A look at the challenges and triumphs of 2020

This year, visitors to Daemen’s Main Street entrance are greeted by a large (and temporary) LED sign blinking a succinct message: “WELCOME. WEARING OF MASK/AND SOCIAL DISTANCE/REQUIRED ON CAMPUS.” This new reality of campus life during the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the college’s exceptional management of the ongoing challenges at hand, but it’s certainly not the only story to share about Daemen’s leadership and momentum during this unusual year.

Teaching and Learning in the New Normal

While the college’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) of administrators, faculty, and sta from many areas of the campus community had met regularly for years to discuss responses to potential crises, even they could not have imagined what 2020 would bring the college and the world.

The ERT adopted an “all hands on deck” attitude and created an impressively comprehensive plan to respond to the unknowns that the COVID-19 pandemic presented. e team’s carefully coordinated eort helped keep positive cases low by implementing mandatory testing of all students, faculty, and sta, as well as surveillance testing, mask enforcement, contact tracing, and distancing in all campus spaces. These measures ensured that moving to in-person college life could be done safely and that, in particular, those who were joining the Daemen community for the very first time would be able to enjoy a rewarding first-year college experience.

Expanding remote teaching and learning requires that online skills and technology be on point, and over the 2020 spring break, faculty accomplished an impressive feat: taking the entire college curriculum online within just two weeks. Everyone in the college community helped make the transition possible with skill, precision, attention to detail, and a drive to be as supportive of students as possible to ensure that a Daemen education could be achieved uninterrupted.

“We examined four specific scenarios and planned for each of them.”

Dr. Michael Brogan
Senior VP for Academic Affairs + Dean

“Because we were on spring break at that time, our community was off campus. We examined four specific scenarios and planned for each of them,” stated Dr. Michael Brogan, senior vice president for Academic Aairs and dean of the college. The four scenarios for teaching at the height of the pandemic were in-person, remote, and two hybrid formats.

“We had hired two instructional designers prior to this crisis, and through collaboration and hard work we were able to deliver high-quality online courses during the pandemic,” said Brogan. “A course taught online has to meet the same rigor and content expectations.” The semester started in January and half of the semester was taught face-to-face. In a matter of days, the faculty was asked to transition to a remote model and to develop and teach at a high-quality level.

As would be expected of those within Daemen’s close-knit community, dedicated faculty and sta met the unique challenge with determination and helped the college continue to move ahead.

The plan for the 2021 spring semester is to begin the semester in mid-February rather than January and to cancel spring break, with everyone returning to campus for in-person classes and campus services after the peak of the typical cold and flu season. Regular testing and all other precautions will continue so as to ensure that teaching, learning, and the memorable experiences enjoyed in the college environment continue on, albeit in new ways. We examined four specific scenarios and planned for each of them.” Dr. Michael Brogan Senior VP for Academic Aairs + Dean “

Forward Momentum on All Fronts

Despite the disruption, the college continued its forward momentum and even racked up many achievements, thanks in large part to the proactive and exceptional preparedness of the faculty and staff.

For example, Daemen specializes in the programs that lead to 25 of the top 32 careers named on Buffalo Business First’s recently published list of the hottest jobs in Western New York. at makes the college’s academic offerings and degrees among the most advantageous to graduates in the region, something that speaks to prospective students and their families when looking for a return on investment from higher education. In an economy and world detrimentally impacted by COVID-19, that alignment with job opportunities speaks volumes.

“For nearly 75 years, Daemen has provided students with a quality, affordable education that leads to a long-lasting career,” said Dr. Greg Nayor, vice president for strategic initiatives. “We already knew this; that’s our distinct reputation. However, when we look at especially challenging and trying times, and have the Buffalo Business First data to back it up, it’s comforting to know that we provide students with the ability to easily pursue some of the most lucrative careers from their education and experience here at Daemen. at means we’re doing things right; we’ve got a unique opportunity here that oers ROI and value.”

Daemen programs can lead to some of the most sought-aer regional occupations, including the top five jobs on the list: financial managers, veterinarians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and purchasing managers.

With specialized minors and concentrations and pre-professional programs to choose from, Daemen students are clearly on the career path to ample job opportunities, impressive salaries, consistent pay growth, and strong future prospects in the Buffalo Niagara region and beyond.

