Interview with Sam Foist-Swart

by Vicki Heisser  |   

As with many stories in the time of Covid-19, the story of PWSC residence life has evolved and changed at lightning speed. Sam Foist-Swart shares, “In mid-March, as we were starting to understand the impact of Covid-19, each hour new information seemed to inform our practice and programming goals for residence life activities and housing. I remember sitting in a staff meeting with my RA's and coming up with a game plan for how to program with standards of physical distancing. With the intel, we had at that point, residential students planned to stay in our community and we could plan activities with minor shifts in implementation. Within hours, new information empowered students to evaluate whether staying in Valdez would be the best option (many of our residential students are from out of state). We also received updates from university leadership that included the closure of residence halls, so within 24 hours, I was setting up one-to-one meetings with students to make sure folks felt connected, supported, and empowered to make some tough decisions. Today, most of our students are settling into their respective homes and programming for student life has taken on the role of providing support via distance.” 

Things happened so quickly and students left so suddenly that Foist-Swart, while understanding of the situation, feels a sense of loss as housing sits largely unused by students.

“For me, there's been a high level of grief over the sudden loss of community and connection to (and among) our students. Travel plans were created quickly and the in-person community ended more abruptly than any of us anticipated. There's been a sense of grief that we didn't receive more time together this semester to celebrate the end of the academic year and the transition to summer plans.”

But even though things have changed for the foreseeable future, Foist-Swart hasn’t lost sight of her students and is doing everything she can to still maintain a sense of community – even from a distance.

“This has also been a time of opportunity as we've creatively looked at staying in touch, both personally and professionally with our students. Social media has been a great way to stay connected to students on that individual level- providing us the privilege and opportunity to share photos, chat about common interests, provide support, and to connect across the miles. Regardless of COVID-19, this is what PWSC does, we connect across the miles!”

Foist-Swart has a message for her students, one that shows how much PWSC values and cares about its students.

“For the residential students returning in Fall 2020, get ready for either a hug, fancy high five, or jazz hands. You decide! For students finishing up this semester, you always have friends to visit here in Valdez.”

Aside from her primary goal of connecting with students via distance, Sam is also a part of the Behavioral Health Task Force (BHTF), which is a component of Valdez’s Incident Command Team. The BHTF is currently conducting outreach with local members of our community to make sure folks know how to access mental health services and other resources; to showcase ways to gain a sense of stabilization during this challenging time; to make sure that crisis needs are being met. Sam hopes to especially highlight ways to stay connected to the work each one of us does, support for first responders and their families, and making sure that students and community members receive access to opportunities for telehealth.