Interview with Marc Nylen, 01/04/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: This is Grace Lim interviewing Marc Nylen on Wednesday, January 5, 2022, for campus COVID stories. Campus COVID stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

MN: Marc Nylen. M-A-R-C N-Y-L-E-N.

GL: Now for the purposes of getting a good audio recording, tell us again who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

MN: Marc Nylen, Associate Director of Residence Life and director of conference services.

GL: Before we dive into your Campus COVID Story, we'd like to get to know you a little better. Tell us about where you grew up.

MN: My hometown is Algoma, Wisconsin, so on Lake Michigan, a beautiful part of Northeast Wisconsin. I grew up there. I lived there until I was 13. And then I 00:01:00moved to a boarding school in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, and lived there for the next four years. Before coming to Oshkosh.

GL: How did you end up here at Oshkosh?

MN: I was a foreign language, In my in the boarding school I went to is led by Capuchin Franciscan Missionaries. And they put a strong emphasis on foreign language. So studying Latin firstly. And then you can either choose German or Spanish. I chose the route of Spanish and studied that four years. So I knew going on I wanted to major in Spanish or missiology, or a combination of that. I was scheduled to go to a school registered in Iowa. My boarding school roommate said why don't we go to UWO I'm going to do a campus visit there. I'm going to become an accounting student. So I joined him partly for a day off of school and came here met the faculty, absolutely fell in love with the school. And I've 00:02:00been here ever since. That was in 1986.

GL: I want to get back to the which, you call them the what missionaries?

MN: They are Capuchin Franciscan Missionaries.

GL: How do you spell that for me?

MN: Sure. The capuchin is C-A-P-U-C-H-I-N. And they, they all take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience either as brothers or priests. They live in a community. And they founded a boarding school in Mount Calvary, just outside of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, about 160 years ago.

GL: Wow. And then the other thing that you mentioned was something you're going to major in, like you're interested in two things?

MN: Yeah, to become a missionary. The school that I was set to go to was a place called Divine Word College Seminary in Epworth, Iowa. And they specialized in 00:03:00individuals coming from outside of the United States to study to then return to their countries and spread the mission of Christ, or in my case being from the United States that I would study Spanish and then become a missionary in another Spanish speaking country.

GL: Okay. All right. And then, so you said that you've been you know, since 1986, you were here at UW Oshkosh, and you ended up working here at UW Oshkosh? Just give us a brief rundown of that.

MN: Yeah, definitely. So I started my coursework in the fall of 1987. So from 1987 to 1991 I did my undergraduate degree in Spanish and International Studies, European emphasis. During that time, I had an opportunity to do some study abroad programs. One of them was in Spain, at the University of St. James. It was led by a professor here at UWO. So between my undergrad and my graduate 00:04:00work, I lived in Spain at the University of St. James and studied the Spanish language and literature. Then I returned to UWO after that summer, to go into a master's degree in education, counselor education for two years. During that two year period, every opportunity I had during breaks, holiday breaks, spring breaks and then the following summer, between my year one and year two of graduate school, I traveled to Mexico, southern part of the southern state of Chiapas, and then place called Catesol to Nangal, Shayla Guatemala to learn Spanish and then to teach night school English.

GL: So tell me about the degrees you've earned here is your both your degrees are earned.

MN: Yes, I did a bachelor's degree, Bachelor of Science in Spanish and European Studies. And then my master's is in education, counselor education.

GL: And then tell us about your, uh, your pre COVID position. I mean, what, 00:05:00what, what is telling me your title again? What does that mean?

MN: Sure. So I work, pre-COVID, I worked as the director of Gruenhagen Conference Center, and Associate Director of Residence Life. So I oversaw camping conference services administration, EAA lodging for the campus, we host large groups such as badger girls, state, Special Olympics, Wisconsin, many athletic camps. We have a wonderful athletic program here at UWO. So usually about 20 camps, precollege programs. And then I served as a member of the management team for residence life. So a variety of different roles and capacities as one of the Associate Directors of Residence Life.

GL: The Gruenhagen, how biggest it this building? How many people can it house?

MN: Yeah, so the square footage is a very large building, and has 20 stories, 00:06:00about 110,000 gross square feet. We're really blessed on our campus, comparative to even others to have a dedicated space, that is the campus guesthouse. So we could lodge up to I think, about 900. At our maximum, during the academic year, we serve faculty, staff, alumni, students, their parents, anytime someone wants to come to the community or the campus and would prefer to really be as close as possible. We lodge all of those individuals. And then we couple that with big groups, like, Oshkosh on the water wrestling tournament, we do Christian forensics tournaments, and a lot of quilting groups. So it's sort of a combination of campus centric events, combined with an outreach to the community to say, come and join our campus for a short period.

GL: And how many people are you responsible for?

MN: We have during the school year, we have a total of 22 students, and their 00:07:00desk receptionist, building managers, there are live-in positions as building managers, building operations, so setting our rooms, and then we have an EAA operation. And that is three student staff members. So a total of 22 student staff, and then there are six of us who are full time in conference services.

