From the Frontline: Jacqueline Hetherington, Director of Residence Life

From the Frontline is an ongoing series highlighting members of the Florida Tech community who are working tirelessly to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

In this installment, Jacqueline Hetherington discusses her role as the Director of Residence Life.

Q: Please describe your duties related to the university’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jacqueline Hetherington: I am part of the university’s Pandemic Response Team, which looks at responses to dining as well as housing concerns and residence life, security and facilities. We also have members from technology and faculty present for academic updates.

My specific duties are making sure the students in the residence halls are taken care of, so I have resident assistants on campus who are working with the students here, as well as some resident assistants who are virtually communicating with residents. We’re asking a lot of questions to determine how they’re feeling and how they’re doing and making sure their answers get to the right places in order for us to be successful. I spend a lot of time creating surveys and reading data from the students. I also do the walkthroughs of the residence halls.

Q: What does it mean to you to play such a key role in assisting the university during this time?

JH: I think one of the big things for me personally is getting the information from the students to the departments. It’s always been part of my role, but when we have a pandemic or a hurricane that responsibility is elevated.

Q: Talk about some successes and challenges during this unique time.

JH: The successes: The steps we have taken for consolidation from The Quad to Columbia Village I think was a really challenging experience for a lot of the students. Their cooperation has made it possible to get them in a safer environment. That’s a big part of taking some of the steps that we needed to take. For Residence Life, creating a virtual experience has been successful. Our resident assistants are responsible for the way they communicate to each of their students; that’s their strength. So, to get that many people on board to change their entire programming and the way that they talk to people, the ideas that have come out of student staff has been phenomenal. I think that’s been another big success, seeing what students are capable of doing in this environment.

The challenges: We haven’t dealt with this situation before. We’re getting better with handling hurricanes because we’ve seen a few of them, but with this we have no previous experience, so really the patience from the students has been such a big deal for us.

Q: From your vantage point, how well has the university responded to this pandemic?

JH: Being in a lot of these Pandemic Response Team meetings, I think the university is trying to make educated decisions. We put a lot of time in making the best choice for our students.

Q: What is a key thing for people to remember during this pandemic?

JH: There’s always the things like to wash your hands, but in reality I think this is time for us to look at humankind again and focus on what’s good, safe and healthy for people. It’s given us an opportunity to re-evaluate and be there for each other. I think sometimes when we’re rushing through the day we forget to spend time communicating and finding out how people are doing, and I know a lot of students are checking in with their families while they wouldn’t normally do that. It’s been cool to see them making those connections again with their parents and navigate their new home here. It’s a really stressful time for people, but with what we’re capable of, it’s like there’s a whole new version of people.

Q: Anyone on your staff you’d like to highlight?

JH: I work as part of the umbrella for Student Life, so the chair of this pandemic response team is Bino Campanini, and he’s done a lot to organize this and make sure he’s informed. Holzer Health Center Director Brittany Collins has been vital in making sure we have the information as well as finding out what the Centers for Disease Control are saying and how to keep ourselves safe, so I really appreciate that.

And then everyone in my department of student life, like Associate Dean of Students and Residence Life Greg Connell and Dean of Students and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Rodney Bowers, they have handled a lot of the pandemic response. The people in my Student Life office that do programming, they’re working everyday to look at virtual stress reduction and those types of things. It’s a lot going on at once, but I think the stuff they’re putting out each week for the students is pretty cool.

The person from the L3Harris Student Design Center that has been assisting me is Assistant Director of Student Projects Peter Zappala, and he’s also 3D printing masks. He works for Resident Life as a student. Him stepping up and talking to his supervisors and how flexible they were to make sure that all of Florida Tech was taken care of, like Student Project Director Juan C. Avendano Arbelaez and Professor and Associate Dean for Research Daniel Kirk have worked with him, so it was possible for Peter to go across departments and support us. I think that’s one of the things I’ve seen overall is people going to other departments and assisting. Usually you can do it kind of by yourself, but we’re not always able to do that in this pandemic.


Find the university’s most recent coronavirus updates and information on the Coronavirus Central webpage.

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