July 28, 2020
Barb Boyle wears several hats around Asbury University. Most know her as the Salvation Army Program Specialist in Asbury’s Adult and Professional Studies (APS) program or as the warm and welcoming manager of the Windsor Manor Guesthouse, but for our current APS students and 40 of last spring’s traditional undergraduate students, she was also an unexpected voice on the other end of the phone.
One of the challenges unique to the spring semester of 2020 involved making sure Asbury students continued to feel connected to their classes, their classmates and the University during a global pandemic. The transforming effect of the supportive community on campus is such an important part of an Asbury education that the Student Development staff knew they had to do something to create that community for students now studying at home. While they sponsored online Bible studies, coffee sessions over Zoom and several other initiatives to keep students connected during the campus closure, they also decided to call and check in with every current student.
Boyle was one of the Asbury staff members who stepped up and offered to help make those phone calls, and by the time she was done, she had called at least 40 students from the traditional undergraduate program, as well as all the current APS students.
That’s a lot of phone calls, but for Boyle, it was not a problem. “I love the students,” she said. “I was happy to do it.”
Estimating that it took two or three days to call everyone, Boyle was surprised to find that more than 50 percent of her calls were answered. “Many of them were grateful that someone from Asbury was calling to check in on them,” she said. If no one answered, she left voicemail messages, and even sent a couple of emails when voicemail boxes were full. She noted one student in particular who received an email and replied later to say thank you, explaining that she is back in school to finish her degree while juggling work and a family and that she loves feeling connected to Asbury. Boyle also said that several students got choked up while talking to her about how they were doing with the unexpected end to the semester, or how they missed campus and could not wait to return.
Saying that Boyle called all the current APS students as well as 40 from the traditional undergraduate program may sound nearly heroic, but it is another example of the care Asbury always takes to reach out to students. Boyle explained that all APS students get regular telephone calls from the office while classes are in session. Since APS classes are always online, the calls are one way in which the staff works to make sure their students feel connected and have a chance to ask questions or get help if they need it. While the people making the phone calls may have been different than normal during the campus closure, the students are already accustomed to having Asbury check in with them at home throughout the year.
Keeping a sense of community with the campus closed may have been a challenge during the COVID-19 spring of 2020, but community is what we do at Asbury. And with people like Barb Boyle willing to step up and reach out, the support and connection students have learned to expect in person will always be here – even when it has to come from a distance.