Centre College has been in the news for COVID-19, and in a good way.
The College was recently recognized in a Sept. 23 University Business article as one of 14 schools nationwide to receive an “A” Grade from a COVID Dashboard ranking site, created by two Yale doctors and a Harvard medical student. Centre is the only college in Kentucky and in the Southern Athletic Association that received the top grade.
Since then, six more colleges have been awarded an “A” and added to the list. Those keeping company with Centre include Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Vassar, Colgate, Tulane and Bryn Mawr. (See the complete list HERE.)
Centre’s COVID-19 Dashboard didn’t just happen: It was a concerted effort that began at the senior staff level and has now turned into one of the most-visited pages across the Centre website, along with the COVID-19 Information Center. Across the month of September, the pages had more than 14,000 combined pageviews.
As for the COVID-19 Information Center, Chief Communications Officer Michael Strysick said, “We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Bruce Jones for his design and maintenance of this key communications source, which has gone through about five different iterations over the last seven months as we move through different stages of our response to the pandemic.”
He added that “transparent communication about all our efforts related to the global pandemic started way back in February and as we neared the beginning of implementing our testing protocol, senior staff and the COVID-19 Crisis Management Task Force knew that a dashboard would be another logical element in our communications efforts.”
President Milton Moreland identified a list of dashboards, then Strysick and other college leaders narrowed down the list to one they preferred: Grinnell College, located in Iowa. Strysick contacted Grinnell and was pointed toward the dashboard developer Patrick Hansen, who then created the dashboard using a data visualization program called Tableau.
After the initial version of the dashboard was developed by Hansen to track local and statewide COVID-19 data, Strysick turned to two colleagues to work with Hansen to expand and then be trained to maintain the dashboard with the start of the College’s fall semester testing protocol: Katherine Andrews and Lori Harris.
Andrews evaluated existing COVID dashboards and worked with Hansen and Harris to determine which data visualizations would be most useful to our community. Andrews gathers testing data, quarantine and isolation reports and more, and then enters that data into a spreadsheet, where it is then gathered and updated via script. The dashboard, which compiles state and local data as well, pulls that information from the New York Times, the state website and other local sources.
All of that work has been worth it, Andrews said, and not for the recent recognition.
“I know a few students who have told me that they love it, they look at it every day,” she said. “I think that’s true for a lot of people. I know the data and I still look at it. I think people find it truly useful. It’s always nice to be recognized but that wasn’t at all what the intention was, the intent was to create something that would be useful to the people on campus for decision-making.”
As Strysick said, it’s one of the most popular web pages for the College, both internally and externally.
“We’re being transparent,” Andrews added. “If we have cases, they’re on the dashboard. They can see when we have people in quarantine and isolation. We don’t know what is going to happen in the future, we know we need to be watching it. I think it does give parents peace of mind. I think board members use it, and community members use it as well.”
Strysick’s oldest daughter, Claire, is a sophomore at Sewanee. From a parent perspective, he said he places a great importance on a college’s COVID-19 Dashboard.
“The similar seriousness with which that institution has addressed COVID-19 is a solace, however, and you can bet that I have their dashboard bookmarked for daily viewing. While our website analytics indicate that many have bookmarked our dashboard as well, it was on a recent Zoom forum with Centre parents and families that we heard how grateful they are for such positive and open lines of communication. I’m proud of the efforts of so many on campus to keep the broader Centre family informed as we struggle together through the challenges we hope will soon end.”
The dashboard and data visualization go a step further, and while the recognition is nice, Strysick adds that it proves that Centre is making critical and correct decisions.
“The recognition came entirely out of the blue, and as proud as I am for the honor truly deserved, I’m most pleased that the numbers in the dashboard demonstrate how seriously our students, faculty, and staff have taken the health and safety of this campus community as a whole,” he said. “It’s yet another example of why Centre is truly a premier national liberal arts college that pursues excellence in all that it does.”
by Matt Overing
October 8, 2020