Traverse City News and Events

From Nursing To The Arts To Culinary Classes, NMC Gets Creative During Pandemic

By Beth Milligan | April 14, 2020

Northwestern Michigan College faculty and administrators are getting creative during the pandemic, pivoting to help nursing students get into the workforce sooner, creating virtual choirs, hosting online museum programming, and adapting traditionally hands-on curriculum like culinary classes to the virtual world.

Amy Jones, director of nursing and allied health at NMC, is helping 23 nursing students who are about to graduate move directly into the workforce under new state rules geared at providing more staffing to hospitals. Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order suspending the requirement for nursing graduates to pass their NCLEX-RN exam to become licensed before they can enter the workforce. Jones explains that May graduates typically take their exams over the summer and can then start working full-time in hospitals as RNs (registered nurses). However, social distancing requirements have severely cut back on the availability of testing sites, making it difficult for many students to take their exams.

“It allows a lot fewer graduates to be able to take the test,” Jone says. Whitmer’s order allows students to obtain a temporary licensure through the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) and start working in hospitals immediately, delaying their exam. The nursing students will have already completed their four-semester program and earned at least 680 hours of clinical experience, Jone says, with the education and training they need to work as an RN in a hospital – just not the final licensing test.

A majority of NMC’s nursing students go on to work at Munson Healthcare, providing a timely staffing boost to the area hospital system. The close relationship between the college and healthcare system means Jones and other NMC faculty “will be able to work with Munson and give (the graduates) extra support” as they transition into the workforce, Jones says. “They’ll really be able to get their feet on the ground much earlier and still be well supported.”

NMC faculty in other diverse fields – including the arts and culinary trades – are also figuring out how to keep students connected and engaged during the pandemic. Jeff Cobb, director of music programs for NMC, had to cancel all of the remaining rehearsals and performances this semester for both the adult and children’s choirs. Looking for a way to keep his singers engaged, Cobb launched the NMC Virtual Choir.

Using an arrangement of How Can I Keep From Singing paired with Amazing Grace, Cobb uploaded a PDF of the piece and individualized audio tracks for the different choral sections – soprano, alto, and so forth – so that singers could learn their parts remotely and then upload a video of themselves singing their individual roles. Some NMC faculty from other departments even got in on the action, with at least 60 participants contributing vocal parts to the choir. Their parts will be combined through video editing to create a choral concert production that will be released to the community. Cobb says he was able to involve his entire quarantined family in the project, with his son configuring the technology to record the singers, his daughter assisting with video editing, and his wife designing the cover artwork.

“The response has just been overwhelming,” Cobb says. “The one comment I kept hearing from people after they submitted their videos was, ‘Thanks for doing this. This is what I needed right now. Even though I was singing by myself, I could sense I was part of something bigger and still felt I was part of a group.’” Cobb says the inaugural NMC Virtual Choir is something that could continue into the future if social distancing protocols remain in place. “It’s offering an opportunity where we’re still connected and trying to make music together, and it’s really cool,” he says.

Dennos Museum Center Executive Director Craig Hadley and his staff are also aiming to use virtual arts programming to stay connected with patrons while the museum is closed. While the Dennos has taken a revenue hit in lost venue rentals, concerts, events, and museum visitors, it’s using the crisis as an opportunity to “connect with art peers across the region and provide mutual support for each other,” Hadley says.

In partnership with groups like Crooked Tree Arts Center, Michigan Legacy Art Park, Oliver Art Center, Twisted Fish Gallery, and Northwest Michigan Arts & Culture Network, the Dennos is transitioning its fall in-person DRAW NoMI event to a digital offering this spring, publishing twice-weekly videos with how-to-draw demos for the entire family. Narrated and drawn by Curator of Education Jason Dake, the videos are posted to the Dennos’ YouTube channel and social media accounts each Monday and Thursday. The Dennos also hosted a Live & Local Concert Series earlier this month with Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology featuring live-streamed concerts from local artists. The artists were paid an honorarium, and concert watchers – which numbered into the thousands – were encouraged to donate to an artist relief fund. Hadley says the museum is exploring the possibility of more concerts going forward, and is looking into virtual exhibit software and other online programming.

Even NMC fields that seem resistant to online adaptation – like hands-on culinary classes – are quickly acclimating. Great Lakes Culinary Institute Director Les Eckert says some courses, such as knife skills and actual cooking training, are difficult to do at home and will need to wait until students return to campus. Eckert says she also didn’t want students to have to obtain ingredients during the pandemic or be disadvantaged if they live in dorms or other housing units where they don’t have access to stoves. But faculty have ramped up theoretical learning, Eckert says, using Zoom to have students analyze culinary videos and critique cooking styles, draw up detailed drawings of platings and review them with classmates, conduct virtual practice interviews with real-life hospitality employers, develop menu planning and restaurant concepts, and tackle real-life scenarios, like how they would adapt a fine-dining restaurant to a to-go model during a pandemic.

“When we first made the decision to go one hundred percent online, we were all staring at each other going…how do we want this to look?” Eckert says. “We didn’t just want busy work; we wanted students to be truly learning. And we knew it needed to be engaging enough for them to sign in and attend. We have had easily a ninety-five percent attendance rate online. It’s just been really great to see how creative the instructors have been and how they’re using the different online features to their advantage.”

Photo credit: NMC

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