The Art of Space Shifting
Welcoming future students, serving current ones took creative thinking
by Bryan Wendell and Sherri Kimmel
You can scroll through photo galleries, click through virtual tours and sit through Zooms. But no digital experience can truly replicate the feeling you get when standing on the Quad or strolling through the Grove. You have to be there.

In late June, after three months of exclusively virtual admissions experiences, Bucknell resumed in-person visits for prospective students and their families.

With the start of the fall semester still two months away, other campus offices had more time to design reopening plans. The Office of Admissions did not.

While most colleges remained closed to visitors, Dean of Admissions Kevin Mathes ’07 led the effort to open Bucknell while keeping visitors and the admissions team safe and healthy.

“We all just jumped into action,” says Kelly Kurtz, admissions specialist. “We started brainstorming: ‘What do we think could work?’ ”

Bucknell visits usually begin with a 45-minute information session inside Freas Hall. But with the Weis Center for the Performing Arts not hosting shows, that 1,200-seat space was available for socially distanced presentations.

Associate Dean of Admissions Chrissy Findlay and her team spent hours walking through the venue to figure out safety precautions, traffic flow and seating.

State regulations helped determine that last one. Capacity was capped at 25 people, which meant plenty of room for families to spread out inside the hall.

Helping admissions orchestrate a creative use of campus space was Events Management Executive Director Dana Mims. Mims and her team maxed out their problem-solving skills to support the academic program. “A lot of professors were looking for outdoor classroom space, and so things like the farm or the fire pit are getting heavily used,” she says. “We must get four or five requests a day for the fire pit, which the Class of 2020 gave as a senior-class donation to the University. Talk about timing!”

A tent outside the Art Barn across Route 15, the Hildreth-Mirza Great Room and the Weis Center Atrium are among the many other spaces retrofitted for teaching. “We had to get creative about making sure that when they were outdoors they had what they needed technologywise. Vince [Pellegrini in Academic Scheduling] did a great job of working with each professor to see what their specific class needs were.”

As the days grew shorter, Mims and her crew located lights for the many tents that popped up around campus as classrooms and events spaces. And she had to put in place more and more pot-belly, wood-burning chimineas to provide heat as temperatures dropped.

“Helping our campus partners identify alternative venues and options,” she says, was part of this unprecedented pandemic puzzle. “The thing I like most about events is that no day is ever the same. You have to be prepared for the unexpected, right?”