GL: Okay. All right. So let's move to the early days of COVID. Do you remember the first time that you've heard about this this virus this COVID-19?

MN: Yeah, there's two for me really distinct memories that I have. We were about to host a very large event, historic event called the Oshkosh Placement Exchange. And we were scheduled to host that in February of 2020. Excuse me, yeah of 2020. And we had heard about COVID, and certain things, sort of starting 00:08:00up in the COVID realm. And we had

GL: Hold on did you say 2020? It would be 2019 wouldn't it?

MN: I'm sorry, 20. It was in February. So right when, right when it hit.

GL: Right when it hit this would be like, in 2020. So I mean, we were we closed March of 2020.

MN: Yeah, so this event would have been just a couple weeks before we close.

GL: Oh, really? So what month again, did you say?

MN: It took place, I think from the 25th through the 28th of February.

GL: Oh, February. Okay. Okay.

MN: And that event, we had it was the 42nd annual or 41st annual so it had been around for many years. We, we made a judgment that we could still host and we ended up successfully hosting. But one of my memories is, you know, people asking us, you know, is it safe to host and coming from many different states, I think we had 40 states represented from throughout the United States, and people 00:09:00talking about what COVID was like, where they were in state of Washington or Oregon or Georgia. So that was a really distinct memory. And then from there we write when we hosted afterwards, it was a mere week and a half or two weeks later that the university closed down.

GL: So how many people were in that and in that event here on campus?

MN: We had 1000 people.

GL: Holy moly.

MN: So it was a lot of people. And they were here for four days from a Thursday afternoon until Sunday afternoon.

GL: And do you know what do you know anything about this Oshkosh placement exchange?

MN: Yes, so part of my role on campus is to help manage it. And so it's Job Fair, where undergraduate and graduate students who want positions in higher ed, particularly in student affairs. So to become hall directors or multicultural student retention specialist intramural sports, in that realm, so that it's a hit job placement, there's four of those job placements in the United States. 00:10:00And we've been the longest standing.

GL: Wow. Okay. So. So what were your thoughts at that time about this virus?

MN: It my initial thoughts at the time were I hope we can continue to host, because we had invested such a lot of time and energy and for historic significance, and I didn't really want to be part of maybe letting people down or having to make a last minute decision to say we can't safely host. So I remember, part, there was a little bit of sadness to say, if we can't host wow, this is gonna be a big loss. But then the other part was a little bit of anxiety of, I remember talking to the fellow staff members, and not knowing anything other than what I saw on CNN, maybe read in the New York Times, or Washington Post some publications that I read daily, that, you know, this could be bad. And we need to be very cautious, and it hasn't quite made its way to the United 00:11:00States yet. But if it does this, this could be have significant consequences. So for me, it was a blend of, sort of, wow, this is really happening, and can't we still go on with our lives. And then the other part of me was saying, if it's as bad as people say that it could be, this is really not going to be a good thing to experience.

GL: So you hosted that. Tell me the dates that you think they were again.

MN: I think it was I think it was February 25 through the 28th.

GL: Okay. All right. So then we were closed. I mean, we were at first we were, the first email came out was just to tell the students to don't travel. And then I think 40 hours later, they said, well, you need to go home. Everybody needs to go home.

MN: Yeah.

GL: So what were your feelings when that you know, when that announcement came out from administration?

MN: I knew at that time that if that decision were made, we in conference 00:12:00services would likely be called to do to really pivot our operation. And preemptively my supervisor Robert Babcock and other staff members, but particularly Rob said, we need to prepare, excuse me to prepare, if we close all of the residence halls, not everyone will be able to go home. We have people from long distances, we have people with unique living circumstances, we have international students. And we will have to retain some of those students. So be thinking and planning right away how we can do that safely. So I remember, it was it happened really quickly. And we had to have the students move out, we set up reservations for those students who couldn't go anywhere else. We also had Fox Valley Technical College students, we house those students in our operation, they did not close right away, they stayed open. And so we made an operational decision with those roughly 30 students to say you're able to stay like our UWO 00:13:00students that if you have nowhere else to go, then you will move to Gruenhagen and will stay there for the period of time that you need to. So I think, partly, excitement is maybe an overstatement. But I felt an energy that we were going to be able to be part of something special or different that we would engage and make sure to take care of students. I love that part of my job that if somebody is in need, or somebody has an identified crises that we can help. So I was I took some pride in that.

GL: So at that time that you know, when the when the when the university was told, we're going to be shut down. Did you have any guests in Gruenhagen at that time?

MN: We did. And in fact, that day, I remember very specifically as well, we had, it was a quilting or crafting group that had just arrived. And I remember meeting them in the front lobby, myself and a number, another member of our 00:14:00conference services team. And we were told at that time, we're basically shutting down. We didn't even have a chance to call them because they were on their way here. So we met them in the lobby and said our campuses were closed. And so we have to make other arrangements. So that that afternoon, we made arrangements for them to go to a local hotel to be accommodated. At the same time, we were getting close to hosting Special Olympics. And that was going to be a group that would bring about 1300 to campus. So I remember it like yesterday sitting down with our leadership team in residential services, and their leadership team and telling them we won't be able to host so those are really distinct memories because I remember, like yesterday, there was a sense of disappointment. But yet they understood they said we get it you can't host us safely.

