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New portal shows testing results of students, faculty, and staff

Data collected from on campus testing and Inspired Health Group are now posted to Hilbert’s new COVID-19 identification portal.

With covid protocols remaining in effect on campus because of the global pandemic, a new tool has been developed that can give clarity to those wanting to know how the virus is spreading on campus. New this semester is a feature that can be found underneath the “Coronavirus Update” section on the college’s website that displays the number of tests, the number of positive tests and the status of those in quarantine.

Dr. Chris Siuta, director of Counseling Center, said that last semester felt like a carnival game for most students and faculty trying to get information on campus cases. Some felt that there were more cases on campus than were being reported.

“My sense is that there is relief for students and employees alike that they are more knowledgeable of what’s happening on campus day to day,” Siuta said.

As we approach a year since the pandemic struck and changed life as we know it, one thing stays the same: safety protocols. Identification certainly brings clarity for some, yet others like Sophomore Toriann Wipperman wish that they were also able to find out where exactly an infected person was at on campus prior to their test results.

“I think it could be better at alerting people maybe what classes people take and stuff, so you know if you were in contact with someone that has it,” said Wipperman.

Cleanliness and sanitization around campus continues to remain a top priority. From antibacterial wipes to hand sanitizer dispensers every few feet, it is clear the administration is going to great lengths to keep the Hilbert community safe.

“It seems like cases are coming from outside areas and the students just happen to go to Hilbert,” said Wipperman. “It doesn’t seem like its spreading around campus.”.

After the data is collected, it is later passed on to Health & Safety who complete the next steps, said Siuta.

“Most of the times, the testing has been done on campus or at the medical group,” he said. “People are testing outside of Hilbert, at the medical group, and they will call me so that I can do contact tracing.”

As this new portal brings data and peace of mind to campus, it comes during a turning point as the vaccine distribution has begun around the country. With the difficulty of the vaccine rollout, it is evident that few faculty and students have received initial doses.

“Very few students have been vaccinated,” said Siuta “We still have a long way to go.”

Siuta said that depending on the percentage of people vaccinated and how herd immunity is, by summer COVID-19 could be controlled.  

“Hopefully by the fall we’ve really overcome this virus.”

Students Take Part in Welcome Week Fun

The new semester will bring about new classes, new friends, reunions and a welcome week full of activities that will help promote all three.

Each semester there are many events to give students fun things to do inbetween classes and while taking breaks from work. This welcome week continues to remain different as COVID-19 restrictions are still in place, resulting in most events being held virtually or with changes to encourage social distancing. Regardless of the changes, these are opportunities that students are encouraged to attend as they can lead to new friendships and an opportunity to escape the difficulties of this challenging time.

Daniel Heims, Director of Student Activities, said that there are a wide range of activities and events that are designed to welcome students back and make them feel comfortable while beginning another semester amidst the pandemic.

“Welcome Week is an opportunity for students to get involved in events on campus while having fun with their friends,” he said. “Student Activities and the Campus Activity Board are excited to bring these activities to our students and look forward to seeing them at the events.”

After the virtual escape room event Wednesday night, sophomore Lynn Adams-Gilden said that she enjoyed the event virtually, as it allowed her to attend while still being at home with her kids.

“I mean it’s more relaxed, but it’s more challenging,” Adams-Gilsten said. “You’re not in person with the things in your hand that you need to do it.”

A virtual paint night will be offered Friday starting at 8:00 p.m. Students will need to sign up in advance on Purple Briefcase. After initial registration is completed, students will receive follow up information on how to pick up their brushes and other supplies for the event.

“We will have fun painting a sea star with a beach and sand,” Heims said.

Dean of Students Gregory Roberts and Barb DeLarosa from the Student Life office hand out Wolf of Gubbio kits

Events from earlier in the week included free donut holes and hot cocoa and an opportunity to assemble Wolf of Gubbio stuffed animals.

With the vaccine rollout occurring, students are eager to see if more events for the rest of the semester may be in person instead of virtual.

“I think it’s going to be a mix. We are doing our best to follow restrictions from NYS,” Heims said. “Expect to see a combo of smaller in person to virtual events from not only Student Activities, but also Service Learning.”

Heims said that if students have ideas for future events, they should contact Student Activities.

