the fall.

“A huge component of this work has been building new relationships, and that continues today,” Nichols said. “I'm getting emails from folks that I've never interacted with before about the process, and I think the collaboration is the key.”

One of the largest projects was adjusting all classroom space to comply with social distancing guidelines for in-person learning. In the spaces that were scheduled to hold face-to-face classes, facilities employees went in and created computer-aided design (CAD) drawings of each space. They measured how many individuals could be in each classroom, rearranged desks and chairs as needed, and placed stickers where students can sit.

“There have been more than 3,000 chairs that have been moved and marked for students to sit in,” said Nichols. “There’s a lot of stickers on campus right now!”

The facilities department also worked alongside the print shop to create more than 15,000 wall signs and floor stickers to remind the students, faculty, and staff of guidelines like wearing a mask, only moving in one direction down the stairs, and standing six feet apart.

“It’s really been an all-out group effort. People had to do things that may be a little outside of their norm, but that needed to be done, and everybody stepped up and did it.”

Ernie McClatchie, executive director of facilities, grounds, and transportation.

The facilities team also built the seven saliva test kit drop boxes placed around campus, fabricated more than 80 portable hand sanitizer stations and hung over another 300 hand sanitizer dispensers throughout college buildings.

Staff member using an electrostatic sprayer

Using an electrostatic sprayer ensures that disinfectant particles coat all the hard-to-reach surfaces in the room.

“We have really tried to use our internal resources as much as possible to keep costs down,” said McClatchie. “All the Plexiglass was bought and dividers were cut on campus, the signage was all made on campus, tubs for sanitizing wipes — these were all made in house.”

Being proactive is only half the battle. In the event that a member of the campus community tests positive for coronavirus, the public places that they’ve accessed on campus need to be disinfected.

That’s when the newly created Rapid Response Team comes in. The team is composed of facilities employees who have been specially trained in disinfecting spaces such as dining halls and classrooms. In collaboration with the Tompkins County Health Department and the college’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, a protocol has been developed that includes the use of an electrostatic sprayer that positively charges disinfectant particles so that they adhere to negative or neutral surfaces and coat all the hard-to-reach surfaces in the room, like the bottoms of chair arms and the back of door handles.

Both McClatchie and Nichols spoke to the above-and-beyond efforts from their entire teams, as well as other departments on campus, that allowed for a successful return-to-campus process.

“It’s really been an all-out group effort,” said McClatchie. “People had to do things that may be a little outside of their norm, but that needed to be done, and everybody stepped up and did it.”

Dining Services

Few things illustrate the challenges of preparing the Ithaca College campus like the state of Emerson Suites just before New Year’s this year.

To ensure returning students had meals when they arrived on campus, James Ward, catering manager for Dining Services, and his staff initiated a massive operation. Their mission: pack roughly 5,000 bags with shelf-stable products including peanut butter and jelly; snacks such as granola bars, chips, cookies, and pretzels; and assorted juices and bottled water, resulting in a sea of brown-paper bags lining the walls of Emerson Suites.

“You couldn't really understand the size and scope of it unless you were actually in the room,” Ward said. “It was a pretty impressive sight.”

Dining Services collaborated with the IT department to develop an online portal for on-campus students to order their food.

Upon their arrival, students received shelf-stable bags with food in their rooms. In addition, when they checked in, they received a bag of semi-perishable items, including 12 slices of bread, bagels, muffins, croissants and tuna and chicken salad pouches.  They also received Choose to Reuse carabiners and Grub Hub info as well as a branded Ithaca College silverware and straw kit.

Additionally, Ward and his staff packed separate bags for students with various dietary restrictions.

With everything packed, the next step was delivery. Staff, faculty, and students volunteered their time to ensure the shelf-stable bags were delivered to students’ rooms prior to their arrival, and they also delivered bags to students staying in off-campus hotels. Additionally, Dining Services has delivered more than 1,200 hot meals to students who are in quarantine or isolation.

The college is also utilizing the GrubHub app to process orders from campus retail dining locations. Students can also purchase food with Bomber Bucks, ID Express, or any other card for no additional fee from Grubhub.

Hammond Health Center

The Hammond Health Center has always served as the hub for keeping IC’s campus community healthy. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the staff at the Health Center has provided quality care, while diligently planning for the students’ safe return.

Medical Director Dr. Ellyn Sellers-Selin credits her staff for their outstanding work and the collaborative efforts of the entire IC community who have persevered while preparing students and faculty for an in-person learning environment this spring. 

Sellers-Selin and her staff are involved in campus-wide planning efforts to manage and contain the spread of the virus on campus. Together they work to put the best systems into place to ensure safety and accessibility on campus.

“I feel hopeful when I meet with the many campus partners working hard to ensure safety for employees and students. There is so much work happening behind the scenes. As you can imagine, this effort includes every department on campus.”  

