How Prayer and Science Prepared the New …… of Palm Beach Atlantic | News and reports
At 5 p.m. daily, students in quarantine at Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) receive a Zoom call.
The face that appears on the screen is that of their school’s new president, Debra Schwinn, watching them.
The calls, which lasted the entire 2020-2021 school year and continued this fall, last approximately 20 minutes. Schwinn talks to the students about their state of mind, prays with them, and offers mothering advice.
For Tom St. Antoine, the faculty representative on the committee that selected Schwinn to be the new head of the university in January 2020, this is a perfect example of the personal approach she has taken since taking office. became president at the start of the pandemic.
“It just sends out such a statement for the president to take the time to build relationships and get to know these students one by one,” he said.
by Schwinn inauguration was delayed by COVID-19. The ceremony will take place on October 8, but she has already spent more than a year and a half demonstrating her leadership through difficult times at the University of Florida with approximately 2,100 traditional undergraduates, 400 master’s students, 350 professional students and 200 adult students attending evening classes.
Schwinn didn’t intend to be pandemic president, but when she thinks about how it all turned out, she can’t help but see the hand of God to bring her to school. : “I think God’s timing was perfect.
The call in Palm Beach came before there was even talk of COVID-19.
Schwinn was working as associate vice president for medical affairs and professor of anesthesiology, pharmacology and biochemistry at the University of Iowa when she received the job offer. She and her husband, Bob, went to a retreat center and isolated themselves in separate rooms and listened to how God would lead them. In the end, they came back together with the same answer: Come on.
Schwinn accepted the offer and became the first female president of the Christian school founded in a Baptist church in 1968. From the time she accepted the offer in January until the time she arrived on the Palm campus Beach in May, COVID-19 had become the only dominant issue for the university.
When Schwinn presented herself, she brought not only her faith and pastoral commitment to student care, but also a long history in academic medicine.
“What could be better in a pandemic than having someone from that background,” said St. Antoine. “There’s no way we could have known that, obviously, when we made our selection. But it’s one of those things that makes PBA stand out, and I think it’s helped parents, students, and faculty feel confident in our leadership.
Schwinn’s first challenge, in May, was to put in place a plan to test and trace the spread of the coronavirus. His medical training has proven invaluable in weighing options and evaluating different plans.
In July, she faced another critical issue. Schwinn had to help the university decide whether to open in-person classes in the fall or move everything online, as so many schools and workplaces choose to do.
“The COVID rates were so high in West Palm Beach and West Palm Beach County that we called a day of prayer, and for a whole day we listened,” she said.
Additionally, she and other school administrators have sought guidance and prayers from alumni, students, families, churches, staff, and others. When they got an answer, they felt like they had a clear answer.
“What we’ve heard from God is that there has never been a more important moment in the history of this country than today for the kind of transformative education you have in Palm Beach. Atlantic University. Open. I’m not going to give you all the answers today, but open up, have courage and keep asking the questions, ”Schwinn said.
But Schwinn said she knew God would want the school to be responsible as well, so she and the staff developed a vast security plan, including masking requirements for large events and encouragement to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at small gatherings. Desks were sidelined for social distancing, and faculty podiums were fitted with plexiglass shields.
Perhaps more importantly, the school instituted a testing regime, checking all students for COVID-19 when they arrive in the fall, transparently reporting cases online, running contact traces to quickly detect exposure and making careful plans to quarantine students who have been infected or have been potentially exposed and awaiting test results in a former residence.
“We started with prayer and we followed the science,” Schwinn said. “It was definitely a combination.”
As a result, the percentage of cases on campus was lower than in the surrounding community, Schwinn said.
This year, the percentage of tests that came back positive for COVID-19 at the start of the semester was just under 9%, and then declined steadily from late August to September. Currently, Florida’s positivity rate is around 9%. That of the university is just under 3%.
Lone students were able to attend classes using a “HyFlex” system, which put almost all in-person classes on Zoom simultaneously. Students in the old dormitory – nicknamed “Camp COVID” – were taken care of by a health team.
Schwinn also began to watch them every day.
Initially, the idea was to make sure that the systems in place were functioning properly. Were they treated? Could they really participate in their classes? But Schwinn quickly discovered her medical and maternal history.
“I found out I liked it, so I continued after knowing our systems were working fine,” she said. “I have a chance to be a kind of surrogate mother. “
She also encouraged them to take the time to draw closer to God. Prayer was part of the daily 5 pm calls.
“Many students feel touched by God when they are alone,” Schwinn said.
Umberto Rosi, who came to PBA from Italy, contracted COVID last spring. Being thousands of miles away from his family, he said it was a difficult time, so he was grateful for Schwinn’s caring calls. The mix of empathy and knowledge she brought to conversations meant a lot to him and the other students.
“She doesn’t think of you just as a student. She sees you as a person, and we love that, ”he said.
Although she never had to self-quarantine, PBA student body president Abbi Michaeli heard from many who liked the personal role Schwinn played.
“Students who isolate themselves can sometimes feel lonely, so the fact that she does so means the world to them,” she said.
In general, Michaeli said Schwinn’s experience gave the entire student body confidence.
“Her background has made me and other students feel better about her decisions for campus, as she makes Christian and medical decisions that have the best interests of the students at heart.”
COVID-19 aside, St. Antoine is excited about the direction Schwinn is taking at university.
“I still think of the PBA as the Christian college of the next century,” said St. Anthony. “We are urban. Was young. We are innovative. We have health care programs and other areas that Christian colleges don’t always have. But, at the same time, we haven’t forgotten our emphasis on the liberal arts, character building, spiritual training, that sort of thing. In many ways, Dr. Schwinn embodies this.
Schwinn, for her part, is thrilled to one day lead the university without having to deal with a pandemic, even though she will miss the 5 p.m. Zoom calls.