GL: The quilting people, where did they come from?

MN: They came from I think they were headquartered in Madison. But the group or 00:15:00the membership was from different parts of Wisconsin, mostly Madison, Milwaukee or north of those areas. So they had traveled a couple hours to get here.

GL: And then the Special Olympics, I mean, where were those people coming from?

MN: They would have represented almost every county, all 72 counties in Wisconsin. It was going to be a 60 team basketball tournament, called the indoor sports games. And we've hosted that on our campus for I think 45 years. So that that that particular convener of the group, his name is Mark Wolfgram, when we sat down, I remember him being at the table and just sort of taking a step back in his chair and going and going, oh, gosh, this is going to be huge. We're going to be you know, these athletes are looking forward to this, their parents. And yeah, it was it was a tough meeting.

GL: And then, what did you know, who did you meet with on this announcement? Did 00:16:00you meet with your student employees? Did you, you know, what, what was it was our game plan?

MN: Yes. And that I remember very distinctly, we gathered in a common area, it's called the Titan lounge in our property, it's a large meeting room. And we convened every one of our staff members, so all of our full time staff and conference surfaces and every student staff member. And that was a very, very stressful meeting. Because we had to tell them, you know, ultimately, we were closing, and that they had to go home. And we had some staff on our team, who I knew this was their home. They were in live in positions. So I had preemptively talked to my supervisor and said, you know, will we be able to retain some of these students to help operational, he said, clearly, we will, because we need to be able to take care of any students who are here. So there were a very small number of students as desk receptionist, and building managers who stayed with us to help take care of the operation. But that meeting, there was sort of a 00:17:00sense of bewilderment among all of us, and how are we going to navigate this, the sense of uncertainty for our students, a number of them asked to meet personally afterwards and say, what is this going to mean for me academically. Some stated, you know, I don't want to return home, it's not necessarily going to be the best environment for me to do that. So there was just a flood of emotion in that meeting. We met for probably about an hour. And very quickly, then people started departing. So it was in some cases, or in some circumstances, that night where they were leaving

GL: This, we're talking about your student employees?

MN: Mhm.

GL: So, you know, the university had to designate certain people who are essential to the running of the campus and, and others whose roles on campus are not essential to that they need to be on campus. What was, were you designated 00:18:00as one of those people that needs to be on campus?

MN: I was and I had asked if I could be in that role. I remember talking to my supervisor, and stating, you know, I would welcome that opportunity. Maybe naively not knowing. But I didn't associate risk with that yet. Because we didn't know a lot about what was happening. And transmissibility and you know, severity. But I was mostly looking at it for the continuity of my life. And the service to any students and other guests we had, that I said, I would love to be apart of that. And whatever you need me to do, I'm comfortable with doing that.

GL: I gotta say, that's incredibly generous of spirit and action on your part, because there are so many people who are really afraid of this unknown virus 00:19:00that they have seen and you know, wreaks havoc on television, you know, in China and in Italy. I mean, you know, those images are harrowing. And yet, yeah, what compelled you to stay when you did you have a choice? Did you have a choice?

MN: Yeah, definitely. I think, you know, when I look back on it, maybe I would have been told, and if that were the case, I would have been completely fine with that. I tried to lead by with my supervisor and the management to say, I think I can play an important role. I would never put myself in harm's way. But if you need me to be in other buildings, if you need to take me to take on other responsibilities, I'm okay with that. I also knew that there were there would be maybe few of us who would be in that role. And so maybe part of me said, if if 00:20:00it's going to be anyone, it should be me, because of my role within conference services, that I wouldn't ask someone to do that and put themselves maybe in harm's way. I never admittedly, I never really saw personally, that I was in harm's way. You know whether it be simplistically with masking and all the precautions of distancing, we were very clear with anybody staying in the building, generally speaking, you would stay in your room, we didn't host any common area gatherings. So it was pretty silent for those first couple of weeks and maybe even month that people would text they would call I would go to rooms if necessary. But it was pretty focused attention on responsibility.

GL: Who else how many others in your department, stayed on campus and worked?

MN: I think a couple in the broader department, all of our residence hall 00:21:00directors, and we have 10 buildings, those staff members stayed because they're live in positions and they were deemed as needing to stay. We had other residents life management staff who stayed because of the scope and function of our operation. And then specific to conferencing, we kept our front desk open. That was a place where we knew calls were going to be coming through, that there were literally going to be people needing to check in. So we modified our operation, we normally are open from seven in the morning till 11. But we opened it from eight in the morning until 8pm, seven days a week. And we had one student desk manager and two other desk receptionists and they stayed on to help.

GL: So what were your, what was your day to day job during that time?

