Adapting to a Virtual Environment in the Wake of COVID-19

For the safety and wellbeing of the Bethel community, students, faculty, and staff will learn and work virtually through at least May 31—and they’re finding ways to make the best out of an unprecedented situation.

By Jenny Hudalla ’15, senior content specialist

March 31, 2020 | 4 p.m.

Bethel University

Bethel is currently working on a second round of distributions from the Student Emergency Fund, as donations continue to come in.

Emails, alerts, and stories peppered inboxes and news feeds during the month of March as colleges and universities across the nation responded to the rapid spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by a strain of the coronavirus. Now a worldwide pandemic, COVID-19 has precipitated significant change at institutions of higher education—including Bethel.

In the interest of community safety and wellbeing, the university canceled all Bethel-sponsored travel and on-campus events through the end of May, closed residence halls, and instructed students, faculty, and staff to study and work virtually through at least May 31. Although the semester will unfold differently than expected, the community is finding ways to make the best out of an unprecedented situation.

“A strong sense of community has always been a hallmark of Bethel University, and we are committed to staying connected during this challenging time,” says President Jay Barnes. “Our shared values, faith, and care for one another draw our community together, and they will continue to sustain us during this time apart.”

Professors will provide the same academic support and mentoring they always have—but instead of keeping their office doors open, they’ll invite students to connect through Google Hangouts. Employees have set up group chats and organized virtual team bonding events. And students are encouraged to continue their regularly scheduled roommate dinners, Bible studies, and study sessions online.  

“We recognize that for many of our community members, virtual work and study is a new experience,” says Director of Marketing and Interim Director of Communication Tim Hammer, who serves on Bethel’s emergency management team. “We are committed to helping our students and employees not just survive but thrive through this transition.”

Many student-facing offices are also ramping up efforts to help the community stay connected. In addition to leading virtual Chapel services, the Office of Christian Formation and Church Relations has launched several new initiatives, including two virtual devotional series and a podcast featuring advice and encouragement from various members of the Bethel community. The Center for Wellbeing has also cultivated resources to ease the transition to virtual work and study, from tips for working at home to techniques that can help reduce stress and anxiety.

University leaders will continue to provide updates and direction at virtual community gatherings, and a recurring live stream event series called Monday Meetups will feature familiar faces—like President Jay Barnes and President-elect Ross Allen—sharing thoughts and encouragement as the community adjusts to a new reality together.

“It is in times like these that we truly learn what it means to lead and serve in our communities, our churches, and our world,” Barnes says. “The critical thinking and teamwork skills that are at the core of a liberal arts education, coupled with the compassion that reflects the heart of the gospel, shine through in times of challenge and change. I am confident that we will continue to make a difference—for God’s glory and our neighbors’ good.”

Follow the latest updates on Bethel’s response to COVID-19 and find answers to frequently asked questions at