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Caring for Student Residents and Personnel during COVID-19 – with Heather Smith

Over the past few months as the COVID-19 induced quarantine has evolved, COCM has been determined to catch up with staff across the nation and learn how different Universities and groups of student housing professionals have been adapting. The most recent interview was conducted by Gray Bekurs with Heather Smith, the Assistant Director of Operations for COCM at Marshall University. Heather has held her position at Marshall for 6 years where she works directly with the University housing department where she once worked previous to COCM. We wanted to talk with Heather because of her involvement with student housing operations on campus at Marshall where COCM housing actually makes up one third of the on-campus population.

One of the first topics that Heather dove right into was the dilemma of housing students who couldn’t return home due to understandable, extenuating circumstances. Students were encouraged to return home by the University and in some cases provided with technology to facilitate remote learning. While most residents did return home, a handful of international students and students who live remotely when they are not attending college at Marshall chose to stay and were eventually consolidated into just three buildings across campus. Of the three buildings managed by COCM on campus at Marshall, just one building has remained open through COVID-19. With the reduction of students on campus it is clear to see that budget cuts are around the corner, an issue Universities across the country are facing. In response, the President of Marshall University has taken a voluntary 15% pay cut in hopes of keeping staff employed.

As the interview progressed, Gray Bekurs, Vice President of Business Development at COCM asked Heather Smith how her team and the University has been keeping in touch with students. For a bit of background, Marshall University staff and COCM staff have always had great communication, so it is no surprise that the University made a seamless transition to remote learning. Heather and her team have been working transitional schedules, three days in the office and two remotely to ensure that the COCM office on-campus at Marshall is never over-crowded. One of the best communication tools that Heather and her team have utilized with students that have remained on campus are the health check-ins. In addition to ensuring that each resident is healthy and safe it has also been a time to answer questions and offer a bit of a break in the middle of an otherwise uneventful day in student housing.

In her final words Heather took the time to thank and show her appreciation for everyone involved in student housing at Marshall including the University housing staff, the COCM team and the resilient maintenance staff. It is clear that Heather and her entire team miss all of the on-campus residents at Marshall and all of the events that usually come with move-out and the final weeks of the school year. It’s easy to let a situation where information is everchanging overwhelm your team but the COCM team at Marshall in conjunction with University staff seem to have successfully adapted and are actually excited for the future!

  • COCM and University staff at Marshall have been embracing online communication and social media!
  • It’s been hard transitioning from informal morning meetings over coffee to zoom and skype calls daily.
  • Residence staff who interact the most with on-campus students are missing the busy campus life the most!
  • There are some students who have stayed on campus due to extenuating circumstances.
  • Thank you to all of the University partners at Marshall that have kept COCM in the loop throughout this entire process!


Leigh Anne is the Director of Creative and Brand Marketing at COCM. In her role, she supports the development and implementation of the annual corporate marketing plan. She is responsible for overall brand strategy, content marketing, social media, video production, COCM’s website, marketing materials design and production, as well as serving as our liaison for COCM's sponsorships.