MN: Yeah. So the immediate one students moved out of the residence halls, because it happened so fast. Many people left with only their basic belongings, 00:22:00because if I recall at that time, we didn't know how long they were going to be gone. And so there were I would think hundreds of rooms, several 100 rooms that had many belongings like almost all of the belongings. So facilities, management staff, custodial services staff, they gathered those belongings along with other campus staff that were poaches. I mean, I remember seeing a variety of other people who volunteered for this. And they brought those belongings from the residence halls over to Gruenhagen. And so part of my role for that first month was number one receiving all of those items they would deliver. And then we would place in rooms, and basically set it up as a reservation. So we would tie it to John Doe. And this is their room in Gruenhagen. Even though they're not here, we titled it as their room with their belongings. So that went on for quite a while. And then during that same time period, there would be families 00:23:00who would call us and say I need to come and pick up the belongings. So I was the person who would greet the family, escort them up to the room to gather their belongings and really served as a liaison in that role that went on for a couple months.

GL: So how many rooms you say were filled with a student's stuff.

MN: We had three full floors, so 99 rooms.

GL: Okay.

MN: And it may have been even more I think, longer term we had about 99.

GL: Wow. And these aren't students who just sort of just grabbed their stuff. I mean, they're just grab some stuff and then left, right. I mean, like the maybe their backpack and then

MN: Yeah, in some cases towards the end. So we started prioritizing North and South Scott, our largest residence halls, then Fletcher, then Taylor, we ended with some of our smaller buildings. I recall going into Evans and Stewart and a 00:24:00member of my staff team joined me for emptying rooms out there, we probably empty 20. Some of the rooms, it was as though they took only their car keys and their, you know, a bag of clothes, because everything was left in their room. I remember like yesterday, it took us several hours in some of those rooms, food clothing, you know all other stuff that they had emptying out their refrigerators. So it was a pretty tall order.

GL: So the reason they those rooms in the other dorms. What was the reason? Why do we do we have to do that? Why did we move things to Gruenhagen?

MN: I think we wanted to centralize into one operation that could be more easily managed. I think that was really the premise of what we did. We wanted to make sure that nobody was returning to those resident halls to claim belongings. So 00:25:00that that model worked out really well, because parents and other family members, and students themselves would call ahead, make a defined date and time to pick up their belongings. I think if we had left them in the halls, that would have been really tough to do.

GL: Alright, so you're, um, you are a member of the Emergency Operations Committee on what were your specific tasks in that role.

MN: So we had a, we have a staff member, Patrick Vander Zanden, who departmentally was the selected person to be as our EOC representative. So in my role, I was the backup or the secondary. Anytime Patrick was not able to be part of that, I would be the stand in for him. I think specifically, my role more so on the outside of the EOC, but really reporting to them was to ensure that isolation and quarantine lodging was effectively managed. So anybody on campus 00:26:00who needed to be placed in isolation or quarantine, they were brought to Gruenhagen. And so we had to maintain and we still do an inventory of rooms, manage the intake, the care and concern for those students. And that really has been my role, excuse me, since the start of the pandemic, when we set up isolation and quarantine through current day.

GL: So what when did the isolation quarantine, you know, the whole program, when did that start?

MN: When we came back in the fall semester of 2020. That fall, we had an operation isolation quarantine operation in Webster Hall. And then we had a secondary operation in Gruenhagen. We ran the Webster Hall for about six weeks. And then at that time departmental, he made the decision to move everything to Gruenhagen. So we closed Webster, and from that point, so I would say, the 00:27:00middle part of October of that 2020 until current day, it has been in Gruenhagen.

GL: So are you taking any outside events or any sort, of how many floors are dedicated to the isolation quarantine?

MN: Right now we use all of our south tower. So we have floors 10, down through four that are dedicated for isolation and quarantine. Thankfully, right now, our numbers are, although currently, they're higher. The number of intakes has been very manageable. I recall back in that fall semester of 2020, we had several floors, a number of floors, we filled Webster at one point. And then when we came over to Gruenhagen, we had equally as many people for the earliest parts of 00:28:00the fall semester. But right now we have the capacity to do all floors in South Gruenhagen Hall.

GL: So let's go back to the fall of 2020. What, what was that like for you and your work and, you know, walk me through.

MN: Sure. So at that time, we really pivoted to meet the needs of the campus, we knew that our priority was going to be the safe return. So when the Chancellor and cabinet made the decision that we were going to return our students and faculty and staff, and we're going to do so safely. We also recognized inherent in that decision, we would have to be prepared if people became ill. And I think what I was asked to do is make sure that an operation was set up that could appropriately and effectively do that, without worry or concern that a student if they became ill, wouldn't have to go home. And I think that we took a great 00:29:00deal of pride in that in conference services and still do that whatever intake, whatever student we have coming in, we don't necessarily know their circumstances. We don't know what their home life is. We don't know what brings them to us. But it's the peace of mind for the student to say I've got a place to rest and be to get better and get healthy. We had maybe about a month ago, a lot of students have provided great feedback. You know, through texts or emails saying thanks for providing this. And we've never done it for that reason. But we had a student about a month ago who sent a beautiful letter. And I mean, it said thank you for doing this. I didn't have to go home, I could get meals here. I felt comfortable. You checked in on me. And that one letter really summarized if I had to say, this is our goal. This is what we hope to accomplish. That's it. You felt comfortable, you felt taken care of And now you've returned safely 00:30:00to your regular life.

