Chicago’s Universities and Colleges Experiencing the Pandemic

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced dramatic changes at Chicago’s universities and colleges, disrupting campuses and creating new challenges for students, faculty and staff as classes were moved to online and dorms were emptied. As AUC institutions responded to these challenges, they also unleashed their creative energies and resources to help their communities, seek medical breakthroughs to fight the virus, and promote vaccination efforts in preparation of reopening. Initiatives included:

Reopening & Vaccination Efforts

As the 2021-2022 academic year approached, schools prepared to reopen and bring students back to campuses. To do this, universities supported COVID-19 vaccination efforts in a variety of ways. For example, the University of Illinois Chicago researched vaccine hesitancy in local communities. The University of Chicago provided information on what to do after receiving your vaccine, and Chicago State University hosted COVID-19 vaccination sites on-campus. In addition, many schools have required students to provide vaccinations records to register for classes. 

UIC pharmacy student administers vaccine
Pharmacy student Kassidee Aufderheide administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Shasonta Dacanay at the Credit Union 1 Arena on Tuesday, March 24, 2021.

Teaching During COVID-19

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, universities have worked hard to keep students engaged and provide the high-quality education that Chi Higher Ed is known for while also keeping students, faculty, and staff safe. Many professors had to get creative with their curriculum, especially when it came to classes that require labs. One professor at Roosevelt University discussed the struggles of teaching remotely but shared how she overcame those difficulties through collaboration with her students and encouraging class discussions. It is not only the sciences that have faced these difficulties but the arts as well. A professor from Columbia College Chicago discussed the difficulties of teaching something as physical as dance through technology and how she and her students collaborated to create an online community of learning, creative growth, and support. 

Roosevelt diagram breaking down remote learning
Roosevelt University – Remote Learning Success Diagram

COVID-19 Research

India's flag with COVID stats
Rush University – COVID Crisis in India

Researchers from DePaul University, Rush University Medical Center, University of Illinois Chicago, and Illinois Tech have been active in exploring the after-effects of COVID-19, new treatments for the virus, and how to tackle persistent outbreaks around the globe:

  • Research & Development of new COVID-19 drug to block viral replication (UIC)
  • Research into persistent neurocognitive symptoms in COVID-19 survivors (DePaul)
  • Rush Medical Student Works to Tackle the COVID-19 Crisis in India (Rush)
  • Illinois Tech Researchers Involved in Nationwide Study on COVID-19 Reinfection and Anti-Bodies (Illinois Tech)

Student Involvement 

Chicago students step up and get involved during the COVID-19 pandemic through research and community engagement.

A Saint Xavier University biology student used the development of the COVID-19 vaccine as an opportunity to study mRNA in vaccines and how the vaccine will affect the development of future ones by reviewing years of prior research on mRNA vaccines. Nursing students from DePaul University also got involved with the COVID-19 vaccine in a more hands-on way, by helping to administer the vaccine across Chicago, making the vaccine more accessible across the city.

DePaul nursing student administers a vaccine
DePaul nursing student Ellen Boyer administers a COVID-19 vaccine at a Chicago Department of Public Health point of distribution. DePaul University/Randall Spriggs)

Meanwhile, students from Illinois Tech’s Chicago-Kent College of Law volunteered to aid and offer legal advice to those who have been affected by COVID and in need of benefits, helping 971,520 individuals apply for SNAP benefits in Cook County in January 2021, compared to 835,621 in January of last year, a 16-percent increase. Adler University students also got involved with the community by helping counsel youth through the pandemic, most of whom do not live at home with their families and lack a stable support system. Through both hybrid and online formats students were able to provide that support for the youth through such a turbulent time.

Together with their professor a group of photography students from Columbia College Chicago teamed up with Skylark Editions to take on the difficult, and often overlooked, task to document the pandemic. Students focused on three areas to capture the impact and feelings of those living through the pandemic: environmental (images were made outdoors), personal (images were made at home/with family due to shelter in place restrictions), and metaphorical (images were meant to convey the feeling of a contagion).

Community & Economic Support

Chicago’s universities have continued and even expanded their community support programs throughout the pandemic, adding new initiatives to help support small businesses, address food insecurity, create outreach jobs for tests and vaccinations in high-risk communities, and create opportunities for vulnerable populations to keep in touch with family during lock down.These initiatives have directly impacted Chicago and its neighborhoods throughout the pandemic and have contributed to Chicago’s post-COVID comeback. 

A COVID-19 outreach specialist hands out masks
Erica Thornton, a COVID-19 outreach specialist, hands out masks as she surveys Chicagoans outside a Walgreens in the Mayfair neighborhood on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Chicago, Ill. (Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)