Transforming Health Sciences Education and Professional Development

Just stepping through the doors of Daemen’s new state-of-the-art Center for Interprofessional Learning and Simulation (CILS) makes one think of innovation. This sleek, high-tech facility was carefully designed to mimic a healthcare clinic where students experience real-life, interprofessional learning opportunities. The space also serves as a regional resource for professional development in the community. When the center formally came into use and served as a site for a celebratory ribbon-cutting this fall, the new surge of activity and excitement could be felt on campus immediately.

“This first-class simulation center transforms the educational experience because it provides the real-life training necessary to serve patients effectively and compassionately,” said Daemen College President Gary Olson. “is facility clearly shows that Daemen is moving forward despite the challenges of the pandemic, and we are excited about the center serving as a much sought-aer resource and community partner for learning opportunities for practitioners in a range of fields.”

Dr. Gary Olson & John Yurtchuk
CILS Center Ribbon Cutting and Grand Openi

Located in Daemen’s Research and Information Commons, the center houses eight modern examination rooms, a counseling room, and a space for telehealth, telecounseling, and face-to-face interprofessional learning experiences. In this innovative new space, students are immersed in simulated patient scenarios that mimic real life with standardized patients. Actors who are trained to portray patients with specific symptoms and circumstances help to bring clinical cases to life. In addition, a conference room allows students from different professional programs to collaborate, connect, and work together to interpret patient and client interactions in an interdisciplinary manner.

The expansive simulation center was overseen by Dr. Gregg Shutts, interim executive director and former program director of physician assistant studies; and Dr. Mary Iwanenko, interim coordinator. Social Work and Sociology Department Chair Dr. Diane Bessel, who is the 2020 recipient of the “Social Worker of the Year” honor awarded by the NYS Chapter for the National Association of Social Workers, led the development of the center’s strategic plan, mission, vision, and values, and will be key in creating professional development opportunities to be offered at Daemen.

“Real-life simulations bring to light the humanistic touches and soft skills, such as effective listening and making eye contact, that are vital to the competency of today’s practitioners,” said Shutts. “This simulation center will allow students to further explore their role as future health care professionals in an interprofessional setting that will help them build on their teamwork abilities.”

Each space is equipped with a video camera that allows for practical experiences to be recorded and incorporates the use of wireless headphones that will enable students to receive instructions during their experiences. After a simulation, a student reviews the scenario with a faculty member and receives feedback on how he or she interacted with the patient, discusses what went right and wrong, and reviews areas for improvement – all with the intention of helping the student become a more competent, condent, and compassionate professional.

The 2,400-square-foot center, which has established health and safety protocols and universal precautions for all who use it, is a replica of a professional health clinic. Physician assistant studies students used the simulation center in the fall, and in the spring use will be expanded to students in other health and human services programs, including nursing, physical therapy, applied behavior analysis, athletic training, social work, education, and paralegal studies. The scope of Daemen majors using the center is expected to expand as the college develops additional learning opportunities for other disciplines. Future plans call for the formation of a community advisory board made up of local professionals from various fields to continue identifying innovative ways to use the unique space.

Remarkably, this project began at a time when New York State had halted all nonessential construction projects due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. On behalf of the state, the Town of Amherst granted permission for Daemen to proceed with the project as it was considered essential because of its medical focus, a special authorization that allowed the college to complete the project in time for the start of fall classes.

The simulation center has even provided additional public value: prior to the fall semester it was used as an on-campus COVID-19 testing site for the college community.

Members of the Emergency Response Team
L to R: Don Phillips, Ashley Frazier, Lisa Arida, Kim Pagano, Ian James, Mike Miranto,
Kerry Spicer, Traci Murphy, Jeff Sage, Dr. Greg Nayor, and Robert Mead-Colegrove.
Missing: Jules Moffitt, Sarah Porzucek, Doug Smith and Paula Witherell

Financial Strength in Face of Pandemic

While local news stories chronicled layoffs and the financial peril experienced by many colleges in Western New York, in August, President Olson praised the Daemen campus community for their resiliency throughout the COVID-19 crisis, and he emphasized the college’s fiscal stability. His message indicated that all of Daemen’s hard work – including several months making massive changes to personal and professional lives in order to deliver afirst-rate academic experience to students from afar – meant that the college had been able to weather the storm with tremendous composure, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Even before the pandemic hit, colleges nationwide had been facing a number of challenges that led to the unfortunate closure of several struggling colleges across the country as well as substantial budget decits, layoffs, and furloughs. e COVID-19 crisis exacerbated this already troublesome situation, rocking the world of higher education like never before.

