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July 16, 2021

Northwest garners national recognition for pandemic response

Updated: Nov. 9, 2021


For the fifth time in seven years, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) has recognized Northwest Missouri State University with an Excellence and Innovation Award, honoring the institution this time for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

AASCU selected Northwest to receive its 2021 AASCU Excellence and Innovation Award for Campus Pandemic Response in the rural category. Northwest’s submission, “Learning and Success: Northwest Missouri State University’s Philosophy for Managing the Pandemic,” was selected by the awards committee for its outstanding results and potential to influence and serve as a model for other institutions.

Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski greeted students by bumping their elbows as they walked to classes during the first day of the fall 2020 semester. The University's fall enrollment was the highest in its 115-year history. (Northwest Missouri State University photo)

Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski greeted students by bumping their elbows as they walked to classes during the first day of the fall 2020 semester. The University's fall enrollment was the highest in its 115-year history. (Northwest Missouri State University photo)

“We at Northwest are humbled by the national recognition from AASCU,” Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski said. “Our pandemic response was not with an award in mind, but this recognition validates our approach and deployment thereof as well as Northwest’s role model status. The unbelievable hard work, dedication, perseverance and resilience of our student body and entire faculty and staff are truly the hallmarks of this recognition. We said from the beginning we wanted Northwest to be stronger coming out of the pandemic, and it is clear we are on that path.”

The award reflects Northwest’s work throughout the pandemic to maintain on-ground operations and services while implementing mitigation measures that decreased the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission on campus. Through the collaborative work of campus leaders and “Green Teams” consisting of employees and students, the University successfully aligned actions with a guiding philosophy encompassing four themes – learning and success, health and safety, agility, and viability.

The University deployed 13 Green Teams as cross-functional groups charged with addressing challenges and opportunities and presenting solutions in short timeframes. The Green Teams, which continue to be used as the University has transitioned its focus toward returning to a more traditional campus experience this fall, address mitigation, vaccinations, academic calendaring and learning modalities, among other issues.

“The collaboration and support of all members of the institution has allowed for a safe environment for students, faculty and staff to live and learn at Northwest,” said University Police Lt. Amanda Cullin, who oversees the University’s crisis management team and Green Teams. “Through our focus on learning and success, health and safety, viability and agility, we’ve responded, adjusted and moved forward while maintaining a robust learning experience.”

Northwest's mitigation measures throughout the pandemic have included a requirement of face coverings in classrooms. (Northwest Missouri State University photo)

Northwest's mitigation measures throughout the pandemic have included a requirement of face coverings in classrooms. (Northwest Missouri State University photo)

While Northwest already provides students with a laptop and textbooks as a part of its tuition package, that program has provided students with necessary tools to continue their studies in synchronous and asynchronous learning environments throughout the pandemic. Additionally, Northwest created a temporary grading policy and paused probation and suspension protocols, providing peace of mind to students that their academic performance would not be penalized by the drastic changes resulting from stay-at-home orders when the pandemic began.

Related to health and safety, Northwest aligned with local, state and national guidance in requiring face coverings for all individuals on campus, in addition to promoting other COVID-19 mitigation measures, such as social distancing and enhanced hygiene practices. In combination with increased attention to cleaning campus facilities, all students and employees were provided with hand sanitizer and branded face coverings. Classrooms were equipped with bottles of disinfectant branded as “Bearcat Thunder.” As COVID-19 vaccinations became available to the public this past spring, the University partnered with local health care agencies to host mass vaccination clinics that resulted in the distribution of more than 12,000 vaccinations to students, employees and local residents.

Throughout the pandemic, the University has continuously evaluated its environment, requested flexibility of the campus community and adapted as conditions changed. The University has provided consistent communication of mitigation measures and other initiatives throughout the pandemic, in addition to posting signs in all areas of campus and maintaining a webpage dedicated to COVID-19 information and answering frequently asked questions.

At the same time, Northwest welcomed a record enrollment in fall 2020 and recorded its highest graduate student headcount during the spring 2021 semester. The University continues to outperform statewide peers in retention and recorded a rate of 76 percent – the second-highest in the institution’s history – during fall 2020 while its second-to-third year persistence rate reached an all-time high of 85 percent.