GL: So, you put these students to describe what was it like to have the students move in with their stuff. I had some students describe to me that they were just told to, they brought their pillow. They brought their laptop, but they were feeling pretty miserable. I mean, what was that like? I mean.

MN: Yeah. And I know that I'll say, firsthand from the being the recipient, when they walk through our door, you combine at the start of the pandemic, students, some of the students were very ill. And, you know, it was the presenting with those, those that illness at the same time, you're disrupting your life and having to be in an unfamiliar building. For in some cases, some students were there for 12 or 13 days, for isolation at that time was a minimum of 10, they could leave on the 11th day. So for me, it was mildly heartbreaking, you know, 00:31:00to see them come in. And to know, we wanted to be as quick as we could about our interaction, because we wanted to do it safely, but also not be off putting. So we wanted to make sure that they understood where they were, that they would still have access to computer technology, that they could still continue their classes, that we had food and beverage stations set up on their residence hall floor. So that they would be looked after. They could receive packages, a lot of parents and coaches and family members would drop off food and other really nice packages, and we would deliver those to the students. So we would tell them, hey, if you need groceries, you can order those and we'll bring them up to your room. But at the same time, I'm thinking, I can't imagine with my lifestyle, as a human being, if I'm in my house, other than to sleep more than a couple hours a day, I'm at the grocery store, I'm athletic events, I was just envisioning 00:32:00what it would be like to not leave for 10 days.

GL: So what kind of challenges did you have? Yeah move right in front of you mouth. You know, the students are there some of them are, are sicker than others. Others are just are they, you know, they're not as, as ill. Did you have any challenges monitoring these students?

MN: Yeah. And we have a member of our staff team, who is the compliance person. And, and he's done a great job with this role, you know, viewing cameras, just to make sure that people were not leaving. They didn't have guests coming in to visit them. And I have to say, across the board from isolation and quarantine, it has gone remarkably well. We've laid out what are the requirements, what people can and cannot do. And generally speaking, people have been extremely compliant. There have been situations where people have pushed the limit. And 00:33:00then we've had to work closely with the Dean of Students Office, that has really been the exception to the rule. But I think there are occasions where maybe students wanted us to provide more than we could.

GL: Like what?

MN: I think sometimes the personalization, I can recall a couple situations where we had an agreement set up with Ryan and staff from Titan convenience store. From the beginning, university bookstore in the convenience store were wonderful they set up an email account that students in isolation quarantine could order from a staff member from those operations would deliver and then we would take it up to the room. But there were a couple of occasions where they wanted very specific things. And we were, I would have to say, we just can't do that.

GL: Do you recall anything?

MN: Like particular types of medication, maybe a particular style of pillow. And, you know, I could understand the ask, but I had to remind them, although we 00:34:00are concierge, we're really the campus resource concierge not going out to the community and buying stuff for you.

GL: Do you recall the major challenges you've had, you know, during the whole time, your greatest challenges during this time of COVID? From March till now?

MN: Yeah, I think the greatest were at the beginning, just understanding the nature of what we were going through. I remember I was not really joking with my wife about this, but saying, Hey, do you remember this, the whole concept of two weeks to flatten the curve. And that's been how many several years now, to flatten the curve and where it's now the curve is, you know, exponentially higher than it ever was. But I think when we were seeing the numbers in the fall of 2020 being so high for the return which we understand was going to happen 00:35:00because people were going to get sick when they came back into communal living on or off campus. I think the challenge was sometimes the volume, you know, the intakes that we were having to process sometimes in an evening. I remember some of those nights being up in Gruenhagen, with other members of our staff team, doing multiple intakes. And at that time students were they're frustrated, they're saying, why do I have to do this? And it's easier to address that when you have five people, maybe than when you have 50 people. And so I think that was the at the early at the onset of that fall return. That was the biggest challenge for us.

GL: When you say intake, what does that mean?

MN: So a student and on campus residence hall student identified as COVID positive, or at that time, a close contact, who had to be brought into Gruenhagen. So they couldn't remain in the residence hall. That's primarily the demographic we served. There were some off campus students who were in communal 00:36:00living, that the campus would intervene and say, we need to move them to Gruenhagen. So intake was any student who came into our property.

GL: Okay. And then the, you know so that's one major challenge. Do you have any other that you can think of?

