Mary Elliott, Director of Residence Life and Housing at Colorado School of Mines
Mary Elliott, Director of Residence Life and Housing at Colorado School of Mines (Mines) in Golden, Colorado gave us her up-to-date perspective. In describing the pre-virus campus atmosphere, she sighed heavily at the impact physical distancing will have on social interaction and community building. She was also quick to acknowledge the campus-wide effort of her colleagues and leadership team to help incoming students navigate the new reality. To paraphrase, she said, “While encountering circumstances unlike any we’ve seen before, the students who choose to enroll at Mines have a deep spirit of community and resilience. They will arrive with an expectation and willingness to participate in creating their own experience.”
Despite the tentative nature of planning in response to shifting information and requirements, Mary exhibited a positive can-do attitude. She focused on how to deliver a high quality, albeit different student experience for the Mines Orediggers of 2020-21. To allow incoming students to choose their own level of comfort, Mines has removed the live-in requirement for first year students. Mines has also reduced the capacity of their on-campus housing and has made plans to close common areas to encourage single rooms and social distancing. In addition to this precaution, they are making operational changes that will help maintain safe distancing in shared dorm bathroom facilities. Paired with several housing strategies already outlined in detail to promote adaptability, she hopes students will retain many safe options to engage with on-campus life. Success will require the cooperation of students, staff, and faculty. Mary is confident Mines is up to the challenge.
Even amid worries over cleaning product supply chains and the potential for policy non-compliance, Mary is optimistic and told NAC that she counts Mines among one of the most fortunate schools. Along with her expertise in residence life and housing, another key member of the Mines staff has a significant background in infectious diseases and public health. Working together, the two entered “planning mode,” as Mary put it, for Fall 2020 as soon as students were sent home for the remainder of the academic year. While more resources would have been beneficial—Mary told us that almost all of the guidance from the CDC emphasizes checking with county officials and provides little specific guidance for higher education—she is confident that Mines will be prepared to welcome students back as safely as possible.
A few of Mary’s key strategies:
- Engage students one-on-one and in small groups. This helps them to feel recognized and allows students and staff to get to know one another on a deeper level.
- Start the Oredigger Challenge. This program includes ten weekly challenges students, faculty, and staff. After completing a challenge, participants write about it and post pictures.
- Get creative with virtual interactions. Organizing scavenger hunts, reflection questions, trivia nights, escape rooms, and hikes in pairs offer opportunities to bring people together even when everyone must be apart.
Tammie Brown Butler,
Former MSU Chief Housing Officer
Director of Residence Life and Housing, Colorado School of Mines
Director of Research and Experience Development, NAC Architecture