Welcome Week Continues

Sitting at a table in a sunny West Herr Atrium Jesslyn Chivers and a friend worked excitedly assembling their very own Wolves of Gubbio: The fur, the stuffing, the T-shirt.

Chivers, a freshman forensic science major, said the event and other welcome week activities, were helping to make the transition back to campus more comfortable.

“I feel like the welcome week events have helped me because they promote me finding different places on campus because they’re kind of spread out everywhere,” Chivers said. “They also help me to meet staff members and other students that are going to be interested in the same kinds of things as me.”

Chivers, who said she found out about the Wolf of Gubbio event an others planned throughout the week through Hilbert’s social media channels, plans to participate in most of the welcome week events, including a virtual escape room Wednesday and a virtual painting class on Friday.

“I know those people are going to be interested in the same types of things as me,” Chivers said of participants in the upcoming events. “So it might help me make new friends.”

Students can stop by the atrium or outside the chapel in Bogel Hall today and tomorrow from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. to pick up their own Wolf of Gubbio kit, and effort by hilbert staff to commemorate the tale in which St. Francis, known for his love of animals, tames a wolf that has been terrorizing the Italian town, then brokers a deal between the wolf and the townspeople. The wolf will stop attacking the townspeople if they promise to keep him fed.

The Franciscans, the Catholic order named for St. Francis that closely adheres to his teachings, were the founders of Hilbert College.

The event is part of a series taking place all week meant to welcome students back to campus after the extended winter break.

Dan Heims, Hilbert’s interim director of student activities, said the events are designed to help students get back into the swing of things on campus.

“Welcome Week is an opportunity for students to get involved in events on campus while having fun with their friends,” Heims said. “Student Activities and the Campus Activity Board are excited to bring these activities to our students and look forward to seeing them at the events.”

Welcome Week activities continue through Friday evening and include:

  • A virtual escape room Wednesday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Working for a local crime boss, participants will need to help him figure out who carried out a hit at one of his clubs to get out. Students must sign up at Purple Briefcase to participate
  • A second day of the Wolf of Gubbio on Thursday. Supplies can be picked up from 10:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the West Herr Atrium and outside the chapel in Bogel Hall.
  • A virtual paint night Friday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Participants will follow along in a live streamed class while creating their own works of art. Supplies can be picked up at the Student Activities office. Students must sign up for the event on Purple Briefcase to participate.

Sisters From Vietnam Find a Home at Hilbert

One may have had the opportunity to meet them personally or see them on campus adorned in habits and veils. They are Sisters Thu Pham and Doan Tran from Vietnam. Since their calling to Holy Orders up to the present, both are here at Hilbert to gain a valuable education which will enable them to perform their ministry in Vietnam. 

Before their journey to Hilbert began, both Sisters received their calling to Holy Orders in a distinctive way. Sister Thu described her calling as “Very strong and clear”. The strong part revealed itself when her friends set their sights on careers in the bustling city of Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. For Sister Doan, she credits her father’s encouragement but, in the end, she said “God called through my father”.  Both Sisters come from agricultural communities in the rich rice fields of Vietnam.

When asked about the work or ministry they will perform upon return to Vietnam, Sister Thu said, “Do what our nun superiors asks us to do” however ministry assignments are often based upon one’s education and skills. Sister Thu Pham is a Human Services major. Her goal is to minister to victims of domestic violence, pregnant women, homeless persons, and the elderly.  Majoring in Psychology, Sister Doan Tran looks forward to applying her skills towards counseling others.

After undergoing years of theological studies and discernment, often through isolation and strict prayer, both Sisters took their final vows and received rings symbolizing betrothal to Jesus Christ. Once complete, together they travelled to the United States in furtherance of academic study. Following time at a junior college in Indiana where they studied English, they applied for scholarships through a program for Vietnamese sisters and priests.

The head of the program, A Vietnamese priest named Father Bao Nguyen, had the following to say when asked why Hilbert College was chosen “Srs. Thu Pham, Doan Tran, and I knew Hilbert College through Dr. Michael Brophy, the President, whom I have known for the past decade since he was the President at Palos Verde Marymount College in California. We have kept in touch for a long time, and Dr. Brophy invited the Sisters to study at this beautiful college. Instead of selecting large universities, the sisters want to have a better community life where the Hilbert college can provide hospitality and friendly intimacy.”

