Stronger Together: Enhancing the Online Community of Care for Students Impacted by Disaster through Faculty “Champions” 

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In the face of any disaster, we are stronger together. This presentation will discuss how we leveraged our Environmental Barrier faculty “Champion” support program to increase faculty collaboration, strengthen the online community of care, improve student support outcomes, and expand to meet the needs of COVID-19 student impacts.


Ms. Jungbauer began her WGU career in 2011, as a part-time Evaluation Faculty in the Business College (MBA-HCM), bringing a wealth of career experience in healthcare and business management. From there, she transitioned to the WGU College of Health as the Evaluation Manager for the growing UG/Grad Nursing Evaluation teams, supporting a season of unprecedented growth in the WGU College of Health Professions. Currently, Ms. Jungbauer is supporting severalinnovative student experience programs in the Student Support Services department, to ensure barriers to student success are identified and removed, including managing the WGU Environmental Barriers Program, which supports students during natural disasters and other events. Ms. Jungbauer also is managing the stage of development of the Universitie's Excellence Award Program, with the vision to accurately and consistently recognize excellence in student work across all programs.

Extended Abstract


In 2017, our university established a student-centric emergency management system to support students during natural disasters such as fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes, with a focus on helping students succeed despite major environmental barriers (EVB) to their academic success. The program has supported an average of 12,000 students annually through an average of 30 major events/year. This cross-functional system of technology and business processes is standardized to monitor events, identify and reach out to potentially impacted students, and to implement integrated student care plans to support the affected student’s academic progress.  

In 2019, Environment Barrier program leaders identified a need to help amplify the knowledge of the EVB Program and awareness of current environmental barrier events across individual college and departmental teams to help improve student support outcomes. While the program was overall successful in identifying potentially impacted students and auditing those students for proper support plans, there was room for improvement in how quickly and efficiently the program ran. 

In early 2020, a pilot called “EVB Champions” launched to help build knowledge and enthusiasm around assisting our students who have been affected by Environmental Barriers. In addition to increasing program awareness, the program was established as a peer support system with a shared goal of timely student outreach and support and EVB student record updates for potentially impacted students. The program was part of an ongoing effort to support and develop a robust online community of care, including proactive support for students facing the potential barriers of a natural disaster or other major event. 

EVB Champions are individual staff or faculty members that volunteer (with managerial approval) to help facilitate awareness of the EVB Program within their respected college/specialization while educating and empowering their peers on how to be successful with EVB student care plans. During the 1-year volunteer commitment, they help bring peer awareness to why it is essential to complete a student’s Environmental Barrier Record. They see the vision of the EVB Program to proactively support potentially impacted students and desire to actively advocate for the program.  

In March 2020, the university leveraged the Environmental Barrier Program and augmented this system with a university-wide COVID-19 task force to support 120,000+ students through the Coronavirus pandemic. With the implementation of highly cross-functional systems, WGU was able to quickly monitor the changing student and regulatory landscape, making just-in-time decisions to provide timely support to students. The EVB Champions pilot helped provide additional support to staff during this difficult time and support an increase in EVB record documentation and timely student outreach. 

This presentation will establish a core understanding of the university-wide Environmental Barrier Program and present reflections on expanding the student emergency support plan to scale the COVID-19 event, with particular focus on the EVB Champions pilot and its impact on staff support and student success. 

The presentation will include the following topics: 

  1. EVB Program History 

  1. Faculty Assistance Protocol 

  1. Student Care Plans 

  1. EVB Champion Pilot History 

    • Why? 

    • What does the role do? 

    • How are Champions selected? 

    • Who are the Champions? 

    • What are the intended outcomes? 

  1. COVID-19 Impact 

    • Scaling the EVB Program and EVB Champions Program to support 120,000+ students 

  1. EVB Champion Program Results 

  1. What We Learned 

  1. Opportunities for Long Term Support 

  1. Implementing a “Champions” Program in Other Settings 


Anticipated learning outcomes: 

Participants will observe lessons learned as we explore the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 to our business and academic support systems, and our response to large-scale student needs during the pandemic, with focus on how having a strong faculty “Champion” program can improve student outcomes. Participants will also learn how to engage key stakeholders around crisis management through the use of program advocates, including strategies for selecting “Champions” and discussing necessary considerations for acquiring support from leadership. 



The last 15 minutes of the session will be reserved for an interactive activity in which small groups are provided with reflection questions and discussion points to help identify opportunities for improvement that can be implemented in their own sectors to optimize student resilience and success as part of an online community of care. They will be asked to explore challenges from COVID-19 with a primary focus on the question “What are our opportunities to help staff champion student support in the face of disaster?”