MN: Yeah, I think the other the biggest challenge for me besides that, is somewhat of like the unknown. And when you look at from the beginning, so that March, when we first experienced this, okay, what what's to come, and then we had a period where things got better. We were able to do conference services in summer two, so not the opening entry summer, but this last summer, and we were able to host EAA guests, we were able to do many camps and conferences, athletically based, our Titan Advantage Program, pre college programs, we hosted all of them. And so we went back to maybe more of a sense of normalcy. And now we're returning to something that's not normal. So I think for me, it's the 00:37:00psychological and then even working with my staff team to say, here we go, again, we may have to pivot what we're needed to do or needing to do. And as best we can just be comfortable with the uncertainty.

GL: How has your job, you know, changed because of this pandemic?

MN: There are, I think, some positional responsibilities of directing the intake process, making sure that our front desk operation would never close, making sure that adequate communications with campus partners took place, so dining services. Our disease investigation team, they have been incredible. I mean, we're on the phone and emailing those disease investigators daily. And at the peak of, of our intakes, I mean we're talking dozens of times, where we would go to our positive spreadsheet and determine, okay, this is the number of people who are testing positive, and then a fraction or a percentage of those we knew 00:38:00would be coming into our operation. And in many of those circumstances, there were unique elements to it. So a disease investigator would have to call us or email us and say, This person was not able to do laundry before they're leaving. So could you help them with some of those details, this person will need textbooks delivered from the bookstore. So those relationships in my role, I was asked to really be liaison and partner to those campus departments.

GL: So when you said disease investigator who you talked about,

MN: So on, we have a campus team and it's been very consistent from the beginning. So Juliana Kahrs, and Carmen Hetzel have led that team, Jordan Mooney was also part of that team for a long time. And then we had a number of coaches, staff members from conference services, and other staff members, who would be the main point of contact, if someone tested positive, that student was assigned 00:39:00to as disease investigator, and they would let them know what their options were, what the requirements were. And then they were really sort of the concierge service to get them to Gruenhagen and to look after their needs until they left.

GL: Got it. And then so the disease investigators were the were the first people to learn that their does a student is positive, and then from and then they're in contact with the student. And then are you in contact with the disease investigator then? Okay, got it.

MN: Yeah. They have a tracking spreadsheet that we were given access to, partly so we would know how many people were testing, testing overall, and then of that, what percentage were positive? And that started the relationship between us.

GL: Okay, so what do you think your do you think any, any part of your job has been changed permanently, because of COVID?

MN: Huh, I don't think so. I think the consistency for me, and this has been a 00:40:00wonderful consistency, pre COVID, we always strive to take care of any camp conference be the guest house. So our ideological approach has always been, we know we're going to be taking care of some people who are in crisis, they may have a house fire, they may have a domestic situation, they may be a student who has a familial issue, our family related issue that we have to take care of. So the consistency of that mission being carried through the COVID. It's been consistent. And I know coming out of COVID, I've learned a lot about how we could even refine that mission. And, you know, at the point of interaction with guests how we can be even more welcoming. So I don't think anything will change. Other than that, we can hopefully be even better at what we're doing, because 00:41:00we've learned from this experience.

GL: A couple of things I want to touch on. I know that we have a number of international students that could not go home, or and, and Gruenhagen became their home.

MN: It was.

GL: And then how did you know that they had? It was opened during the summer, and they stayed through the summer?

MN: They did.

GL: So how did that what did that look like?

MN: Yeah, so we had to two components of that in the opening summer of 2020. Our international students, some of whom were from China, Korea and other countries. But specifically, I remember students from those two countries, who couldn't, there was no way for them to go back travel would not permit them. I remember also the challenges of visa, even if they could find a flight, being able to leave China or Korea to come back, they were given great advice from our campus to say, you need to think long and hard about the complexities of that. So what 00:42:00we tried to do was very personalize their experience. And it was relatively safe to do that. You know, just checking in with them, making sure that their needs were looked after. I mean, the part that we were not directly connected to, but would hear from our students, when you move from a traditional curricular model to either a hybrid or a full virtual, it was very typical for when I was delivering stuff to a student room to hear, you know, this is tough, I'm not good at this. I don't know if I'm going to do well academically, am I going to fail? And so there was part of our role that was counselor and saying, we're going to get through this, you're going to do well, you're, you're our students, and we're going to take care of you. And we have. I think we across the board have done a really, really exceptional job with that. But I think for from a student perspective, and particularly International, they weren't able to go and see their families, maybe their siblings or their parents or grandparents. And 00:43:00so that that demographic of student we really tried to focus a lot of time and energy. At the same time, we have a youth based program. Gruenhagen serves as a boarding school for a program called Central Boarding Academy. And that's a group of students from China and Korea. They've been with us for 17 years as a program, but their high school and middle school age. In that first summer, they did not go home. And that was very difficult because they are here for 10 months out of the year. So from August until early June. And their only chance to recreate and reconnect with their family physically, is the months of June and July, because they returned mid August. And that opening summer they all stayed with us.

GL: How many students are we talking about?

MN: We had 20 and then four staff members. So 24 people stayed with us.

GL: So this is a program run by UW Oshkosh?


MN: It's run actually by the company is called Central Boarding Academy. And they have an owner who is in Oshkosh from he's born and raised in South Korea. But they manage it and then they contract with UWO to provide lodging, meeting space, and Dining Services.