Jennifer Metzgar, nurse practitioner

For example, Hammond Health Center staff have utilized pandemic modules to closely monitor students who may have been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive person or have symptoms of COVID-19. The health center has also rolled out a badge system to regulate on-campus clearance and access for students. In addition, one of their largest tasks is maintaining regular communication and receiving clearance from various health departments.

Sellers-Selin is a member of the Health and Safety Advisory Group and Public Health Task Force. These additional roles have given her the opportunity to meet with faculty and staff who have worked hard to keep the campus healthy and thriving during the pandemic. Sellers-Selin also works closely with Cayuga Health System to ensure our students and IC employees are given the best options for COVID-19 testing and care.

The role of liaison between the health department and IC fell to nurse practitioner Jennifer Metzgar, who has been with the college nearly 10 years.

In her role, Metzgar communicates daily with area health departments regarding new positive cases and the number of people in quarantine. She then works to inform students and campus partners to ensure timely and adequate isolation and quarantine procedures and organizes and shares procedures to close and disinfect affected areas on campus.

“I just want to change the message to ‘Help us stay open! Be the hero! Quarantine if you've been exposed to COVID-19. That’s how we are going to control this.”

Jennifer Metzgar

Metzgar has also taken a lead role in contact tracing through daily screenings. Metzgar works with anyone who might be infected — or come in contact with someone who is — to retrace their activities through the previous 48 hours. That’s sometimes an arduous task.

“It’s important to walk through every detail,” she said. “I’ll ask them, ‘Who did you see? Did you have any meetings, or ride in a college vehicle? Where did you eat?’ This way we can navigate through potential contacts.”

Although this has been a stressful time for everyone, Metzgar’s role in keeping our campus safe has brightened her outlook for the semester.

“I feel hopeful when I meet with the many campus partners working hard to ensure safety for employees and students,” she said. “There is so much work happening behind the scenes. As you can imagine, this effort includes every department on campus.”  

She also has a piece of advice to students returning to campus.

“I just want to change the message to ‘Help us stay open! Be the hero! Quarantine if you've been exposed to COVID-19!’” she said. “That’s how we are going to control this.”


In January and February, the Ithaca College Department of Intercollegiate Athletics is usually busy with winter competitions and gearing up for the spring season. This year, the focus has shifted to ensure athletes arrived on campus safely and were cleared to practice and participate in their respective sports if the college and the Liberty League athletic conference resume competition.

One of the staff members who has been heavily involved with that process is certified athletic trainer Jessica Gammons’12, MS ’14. 

Jessica Gammons running a saliva test

Jessica Gammons ’12, MS ’14 oversees the pilot student-athlete testing program. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Gammons)

In addition to patient care, Gammons oversees the pilot program of testing student-athletes and collaborates with Dr. Andrew Getzin, the head physician for the athletics department; Mike Matheny, the head athletic trainer; and athletic training staff to process the paperwork required to clear student-athletes for participation. 

This past July, it was apparent that the usual process of getting athletes medically approved for participation wasn’t going to work. Typically, athletes take in-person, pre-participation physicals when they arrive on campus in the fall. Instead, Gammons and others began figuring out how to complete the necessary paperwork and exam with as little face-to-face contact as possible.

A software program allowed student athletes who were not on campus to fulfill medical requirements such as physicals at home and then submit their medical information online.

While certain things, such as baseline concussion testing and checking blood pressure, still must be done in person, the face-to-face time has been decreased, which makes the process safer for everyone.

“We’ve decreased the amount of time we’ve needed to spend with each student-athlete to about two minutes, just to check that last box so that they can return to practice,” Gammons said.

“We have very close relationships with our teams, so it was hard through the pandemic to see what they love most get taken away from them.”

Jessica Gammons ’12, MS ’14

Another major component of return-to-play is coronavirus testing. Last fall, Getzin and Kathy Besemer, who supervises the lab at the Hammond Health Center, got approval to run a Limited Service Laboratory in the Hill Center in order to process a COVID antigen test.

(Gammons working with an athlete on the training table.)

With student-athletes back on campus, Gammons is relishing the chance to work with them again in a clinical setting. (Photo by Whitney Rosenfeld '21)

That’s crucial, Gammons says, because while student-athletes currently take saliva tests twice a week like the rest of the student body, if athletic competitions do resume, the NCAA’s competition requirements may require student-athletes to be tested more frequently. The current antigen testing is being used as a pilot program to evaluate the department’s capability to test in-house.

Gammons supervises the administration of the tests, processes the tests and makes sure that the results are delivered where they need to go. In addition, a number of people assist with the testing, from the head team physician to athletic training students who are working with the professional staff as a part of their clinical education.

“It takes quite the village to operate athletics right now,” Gammons said.

The work has been a welcome change from the past year, she said, when she witnessed student-athletes losing out on a competitive season.

“We have very close relationships with our teams, so it was hard through the pandemic to see what they love most get taken away from them,” Gammons said. “It’s heartbreaking.” 

Even though accommodating the challenges created by the pandemic has been difficult at times, Gammons and the rest of the staff are committed to producing an environment that’s safe for the student-athletes.