CSU Pueblo’s campus COVID response judged among the best nationwide

Colorado State University Pueblo, a campus of about 4,000 students with almost half from underrepresented backgrounds and a significant number of first-generation college students, has received national recognition for its response to the pandemic.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities tapped CSU Pueblo for the 2021 Excellence and Innovation Award for Campus Pandemic Response, according to a news release.

“What we all realized pretty quickly during the pandemic is nothing would ever quite be the same and our campus was going to need to come out on the other side ready for a different set of challenges,” said Donna Souder Hodge, chief strategy officer and coordinator for CSU Pueblo’s COVID-19 Response and Planning Team.

“We’ll never, ever forget we have to take care of our people. You can’t just worry about the academic lives of your students or your faculty and staff,” she said. ” You actually need to think about health and wellness. These are things schools — K-12 and colleges — have been slowly learning, but the pandemic put a big exclamation mark on that for us.”

Key factors that factored into CSU Pueblo’s being honored include: committing to continuous employment for all workers throughout the pandemic; establishing professional development opportunities to educate employees on inequities and hardships their students may be facing; and creating policies to better accommodate remote work and flexible hours, which the campus hopes to continue when the pandemic is over.

“I think for years, there’s been discussion about the possibilities in higher education for flexible learning,” Souder Hodge said. “We proved we could do it. We were forced to do a quick pilot of what that could look like with the pandemic, and we learned how to do some things better.”

To manage the spread of the novel coronavirus, CSU Pueblo partnered with Spartan Medical and NTT Data Services to carry out COVID-19 testing paired with a digital platform to help students, faculty and staff begin returning to campus, the university said.

Within six weeks, CSU Pueblo’s COVID-19 positivity rate fell from 20% to less than 1%, the university said.

“This was about learning from the pandemic and using it as a catalyst for change,” Souder Hodge said.

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