GL: Okay. So during this time of COVID did, how did Gruenhagen fare financially?

MN: We did fairly well. At the start, you know, you look at that the summer where we did not have camps and conferences and didn't have EAA, we struggled because a lot of our revenue is generated within that 95 to 100 days of summer. So that was a real challenging period. This last summer in that we were able to host successfully host EAA, and most of our camps and conferences, we did much 00:45:00better. So it's I think it's going to be a period of recovery, to get back to, let's say, the 2019 or pre 2019 levels. But just EAA alone was what you call a game savor, the fact that we were able to host that and successfully

GL: Is Gruenhagen self-sustaining?

MN: We are. Yeah, we're part of the Department of Residence Life very integrated, totally integrated. But about 20% of our total revenue departmentally is generated from Camp and conference services. So our ideal ideology is that every person we have coming into the building, whether they be a daily guest, in that guest host concept, or camper conference, it's sort of it pays the salary, it pays the bills and.

GL: Okay, so um the vaccine. You know in the fall of 2021, you know, we, okay, 00:46:00let's, let's go back to that. So we talked about the fall of 2020, spring of 2021, things were looking a little better, right? I mean, did anything change with your, your role on campus or what's happening Gruenhagen?

MN: It stayed pretty consistent, we we've consistently remained as that isolation and quarantine. We were able to host some groups, again, successfully to welcome them like we are currently. When you talk like an Oshkosh on the water, those some of those big groups, if we can have 100 rooms or 150 lodging rooms, and do it safely, revenue wise, it's huge for us.

GL: I wanted to step back one or a little bit, you know, you had a number of students going through Gruenhagen, who had tested positive. Some of them are, are exhibiting, you know, probably flu like symptoms, and, and they're sick. I 00:47:00mean, you are in that building. I mean, whether I mean, I know that you have this, this idea of being a person of service, and action and things like that, but you really are in that front lines of being exposed or being close and truly close contact with these people. Want I mean, you know again, why and were you at all, like worried about that, or taking it home or anything like that?

MN: Definitely I was. And I think for myself as an individual, for my family, but then also for our students and the valiance of some of our student staff. I remember, at the beginning of the pandemic, we knew that we would need people to stay. So even in those sit down meetings with the staff to say, we don't know how dangerous this is going to be. We're going to put some safeguards in place, 00:48:00you know, plexiglass, the normal N95 masks, anything that was availed by the campus, which was a lot of resources we put in place. But I would be honest, I was honest with myself and the staff to say, this is this is a highly infectious disease, so we we likely will get sick. And at that time, at the beginning, there weren't vaccinations. So we were doing that without, you know, protection, so to speak. Thankfully, I was included in the early ability to get the vaccination, I was really grateful for that. My family was not by demographic and just other circumstance. And so my wife and I would have conversations, you know, are we comfortable? Are you comfortable? I would ask her, do you not need me not to be at home for this period of time? And my wife was always like, nope, this is what we have to do, and we'll just do it. But the biggest area of concern for me was our student staff members getting sick. And then the 00:49:00secondary element to that is that our operation might have to, you know, morph, because we didn't have healthy staff to, to look after the operation.

GL: And then the so you talked about the we talked about vaccination and, you know, coming into fall of 2021, what I mean, are you feeling I know you got to think back a little bit but, you know, summer you were able to host EAA and other events. Fall 2021 What was that like?

MN: Much higher sense of confidence, because the summer was relatively COVID free. We put in really we were direct contact going into the summer with Kim and Chief Leibold And Patrick from our staff and clearly my supervisor Rob, to make sure that we could safely return. And we did so with almost out any incidents. 00:50:00So there, it was not a cocky confidence, but it was more so we did this and felt comfortable returning to a sense of normalcy a little more normalcy. And I that was beer mirrored in the staff I was supervising or am supervising, you know, we felt there was less risk. We felt we had examples under our belt of, okay, we hosted a volleyball camp with 250, and then another volleyball camp with 275. And there were no positives in that camp, the camp managers successfully and navigated this. So I think the confidence was more so about, we trusted each other, we took care of each other, the communication and I'll tell you, that has like been razor sharp. And I when I look back at the most positive outcome, I am 00:51:00closer to many campus staff members now than I ever have been. And that is been a tangential while I look back and to the point of friendship with some individuals, I only had a cordial relationship. Now it's I would consider a deep connection.

GL: And these are people from where and I mean, or who are you talking about?

MN: Yeah. So like our coaching staff on campus. We did this last summer, many camps. And I've always felt close to the those coaches because I love what they do. But seeing them manage in a crisis situation, and keep us at the forefront, like our head volleyball coach, Jon Ellman, Matt Lewis, Brad Fischer, Erin Coppernoll. I mean, we had successfully hosted these camps. And I remember, like 00:52:00yesterday at the close of some of those camps saying, We did it, you know, it's, it's amazing, you know, you all did this. And they would, you know, throw the compliment back and say, but we couldn't have done it without their lodging. And, you know, so I felt really good about that. And I think the other group, the disease investigator role, and even Kim and Chief Leibold, and all members, Buzz Bares, from EOC, and many others. You know, they believed in us, and they said, we think we can do this. And it's not going to maybe be without incident or without challenge. But let's do it. And I just look back on that and go, This was, this is good. It worked well.

