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Mt. San Jacinto College Comes Through During COVID-19 Crisis

In the face of crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mt. San Jacinto College (MSJC) students, faculty and staff have responded to support their communities and first responders – all while continuing instruction in an online format. 

MSJC nursing students – many about to graduate on May 21 – have spent weeks on the front lines, volunteering their career education skills at COVID-19 testing centers throughout Riverside County. 

On March 21, nursing student Brandy Donini volunteered at the testing site at Storm Stadium in Lake Elsinore. She’s one of about 30 MSJC nursing students who have volunteered or earned clinical hours at one of the four Riverside County testing sites over the past month. 

“I love helping, so how can I help people?” the Menifee resident asked. “I’ve definitely found my calling.” 

MSJC has also been helping its first responders at local hospitals by making face shields with 3D printers in its Eagle MakerSpace, which is funded by California Strong Workforce Program and is at the college’s Menifee Valley Campus. Hospitals requesting the shields from MSJC include Hemet Global and Menifee Global medical centers, Providence Health, Riverside Community Hospital and Temecula Valley Hospital. 

“I’m excited and grateful to be a part of the MSJC and statewide MakerSpace support of my healthcare colleagues on the front lines of this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Hal Edghill, MakerSpace Specialist. “The proportions of this challenge are daunting, and keeping doctors, nurses, and all other professionals as safe as possible is the goal.” 

The college, which has a robust Allied Health program, also donated gurneys, N95 masks, non-N95 masks, nitrile gloves and other equipment that are in high-demand to protect medical professionals during the crisis.  

“We were honored to be able to help our medical partners who indicated they had a need for these types of items,” said Joyce Johnson, MSJC’s Executive Dean of Instruction and a registered nurse. “The school closures mean our students cannot use this equipment at this time. We wanted to make sure we did our part to help protect medical professionals and patients alike during this pandemic.”  

In addition, despite being closed since March 16, Mt. San Jacinto College has continued to help its students who struggle with food insecurity by offering a social-distancing safe drive-up Food 4 Thought food pantry, which the college typically holds twice monthly on its San Jacinto and Menifee Valley campuses. Faculty, staff and administrators volunteered for the effort.  

The MSJC Food 4 Thought program also teamed with the MSJC Foundation’s Pledge for Success basic-needs initiative in early April to mail 300 ham/turkey certificates and Stater Bros. grocery store gift cards to students. Each Stater Bros. gift card was valued at $15. The $15 certificate was redeemable at any grocery store in MSJC’s district.   

The Pledge for Success initiative removes some of the barriers to student success inside and outside of the classroom by providing students emergency funding and food, books and supplies, professional clothing, and basic hygienic items.  

MSJC reopened as an online college on April 6. During its three-week closure, which included its regularly scheduled spring break, the college took a strategic approach to ensure its highest-need students had the necessary technology to take online classes. It used a survey to identify the needs of its students. 

MSJC packaged its first phase of Chromebook laptops, about 50 of them, and hot spots and sent them via overnight mail to students so they could continue with their courses online. 

“MSJC took a data-informed approach so we could deliver technology directly to those students who were most in need of access to a computer or the Internet,” said Dr. Roger Schultz, MSJC Superintendent/President. “We want them to stay at home, and healthy, but we want them to succeed online and complete their educational journeys. We understand not every student has access to computers and other technology when they’re away from our campuses. We’re glad we could help and we plan to help even more.” 

The MSJC Foundation purchased another 200 Chromebook laptops to benefit those students who need them the most. The purchase was partially funded by proceeds from the Foundation’s 2019 gala. This year’s gala had been scheduled for May 16, but was canceled due to the pandemic. 

“When we learned of the need, the Foundation Board Members and I were eager to help out,” said Rebecca Orlauski, Director of the MSJC Foundation and Donor Initiatives. “The Foundation Board is always supportive of MSJC students and regularly distributes scholarships to those who need them. This was a natural extension of what we already do for students. We’re glad we were able to help out.” 

The MSJC Foundation holds two student scholarship luncheons annually to hand out scholarships from the Foundation, local community groups, and regional companies. 

“We love awarding scholarships to students, but really, we’re here to help them in any which way we can,” said MSJC Foundation Board President Dee Cozart. “When we heard students needed computers to help them finish the spring semester, we jumped at the opportunity. This is why we’re here.” 

Since the college’s March 16 closure to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, students, faculty and staff have adapted to using technology and the Internet for all instruction, meetings and communication. 

Dr. Schultz ensured that students, faculty and staff regularly received updates from him. He has filmed a video every Wednesday and emailed all groups nearly every weekday for four weeks. He has also regularly communicated with the college district’s communities, most recently on a Facebook Live event with the City of San Jacinto.  

Just as they have in past years, students, faculty and staff also gave back by participating in the annual Southwest Riverside County Heart & Stroke Walk 2020. But this year, the event was held in a virtual environment, so participants joined from their respective homes. 

The COVID-19 pandemic threw everyone’s regularly schedule lives off balance, but MSJC adapted and responded without hesitation, continuing to serve its more than 27,000 students and giving back to its communities.