By Melanee Terry
Last year when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, faculty and staff members at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, including Fred Thomas and Sarah Coyer, worked hard so students could make a safe return to campus in the fall. After another round of preparations by members of the UMPI community, students are back for the spring semester. Due to the hard work and commitment from people like Fred and Sarah these past months, UMPI students will be able to continue their education in a safe environment.
As the Director of Safety and Security and Regulatory Compliance at UMPI, Fred manages every student’s safety and security on campus. Since the pandemic began, Fred has been working on setting up COVID-19 testing dates and times for students, faculty, and staff. He also works to secure and oversee areas on campus being used as isolation and quarantine spaces, in case of an outbreak.
Sarah is the Associate Dean of Students at UMPI and supervises several departments including Residence Life, Student Activities Office, Health Center and Counseling Services. When the safety and health of students became a priority due to the pandemic, Sarah took on another role as the testing coordinator for COVID-19. While advising several student groups on campus, she is also the UMPI Deputy Title IX Coordinator and a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council. With social distancing and the avoidance of large gatherings, Sarah’s leadership role in the SAO has been much different. Although large in-person gatherings are not safe at the moment, she has planned virtual activities, hosted movie nights, and supervised the rest of the SAO staff.
When the Coronavirus began shutting things down last March, Fred and Sarah’s jobs were immediately affected. Along with the rest of the world, they were required to wear masks, socially distance, and stay home. Fred and Sarah now complete most of their work and meetings virtually, instead of in-person. Sarah lives on campus, so is close by in case assistance is needed in the dorms. Fred lives in Washburn, but is able to commute to campus and work in his office.
“Since COVID-19 hit last March, life as we knew it changed almost overnight. Statewide, we activated the Emergency Operation Centers at all seven campuses,” he said. “We are extremely fortunate to have very knowledgeable and dedicated members on our team that in fact work as a team to ensure our campus is as safe as it can be for our students, faculty and staff.”
Fred has worked since the EOC activation as the Incident Commander for UMPI, helping coordinate all the behind-the-scenes aspects of our COVID-19 protocols. Sarah has been in charge of students who need to quarantine in Park Hall. Anytime a student travels outside of Presque Isle, Sarah is notified. Fred, Sarah, and the rest of the team have worked to organize testing dates, times, and locations to administer tests for students, faculty and staff. There are many elements to the testing procedures on campus and the two individuals have dealt with it well.
Fred and Sarah work collaboratively, but also have their own aspects to the testing protocols on campus. Sarah is primarily responsible for all residential testing with Don Gibson and Racquel Bergeron’s help. During the fall semester, students were required to do mandatory testing several times. Fred handled the random testing groups each week, along with Kathy Higgins. Dan Kane and Sandy McDougal helped with the athlete testing. The spring semester will require even more testing within the UMPI community and the two will work even harder to ensure all of this testing is completed. COVID-19 testing has been a priority during this whole process and the two have handled it with composure and professionalism.
“Testing is very time consuming, but my favorite part is that you get to see all the students and staff. It’s nice to get to see so many people in a day,” Sarah said.
Fred and Sarah spend a large portion of their job protecting students and keeping them safe, so it is not coincidental that they have developed relationships with them. Fred keeps an open-door policy in his office and encourages students to see him virtually or otherwise if they have any safety concerns or issues. As the Associate Dean of Students, Sarah has been able to help organize the university’s Variety Show, paint nights and she especially enjoys sitting in Wieden Hall’s bleachers for basketball games. Due to the COVID-19 guidelines and the changes in social interactions, Sarah is grateful for the time she does get to spend with students.
“I love UMPI students. The hardest part of this year has been that I can’t spend as much time with them,” she said. “Last year I loved being at dances and seeing everyone, or sitting in the Owl’s Nest to chat with a student group. I really miss those interactions.”
This past year changed everyone’s lifestyle and the way they work, Fred and Sarah included. Despite being closed off from students and their coworkers, the two still work endlessly to keep the UMPI community safe and healthy. Individuals like Fred and Sarah are what make the UMPI community strong and resilient during difficult times. Being an Owl Hero is somebody who exhibits selflessness, which is something that Fred and Sarah do daily.
“Every day is an adventure and we have learned to adapt and overcome as the challenges present themselves,” Fred said. “We are very fortunate that the administration both on our campus and at the University System level recognized very early on the need to put certain protocols and procedures in place.”