When Fr. Bao was asked about how familiar he is about Hilbert, he said “Hilbert college is a small college where people know each other and enjoy human development through social interaction and inner circles of classmates and faculty. Near the city Buffalo, the college has attractive location where students can contemplate the beauty of nature at Niagara Falls or cross the the border to explore Canada with the big city Toronto about two hours away. With its Catholic Franciscan heritage and values, Hilbert college is a good educational environment for the religious like Mrs. Pham and Tran from Vietnam to nurture their religious tradition and Catholic involvement in social justice. Hilbert truly is  what the sisters hope to accomplish formal education here in the U.S. and prepare them for the global leaders with competent skills of discernment, responsibility, and leadership. “

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of State titled Government Committee for Religious Affairs, approximately 7% of the Vietnamese population is Catholic (2019). Sister Doan and Thu’s ministry will be a lifelong commitment of serving their fellow citizens regardless of religious denomination and their Hilbert education will play a key role in fulfilling their service to others.

Covid Causes Issues for Real Estate Industry

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began this spring, many businesses either shut down, or strict guidelines were put into place. On March 22, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the real estate industry would be put “on hold” in attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Hunt Real Estate agent, Cheyanne Seelau, says the market has been crazy since the end of March.  “The coronavirus impacted us because we could only show our houses virtually, so more realtors were out of work until we were allowed to show in person with restrictions”, Seelau said. Late March, Governor Andrew Cuomo deemed real estate an essential business, but put many strict guidelines in place, only allowing agents to show their homes virtually. Many agents were unable to show their houses this way, and ultimately were out of work for months until their re-opening at the beginning of June.

“Prior to the shutdown in March, we were about to enter our busy season”, Seelau said. When realtors were finally able to begin showing in person again, things were busier than normal. Agents are currently experiencing a sellers’ market, as houses are going for over-asking price, explained Seelau. Don and Denuelle Meyer, clients of Seelau, said their experience selling one of their apartment complexes has been more successful than expected for this season. Because of the coronavirus, there are more buyers than sellers in the markets, and houses are selling much faster than normal, Seelau said. When the housing market slowed down drastically during the beginning of the virus, buyers became eager to buy, and sellers began taking advantage of this, by listing their properties, Denuelle Meyer said.

During the pandemic, some homeowners’ mortgages were modified due to the effects of COVID-19. Seelau said that there haven’t been too many foreclosures on houses yet, but soon there will be, when modified mortgages do not get paid. It is still too early to tell if the coronavirus pandemic will have any irreversible changes to the housing market, Seelau said. 

Covid Causes Challenges for Volunteers

 Since late February, COVID 19 has turned the system of considered norms in the world and, has caused a change in which we look at those norms leading to a shortage of volunteers. These norms over a period as the virus spread systematically went away leaving behind a path of dried up dreams, hopes, futures, and aspirations, many without a family member and millions without a job.

 When most think of the impact  COVID 19 has had, they think of the economic, social, and financial ramifications that have occurred in our nation, their neighbors and even themselves.  However, the impact goes far beyond what many see or choose to acknowledge, as there is a shortage of volunteers in our region and in the world. 

Rachel Wozniak, the Director of Service Learning and Community Engagement at Hilbert College, said she has seen the impact the virus has had on the volunteer community first hand.

“The Office of Service Learning and Community Engagement has continued to offer limited, regular service opportunities with some of our long-standing community partners, such as Meals on Wheels, Resurrection Life Food Pantry and the Teacher’s Desk,” she said.

Wozniak said some of the typical service learning events on campus such as the Peace Walk and the Day of Service in a more remote way, experiencing and learning one story of St. Francis and by making scarf’s and blankets for the salvation army were still offered this semester.

Hilbert students as whole are conscientious driven individuals who strive to not just better certain organizations, they strive to better the community as a whole, she added.

“The services being offered by these Hilbert Community Partners have had a need even during this terrible pandemic to serve the needy, the poor, and the unprivileged. The essential services that many of our community partners provide are still are offered. However, many of our community partners are limited in the number of volunteers that can serve – both from a health and safety perspective (reduced capacity) and individual comfort-level of the volunteers,” Wozniak said. 