Northwest also has aided students, supported employees and maintained operations through strategic, deliberate and incremental actions during the pandemic. It did not invoke layoffs, reductions in force or salary cuts as other institutions did, and the University maximized monies received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The University invested CARES Act funding into training, technology, licenses and other remote learning needs that have allowed students and faculty to continue courses in synchronous and asynchronous environments throughout the pandemic. (Northwest Missouri State University photo)

The University invested CARES Act funding into training, technology, licenses and other remote learning needs that have allowed students and faculty to continue courses in synchronous and asynchronous environments throughout the pandemic. (Northwest Missouri State University photo)

Northwest distributed more than $9 million, or 64 percent of the CARES Act funding it received, directly to students as assistance and refunds. Additionally, the University invested about $3.9 million of its CARES Act funding into remote learning needs, including training, technology and licenses; $908,000 funded mitigation tools on campus, such as air purifiers, plexiglass barriers and touchless faucets; and nearly $200,000 was invested in testing and contact tracing to prioritize student and employee health and safety.

Northwest’s efforts during the pandemic are focused on ensuring students continue their progress toward graduation, sustaining enrollment and operations, and supporting students and employees to maintain their health and well-being.

“The learning environment and safety of our employees and students were always kept in the forefront of decision making,” Northwest Provost Dr. Jamie Hooyman said. “With this, and some amazing and creative faculty and staff, Northwest not only prevailed but flourished in a time of chaos. Bearcats are adaptable, resilient and creative, and if we stay true to our mission – even in times of challenge – we will find the correct path, create success by supporting one another, and learn and grow along the way.”

AASCU has previously recognized Northwest for student success and college completion in 2019, the Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teacher Education Award in 2018, for sustainability and sustainable development in 2017 and for international education in 2015. Northwest was just the third institution in the nation to earn the McAuliffe award two times, having first received it in 2006.

About the Excellence and Innovation Awards

Recipients of AASCU’s Excellence and Innovation Awards were recognized during the association’s annual meeting Nov. 8 in Clearwater, Florida.

The Excellence and Innovation Awards program annually honors AASCU member institutions for excellence and innovation in the areas of civic learning and community engagement, regional and economic development, student success and college completion, sustainability and sustainable development, teacher education, international education, and leadership development and diversity.

 “I am honored to recognize these Excellence and Innovation Award winners, who demonstrated immense creativity, resilience, and dedication during an incredibly difficult year,” AASCU President Dr. Mildred García said. “These institutions are paving the way in prioritizing equity, student success, and moving their diverse communities and regions forward as stewards of place.”

Winning entries must show evidence that the institution’s initiative had top-level administrative support, connected with its mission and strategic agenda, contributed to significant institutional improvements or programming, was grounded in research, and incorporated best practices.

AASCU is a Washington, D.C.-based higher education association of nearly 400 public colleges, universities and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions’ economic progress and cultural development.

About Northwest Missouri State University

With an enrollment of more than 7,800 students, Northwest is a coeducational, primarily residential four-year university that offers a broad range of undergraduate and selected graduate programs on its Maryville campus as well as its Northwest-Kansas City location and through Northwest Online.

Founded in 1905, Northwest is home to the Missouri Arboretum and has been named one of the “50 Most Amazing University Botanical Gardens and Arboretums in the U.S.” The University also is consistently ranked by U.S. News and World Report among the top universities in the Midwest.

Placing emphasis on profession-based learning to help graduates get a jumpstart on their careers, Northwest boasts a high retention rate and a graduation rate in the 90th percentile among its peers. Additionally, results of its 2019-20 satisfaction survey show Northwest students are more satisfied than students at national peers while 82 percent of all Northwest students report they would repeat their University experience, compared to 75 percent of students surveyed nationally at their respective institutions.  

Furthermore, 96 percent of Northwest bachelor’s degree earners and 99 percent of master’s degree earners secure employment or continue their education within six months of graduation, according to the most recent data. Zippia, a career website, names Northwest the best college in Missouri for getting a job.

For more information about Northwest and its performance, visit www.nwmissouri.edu/facts/.

Media contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704