Never has there been a time quite like right now – both in our world and on our campus. Our former way of life was uprooted with the reality of a pandemic and the world has learned to adapt to a new “normal” way of living.
In the midst of a pandemic, Concordia continued its work to support the vitality of our faith and learning mission. In March 2020, as the realities of COVID-19 swept the nation, Concordia transitioned to distance learning. This was a challenging time for our students. Many faced serious hardships that made continuing their education difficult. During this time of uncertainty, students needed our most compassionate and creative support to safely and successfully finish their second semester. With the help of Concordia alumni and friends, Concordia responded to student needs with crucial financial aid, academic guidance, and emotional care. In addition, emergency funding was provided to the most vulnerable Cobbers.
The spring 2020 athletic season was cut short for our Cobbers after the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference announced the cancellation of all spring sports in mid-March. In the fall, the MIAC postponed the fall 2020 athletic season to the spring. While it has been a disappointing time for athletes, coaches, and fans, it’s a reminder of the importance these programs play in the life of student-athletes.
Rebecca Quimby, head women’s soccer coach, saw this firsthand with her players.
“This has been hard on our student-athletes and drastically changed their college playing experience,” she says. “As we finally returned to practice, we were reminded of just how important these programs and the memories are to those who are or have been a part of it. During these challenging times, we are focused on providing a high-quality experience for our players.”
Although competitions were postponed, teams were able to meet and practice during the first semester by implementing safety precautions. Teams practiced outdoors in small groups, socially distanced, and wore masks throughout practice.
Recently, the MIAC approved a plan to start the winter 2021 athletic season with a condensed schedule. Although there are no plans for spectators to attend winter competitions, all basketball and hockey games will be streamed live on Concordia’s website. A plan is in place to administer consistent testing among athletes, which allows them to play unmasked.
“We did everything we possibly could to make a winter sports season happen,” says Rachel Bergeson ’05, Concordia’s athletic director. “Even though it is limited, we are going to be providing an experience for our students in the safest way we can. We are making progress to return to play, which is a positive step.”
With creativity and determination, Concordia was able to transition back to campus in August 2020. In-person instruction and residential living were offered with modifications to academic and campus life. In an effort to offer in-person instruction safely, several measures were put in place. Each teaching space was measured to determine appropriate occupancy and classes were held in larger spaces when necessary. In addition, some courses were offered as a hybrid approach and virtual learning attendance was available for those who could not meet in person.
Residence halls were opened with carefully planned changes to promote student health. The density was reduced on each floor and enhanced cleaning regimens were implemented in common areas. Students were able to request single occupancy rooms as available.
Faculty and staff worked diligently to provide rich and meaningful learning experiences while caring for the health and well-being of students.
Reimagined Christmas Concert
Months before Christmas is on most people’s radar, plans were well underway to continue Concordia’s long-standing tradition of providing one of the area’s largest Christmas celebrations. With more than 425 student musicians, this was an ambitious undertaking. Precautions were taken to ensure the health and safety of students and staff while continuing to deliver a superior quality concert that Concordia is known for.
“We knew pretty early on that if we were going to do a Christmas concert it was going to feel different,” says Dr. Michael Culloton ’98, director of choral activities and artistic director of the Concordia Christmas concert. “Plans had to be designed for how to do this as a virtual concert.”
The biggest challenge was completely rethinking the format of a beloved tradition that was established more than 90 years ago. Rehearsals took place in the concert hall with choir and orchestra members at least 6 feet apart and masks worn. Strict safety protocols were put into place to ensure the health and well-being of the students, faculty, and staff. Dr. Kevin Sütterlin, director of orchestral activities, notes that finding solutions for all orchestra members required innovative thinking.
“We followed specific performing arts studies that had been executed by other universities,” he says. “With wind and brass performers also masked, we had to come up with some creative ways to design and produce face coverings that would work.”
While the concert was performed in Memorial Auditorium as usual, the setup was very different. Choral members sang in the permanent seating spaced 6 feet apart and the orchestra, also physically distanced, performed from the floor in front of the seats.
Even more challenging, neither Culloton nor Dr. Kira Winter, assistant professor of music, were able to be physically present for the recording of the Christmas concert. However, with technology and quick thinking by Wyatt Steinke’17, manager for choral activities, Culloton and Winter were able to direct the choirs virtually from their homes via monitors.
“While it was weird not having them there, the entire choir was really focused and the faculty and staff were well prepared,” says Mallory Rabehl ’21, student manager of The Concordia Choir.
The concert was filmed during a weekend in November. The video was then edited to include elements of the concert that were special traditions to many. The virtual Christmas concert was released online and initially available Dec. 18-27; however, due to high demand and positive feedback, it was extended to Jan. 1.
Second semester began Jan. 7, 2021. In an effort to safely start a new semester following a holiday break, Concordia adjusted the return to in-person academics and activities. All classes had a one-week period of online learning followed by a staggered start to classroom learning. Students, faculty, and staff continue to be required to wear masks in public spaces and maintain social distance. A mix of hybrid, in-person, and online courses are available.
Although it looks and feels different, the Cobber community remains strong and connected and is approaching life together in new ways. The world around us has changed so much the past several months – yet Concordia’s mission remains the same. Now more than ever, our world needs leaders who will serve, lead, and influence the affairs of the world.
Read more updates on the Onward Concordia site.
Originally published in the 2021 Concordia Magazine