In the Hilbert Community, there is one group of students on campus whose task is to complete hours of service work each semester from Freshmen to Senior year. Dr. Amy Smith is the head of the Honors Program. She said that while the Honors Program has an emphasis on service, due to circumstances caused by the pandemic in recent months the necessary hours for the program from the spring semester have been forgiven.  The pandemic has meant there are fewer opportunities to have direct service. However, new and unique projects have come up as a result, such as opportunities to make videos reading to kids, or to make quick easy projects that parents at home with their remote learning student can do.   

“There are different and creative ways to look at community service, it can be community engagement or community advocacy”, Smith said. “They are still important experiences even if they aren’t community service.”

Businesses Deal with Covid Restrictions

Covid-19 has had mass effects across all aspects of our lives. One thing that was greatly affected was business.

Different industries were hit in different ways, with the service sector, particularly bars and restaurants, being hit hard. Rules have been put in place that shorten their hours and reduce the amount of people they can have in their establishments, causing many service workers to lose their jobs, as owners of these establishments cannot afford to pay them even with the help that they have received from the government. Laurie Yeager, the manager at restaurant Deep South Taco, described the experience managing a restaurant during this pandemic.

“It has been rough to say the least” Yeager said. “Our busy season is the summer, so we missed out on a ton of revenue that we were expecting to have. The biggest killer was the revenue we lost on Cinco de Mayo, as are sales are higher that day than any other day all year”.

One thing that helped keep these businesses afloat was the boom of the delivery companies like Uber Eats, Door Dash and Grub Hub. Deep South Taco, even though they were not able to have anyone inside the restaurant, was able to do take out with online orders and orders through these companies. “They are not always the easiest to deal with, but without these delivery companies I don’t know if we could have made it through the pandemic.” Yeager said.

Although there are more new guidelines from Governor Cuomo, Deep South Taco is still open for business.

“Come visit us for some Nachos and Margaritas!” Yeager said. “We are doing our best to follow the guidelines and to make every customer feel safe, but we need your help and supporting local restaurants is the best way to do it”.

Although this may be a bigger problem that should be addressed, it shows why the liquor industry has not dipped at all and is even thriving in some cases. Colonial Wine and Spirits in Orchard Park is one of the stores that has been consistently busy during the pandemic.

Manager Paul Gorcyzca said there have been many changes they have had to adjust to. With the store being packed all the time, these safety precautions are so important to follow and it sounds like it is this stores’ number one priority.

“It has been a lot of curb side orders that we aren’t used to, but anyway people want to come and shop here and support us we appreciate it,” Gorcyzca said. “We have tried to make it easy with our online orders and phone orders, and people have shown their appreciation for the safety precautions we take. Nothing is more important than our employees and our customers safety.”

Peer Leaders Help Freshmen Adjust

Hilbert College peer leaders are making an impact on the new freshman even with the new COVID-19 protocols and restrictions.

Peer leaders are helping many freshmen around campus and making their first-year experience even better.

Peer leaders are like a professor’s helper in the class where they get to connect one on one with the new freshman, helping them navigate things around campus, meet new students and help their class with needs or concerns they have as they are starting their first year of college.  With COVID-19 this year, things are a little different this year but are mostly the same.

Peer leader Sydnea Schiede said that she is like an older sister to her class helping them whenever and however she can.

“Formally if a freshman needs anything like help dropping a class or catching up in a class, I will help them,” Schiedel said. “But if they just need someone to vent or talk to while experiencing their first year of college, I’m there to help them too”

Makenna Payton, another peer leader, said the duties and responsibilities of a peer leader include weekly check-ins, teaching some lessons and just being there for her students.

“I help/assist my professor with any lectures or structured classes,” Payton said. “For example I present and lead a few classes myself like I did a PowerPoint on time management and study tips”

Freshman Paige Wagner said her peer leader has helped her navigate a strange first year of college.

“My peer leader has helped me a lot especially when figuring out blackboard and juggling my assignments,” she said. “My peer leader is very easy to talk to and they usually have 15-minute meetings with each student frequently to check in on them.”

Mix of Excitement and Frustration Over Presidential Election

This year America saw one of its most contentious election cycles in decades. For many Hilbert students this was their first time voting in a presidential election.

On Hilbert College’s campus there was a mix of excitement and frustration, as students were happy to be participating in the process, but put off by some of the rhetoric around the election and anxious to know the results as ballot counting took much longer than a typical year due to the high volume of mail-in ballots because of the pandemic.

