Outreach campaign helps college move 230 classes online


SARANAC LAKE – Contacting each student by phone, email or text. Loaning laptops to students who don’t have computers at home. Providing support for students and staff on how to work remotely.

Those are just some of the initiatives North Country Community College has carried out as part the effort to move 230 spring semester classes and all college operations online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alexis Poirier of Malone is taking online classes at home during the COVID-19 pandemic

“I couldn’t be prouder of the efforts of our faculty and staff during these last several weeks,” said NCCC President Joe Keegan. “Our greatest strength is and always has been our people, and helping students succeed is at the center of our work. That has been true for the fifty-two years of our existence and remains true today. Our community, like so many others, was put to quite a test during this crisis. The outpouring of support for our students and for one another has been heart-warming and is a testament to why North Country Community College is a great place to learn and work.”

IT support

As the college prepared for the move to online classes on March 30, a message was sent to students informing them of what they would need for the transition: internet access, a computer, tablet or phone, and an ability to connect to college email and access Blackboard, the platform the college uses for online instruction. Students in need of assistance were advised to contact the college’s IT help desk.

“We’ve been helping students almost around the clock – evenings, weekends,” said Scott Harwood, assistant dean for information technology. “We’ve handled about 250 requests from students. We’ve issued approximately 40 loaner laptops, mailing them to students. As far as online classes, we were a little better prepared than some other schools because we have all our courses already set up in Blackboard, which we adopted two years ago.”

In addition to helping students, IT staff have also set up 100 percent of the college workforce to complete their normal workload remotely, Harwood said.

“For the most part, everyone has been able to adapt to fully online, both on the employee on the student side,” he said. “And for those who’ve had challenges, which is a surprisingly small group, we continue to work with them on an individual basis.”

Call Campaign

A key part of the college’s outreach effort to students was a call campaign conducted by an eight-person team of admissions and student services employees. Over a span of two days before classes resumed, the team contacted 700-plus students by phone, email or text, according to Kyle Johnston, vice president for marketing and enrollment.

“The first round of communications was really geared toward finding out if students had the necessities: internet service, adequate data plans with their phones, access to a computer, laptop or a tablet,” he said. “We didn’t want to see students immediately facing big obstacles with what, for many of them, is a new way of learning.”

Those who served on the call campaign team did their best to answer students’ questions, but if they couldn’t, they made referrals to faculty, financial aid or the college’s IT department, for example.

Amy Tuthill, the college’s associate director of recruitment for adult learners, contacted more than 80 students on her own.

“A lot of them were very appreciative and expressed a real gratitude that we’d reach out to them on an individual basis,” she said. “It was a really great start to what will be a long-term, ongoing campaign designed to keep our students engaged and help them see their way through to graduation.”

The new normal

The college’s faculty have been “incredible in navigating this new normal,” said Sarah Maroun, interim vice president for academic affairs.

“Learning how to deliver instruction online in a two-week timeframe – something we’d normally slowly roll out -- was a pretty herculean effort,” she said. “Faculty are helping students work with new technology while also learning it themselves. It’s been challenging for sure, but no one has shied away from it.”

Faculty are making sure they’re connecting with each student, during class and outside of class, Maroun said. Instructors have asked for student phone numbers, so they can reach out to those who may be struggling. They’re making themselves available through virtual office hours, so students can drop in online. Online tutoring is available through the college’s Learning Assistance Centers, and the college’s library services are also online.

“People have clearly come together,” Maroun said. “We have always prided ourselves on individual, personal attention with our students. The faculty and staff have done an incredible job of taking that same ethos and transferring it to an online space.”

Adjusting to online

Alexis Poirier, a student from Malone who’s pursuing a degree in Radiologic Technology, was attending classes at the college’s Saranac Lake campus. Now she’s taking her classes online from home. She’s one of the NCCC students who received a loaner laptop from the college.

“It’s definitely been a challenging transition, but my teachers shave been very good about giving us enough time to do our work and making sure we’re not overwhelmed,” she said. “I’d prefer being in (an in-person) class because with my degree the teachers are pointing to parts of the body and demonstrating things, so it will take some time to adjust to it. But the faculty have been very supportive.”

Poirier said she also misses seeing her friends on campus, but she still talks to them daily.

“We’re staying in touch and hopefully we’ll see each other back at school in the fall,” she said.

Visits and Registration

In place of campus visits, the college is hosting virtual admissions sessions for prospective students via Zoom. Each virtual presentation includes an overview of academic programs, campus life, how to apply, financial aid, admission requirements and more. For details, go to www.nccc.edu/visit or call 888-TRY-NCCC.

The college has also moved its registration online for both continuing students and new students. Offerings for summer and fall classes are posted at www.nccc.edu/registration.