GL: So now we are, you know, at the end of December, we're hearing about this, the new variant. And I know what went through your mind when this thing is coming down again?

MN: My first thought was, here we go again. And then the second was, what how is 00:53:00this going to impact us? Again, are we going to see numbers, like we maybe did in the fall of 2020, where we had a full Webster? I try to stay as appropriately connected to the science and research to be knowledgeable, but not to be anxiety producing. Which sometimes some days, I'm successful at that and other days, I'm like, I just need to turn the TV off. But I think it's for me, it's been a mixture of we're going to be back right at this again. So that anxiety of that. And there's a healthy energy to that for me that I say, okay, we did this in the fall. We successfully navigated it. Let's do it again. And I've had those type of meetings with my staff members to say, even though our mind sometimes take us to this is impossible. No, we did it. It is possible. Let's do it again.

GL: And you said Webster was full, how many people makes that full?


MN: 180.

GL: Alright, so tell me uh what has living and working during the time COVID has taught you about yourself?

MN: Number one, the sense of reliance on other people. That's my biggest what I've learned I've always reveled in in working with others. But when I have seen how other people have really stood behind me, or alongside me, or alongside our property as Gruenhagen that has been really just heartwarming and reassuring. So that that part of it when we exit COVID that's the thing I'm going to reflect on most prominently. The other day, and I remember this as the early part of the 00:55:00COVID. Like really early. I was at North Central College in Illinois. And UWO was in a basketball, regional tournament at that time. And I remember like yesterday and got there on a Friday took in the whole campus experience, saw Friday night basketball, Saturday, volleyball, and then Saturday night basketball. So it was like a whole weekend of sports. The reason I remember that, I remember having a distinct conversation with Jim Chitwood was there with me that weekend. And Jim has been just a lifelong friend of mine, and colleague, mentor. And I, I've talked to him about this since then, do you remember when we were at that game together? And you're sort of on the, the cliff, and you go, okay, what's to come next? And then it starts coming, and you go, oh, my gosh, this is worse than I thought it was going to be. You know, again, to our comment 00:56:00about two weeks to flatten the curve, we thought maybe in a couple of weeks, we'd get through this and boom, life is back to normal. Well, we aren't even close to that still. But what I took away from that is that sense of again, relationship. That people care for each other. And at a campus level, what that reminded me of our students are our most important asset, and they appreciate there is not been one student, I've had the privilege of serving, who has said this was a bad experience. I can't believe you did it this way. Many have said nothing. Maybe other than a nod of, you know, see you later thanks for the two weeks. But there have been many who have said, thank you. I appreciate what you did. I know at other colleges, I would have had to go home. That to me, it instills the sense of a lot of institutional pride, that every individual, myself included has had an influence. And these are our students. And when I 00:57:00exit the pandemic, or we collectively exit it. I hope we always stay focused on that, because they're our students, and we need to take care of them.

GL: Alright, um, before I asked you have anything else you want to add? I just want to double check couple of things. Do you recall at all the numbers that went through Gruenhagen, the students that were positive and quarantined? If not, you can give them that to me later.

MN: I will get that to you.

GL: Okay. Okay. And then is there anything else you would like to add that I we haven't touched on?

MN: I can't think of anything else.

GL: Before. Just on a personal level, did you know anyone who other obviously knew a lot of them from campus and everything about your personal life? Who got 00:58:00sick from COVID?

MN: Yeah, that's a very insightful question. Because I remember just a couple of weeks ago, talk to my wife and my kid, my children about this. So I asked the question that Christmas, do you remember at the start, when I would ask, do you know anyone who has been ill? And in our nuclear family in our extended family, no one friends, no one at the start. And then it when we got to the middle of it, it was many people. And now it's almost everyone has ever experienced it. On a very personal level, my brother had lives in Tennessee, had COVID to the point where he was hospitalized and on a respirator. So at that time, we were acutely aware as a family. And I remember getting a call from my mother who lives very close to where my brother is in Tennessee saying, you know, we're having his children come in, because we just don't know, with his oxygen levels and his 00:59:00need to be on a respirator if he's going to survive. At that point. It clearly hit home. And it was it established a sense of reality. That was like laser focused. And it was really tough that at that time.

GL: How's he doing?

MN: He's doing very well.

GL: Okay.

MN: Yeah. Doing very well. He's recovered, I would say, maybe not fully, because that whole long COVID and some some of the things he's experiencing. But he's back to the normal brother and that I'm very grateful for.

GL: Alright, is there anything else you want to add? Do you think?

MN: No.

GL: Great. Well, thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contribution to the Campus COVID Story at UW Oshkosh.

MN: Thank you very much.