A Senior at Hilbert College, Brianna Stegmeier shared her thoughts and said the slow process of counting mail in ballots made for a less-than-ideal first time voting experience.

“This was my first time voting this year, so it was very exciting but at the same time frustrating,” Stegmeier said in an interview conducted before results were finalized. “I just wish everything were more organized and we find out soon.” 

Stegmeier shared how she is frustrated in the system and the many conspiracies that came with this year’s election and hopes everything was fair and accurate.  

Hilbert Sophomore, Grace Zabawa, said it was also her first-time voting.

“I voted by mail this year,” Zabawa said. “It was my first time, so it felt pretty cool and convenient to be able to do it all from home since I am all online.”

Zabawa was thankful for the opportunity to be able to vote from home and was excited to be able to exercise her right to vote for the first time.  

Sophomore, Anna Hagner said she was glad to vote, but was ready to look forward to the future.

“I was really excited to vote this year but now I would just like the election to be over,” Hagner said in an interview that came before results were certified. “I hope we find out the official results soon so we can all finally move on with our lives”.  

Hilbert Covid Protocols Prove Effective

In a time where the world is working to control a pandemic, Hilbert College staff, faculty and students have been persevering and thriving through the first 12 weeks of the semester.

At other colleges and universities across Western New York, the state and the country numbers have been substantially higher than the 14 positive cases that have been reported on the Hilbert campus. New York State alone has more than 10,000 cases at 181 schools, according to the Covid College Tracer Tracker put out by The New York Times.

Jennine Lukasik, the head of the Math department at Hilbert College, said the protocols had been followed well throughout in-person learning.

“I don’t have any problems with students not wearing their masks or wiping down their areas before and after class,” she said. 

Although Hilbert is a relatively small campus, almost everyone seems to be following the protocols, and those protocols have been working to protect community members, which shows in the small number of positive cases reported.

While some schools like SUNY Oneonta were forced to switch to remote learning just a few weeks into the semester – more than 700 positive cases were reported on the 6,500 student campus this semester – Hilbert was able to continue in-person learning through mid November, just 10 days short of the goal of making it to Thanksgiving break.

The school choose to switch to remote learning, not because of an outbreak on campus, but because of alarming positivity rates in the surrounding community.

Some students at bigger schools have described very different experiences.

Daniel Scully, a senior at the University at Buffalo, said he has seen some students not following protcols on campus.

“For the most part, faculty have been doing everything they can to get students to follow protocols,” Scully said. “I do see students sometimes hanging out in bigger groups without masks which is something that nobody wants to see”.

UB was able to continue in-person learning through the Thanksgiving break, despite crossing just over the state’s 100 active case threshold in the final week.

“I believe that the protocols that the school has put in place are working, but if students do not follow them, they could ruin it for everyone,” Scully said. “If we can just be smart and get through this semester, hopefully, things can start to get back to normal.”

One of the biggest differences between private colleges, such as Hilbert or Canisius College, and public schools such as UB, is that the state school has a much more accessible live update of the number of cases confirmed at all levels of the school.

Scully said he knew the exact amount of cases that had been confirmed to the minute and he  is notified every time there’s a new case through the State University of New York covid tracker website.

A Hilbert student must go on the state’s website check how many cases have been reported, which appear in weekly batches.

Amanda Whalen, a sophomore at Canisius College said her school uses an app called Campus Clear that is required to be used by all Canisius students while they are on campus. Whalen said the app is quite easy to use and makes the Covid-19 protocols clear for students.

“At first I thought it was going to be a pain having another thing to do while getting adjusted to the new ways on campus, but Campus Clear has made it easier because all the Covid information that you need is all right there,” Whalen said.

Now, the hope is that students will be able to return to school for in-person learning again next semester. Like other schools, Hilbert officials have pushed back the beginning of the semester and eliminated spring break in an effort to make things run smoothly.

Hilbert Professor Jenelle Lukasik said she thought students did everything they could to keep the community safe this semester.

“I think everything is going very well so far,” Lukasik said. “The seating in classrooms is spaced out enough. Everyone has been staying in their areas, and the cleaning procedures are being clearly followed. It’s as normal as it can be at this point in time and I believe we are on the right track.”