While most institutions experienced a substantial financial loss, Daemen was able to maintain its fiscal position and end the year with a balanced budget, signs of the college’s overall strength, prestige, and academic excellence. is healthy position can be attributed to a number of strategies and a focus on business efficiency.

Dr. Robert Rood
VP for Business Affairs + Treasurer

“Recognition that there would be economic fallout required immediate expense controls be put in place beyond the traditional budgetary controls that we already had,” said Dr. Robert Rood, vice president for business affairs and treasurer for the college. “Workers were provided remote access tools to allow for transition to work from home. Those who were unable to work due to job requirements that simply could not be accomplished remotely were not furloughed or laid off as was the case at some other regional institutions. This was largely due to the fact that we were able to maintain business operations and revenue generating activities.”

Despite the pandemic, Daemen’s summer enrollments were strong and the institution experienced revenue growth in part due to the addition of a new study abroad program associated with Daemen’s Brooklyn campus. Daemen was also the recipient of nearly $1.9 million of federal CARES act relief funding, half of which was distributed directly to students as grants, while the remainder helped oset lost room and board revenue and the added costs of cleaning, testing, and transitioning to online learning.

“The college continues to be financially vigilant and cost containment measures remain in place to ensure liquidity needs are met until this event passes. is continues to be an ‘all hands on deck’ eort to continue to steward our resources through the pandemic storm,” said Rood. I am grateful for the amount of cooperation and patience that our Daemen family has provided as we work together during this health crisis.”

The strength of the institution can be attributed not only to strong financial management, but also to the fact that each division worked carefully and collaboratively to ensure a steady move ahead.

“We take great pride in our ability to operate efficiently with top-quality administrators, a curriculum taught by experts in their professions and in fields that are rooted in what society needs, the ability to pivot quickly and efficiently to make decisions that are in the best interest of students and the overall community,” said Nayor. “By making mission-centric decisions that align with our strategic plan, as well as having well-dened structures in place for when crises occur, the Daemen community has been able to not only weather the storm, but set ourselves up for future success when it is over.”

“We have a tremendous opportunity…to acknowledge who we are but more importantly who we want to be.”

Tiffany Hamilton
Chief Diversity Officer

The Reality of a ‘Dual Pandemic’

While 2020 has been a dicult year for many, the fact is that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color in the U.S. Many say the country is actually facing two pandemics: the coronavirus outbreak, and systemic racial injustice and violence.

With a commitment to educating citizens who will work to bring meaningful and lasting change to the organizations and systems in this country that clearly need it, Daemen College President Gary Olson wrote in a letter to the college community in June that Daemen is “committed to an environment where students will understand the value of diversity and will recognize the importance of a global perspective.”

His letter served as an official statement denouncing the murder of George Floyd and condemning acts of discrimination, while calling for lasting changes in thefight against racial injustice. The statement was released as the official position of the college and, as such, is the strongest kind of condemnation an institution can take.

“The college’s senior leadership wished to express outrage at the killing of Mr. Floyd and other similar incidents that are a painful reminder of the injustices that exist in our country,” said Olson. “Collectively, we are all incensed by these racially based, unconscionable acts of violence, which underscore that our nation continues to struggle with systemic racism and that as a culture we still have much work to do to bring about racial justice.”

Throughout 2020, Daemen’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), led by Chief Diversity Officer Tiany Hamilton, has been serving as a valuable resource to students and the entire campus community. e center supports programs and initiatives to promote an educational experience enriched by a deep understanding of diversity. Besides the center’s dynamic ongoing programming and events, exciting collaborative eorts, such as a project with the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, are also in the works for 2021.

“Right now, we have a tremendous opportunity to face ourselves in the mirror, to acknowledge who we are, but more importantly who we want to be,” said Hamilton. “Daemen’s commitment to examining the ways in which we as a community can be more equitable, inclusive, and appreciative drives the work the center for diversity and inclusion will be doing. e CDI will take the lead in research and development that centers the success of every student, but it is critical that inclusion of diverse perspectives and just practices becomes the responsibility of the entire community. I look forward to the day when equitable practice becomes best practice, and I am excited for the possibilities in Daemen’s future. This is one of the many ways Daemen is moving forward and I’m eager to see how each generation of students and graduates contribute to our eorts.”

Clearly, the Daemen community has come together, even in the face of adversity, to meet unprecedented challenges and gain momentum toward a future of innovation and prosperity. e college is committed to providing a high-quality education – delivered in both traditional and innovative new ways – pursuing projects and initiatives that benet the local community and the world, and striving to maintain a safe, diverse, and inclusive community for all.