WEST LAFAYETTE — The chain of events that led to Purdue sophomore Michael DeHaven needing to quarantine began with a “popping” sound and some slight pain in his right ear.
DeHaven, who is studying to become a nurse, contacted the Purdue University Student Health Center (PUSH) in mid-September because he suspected he had an ear infection. PUSH staff instructed DeHaven to notify the Protect Purdue Health Center (PPHC) of his symptoms, which he did. PPHC staff then instructed DeHaven to be tested for COVID-19 and not to leave his room, except to visit PUSH.
This was stressful news to DeHaven because he would have to miss his first clinical rotation, a major milestone in a nursing student’s academic journey, which was scheduled to take place the next day. As instructed, DeHaven quarantined in his room until receiving a negative COVID-19 test two days later.
It wasn’t ideal, he said, but one thing that helped was connecting with Allison Staley, financial aid administrator in Student Success Programs, who served as DeHaven’s Academic Case Manager (ACM) while he was in quarantine. DeHaven said he was grateful to Staley because she helped him navigate the timelines and requirements of unfamiliar processes. But even more importantly, “she was someone who could listen and offer guidance and advice during a time when I was struggling quite a bit,” he said.
About Purdue’s ACM Initiative
According to Jenna Rickus, professor and vice provost for Teaching and Learning, the idea to connect students in quarantine or isolation with an Academic Case Manager developed during conversations between Purdue faculty and administrators in June 2020 as Purdue was preparing to deliver a fall 2020 residential campus experience amid the evolving coronavirus pandemic.
Under the Protect Purdue guidelines, administrators recognized that some students would need to spend days, even weeks, outside the physical classroom. There were concerns that students would feel pressure to attend class, even if it meant breaking quarantine policies.
“Much of the Protect Purdue plan, with respect to teaching and learning, is focused on both public health and safety and academic continuity and success – keeping people safe while allowing teaching and learning to continue,” Rickus said. “As we contemplated what life would be like for a student who needed to quarantine or isolate during the semester, it quickly became obvious that a student would need a clear point of contact to help them navigate both the medical and academic aspects of their situation. Not long after medical case managers were created in the Protect Purdue Health Center, we decided that we needed to commit an academic case manager to students as well.”
Now in its second semester, the program has had some noteworthy wins. According to Dennis Bowling, senior associate director of Student Success Programs, students who engaged with an ACM in the Fall 2020 semester were more likely to have earned 15 or more credit hours than quarantined students who either declined to work with an ACM or were not assigned an ACM.
Additionally, the average Fall 2020 GPA for students who engaged with an ACM was 3.25, higher than the average GPA for students in quarantine who were not assigned an ACM or who never responded to the ACM’s outreach.
Based on these findings, Purdue now automatically assigns ACMs to all congregate living students, instead of framing the ACM role as an optional resource.
Bowling, who co-leads the ACM project with academic advisor Maggie Smith, also served as the group’s first ACM for summer students in quarantine. He said the ACM mission is unchanged, despite minor program adjustments from fall to spring.
ACMs aim to provide proactive outreach and advice to help students in isolation and quarantine be better equipped to stay active in class while staying safe in their environment. Thus, the role of the Academic Case Manager was partly inspired by existing student support initiatives, such as those offered by Student Success Coaches in Purdue Promise or Peer Success Coaches in the Academic Success Center. Housed within Purdue Student Success Programs, such support resources provide opportunities for one-on-one support, offering a dedicated and reliable human who can answer students’ questions and connect them with other resources based on their needs.
The initiative also took notes from Purdue’s existing student-of-concern process, as well hiring and training processes used to staff the University’s Protect Purdue call center. The plan was to use similar models to train ACMs, who take on the role in addition to their regular responsibilities.
Courtney Wilson, a Purdue Promise student success coach, was one of the first five staff members who signed on to serve as an ACM.
“I like to help; I’m a helper,” said Wilson, who had an average caseload of about 20-25 students in quarantine or isolation at a given time, in addition to her regular caseload of Purdue Promise students. “The goal was to make sure students in quarantine or isolation had whatever resources they needed, that they were aware of how the process works, and that they didn’t have to figure all of this out on their own. Just listening sometimes is enough.”
For every Purdue student who tests positive for COVID-19, roughly two or three of that person’s close contacts may need to quarantine. To-date, more than 5,800 Purdue students have been assigned an Academic Case Manager, with more than half of those students still actively working with their ACM as of the end of January, 2021.
And although their routines have been altered significantly, students are still finding creative ways to persevere. One quarantined student, for example, had to miss her biomedical laboratory class, so her lab coordinator assembled a lab kit that was delivered to the student’s sorority house the same evening. Another student auditioned for orchestra over Zoom.
But the hardest part of quarantine wasn’t the schoolwork, said student Michael DeHaven. The most frustrating part, he said, was not knowing what to expect, and the loneliness.
“The quarantine process was completely new to me,” DeHaven said. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘What do I do now?’ And then I got this email from my Academic Case Manager, Allison, basically saying, ‘Hey, I’m here to help you. I’d like to set up a time to speak with you.’ And she reassured me and made me feel a lot better about the situation.”