Keeping SAFS Running During a Pandemic

Up until last March, the classrooms, labs, offices, and even the hallways and lobbies of the Fishery Sciences and Fisheries Teaching and Research buildings were bustling with the regular activities of a vibrant academic unit. During this past year, however, our daily routines have changed dramatically; our days now consist of Zoom calls and juggling an increasingly stressful work-life balance at home.

Amidst all of these changes, building coordinator Jon Wittouck’s role has become even more vital. Jon, along with co-worker Jason Ching, is still coming to campus nearly every day, working behind the scenes to ensure that the SAFS facilities are safely maintained and operations are running smoothly for critical employees.

Jon Wittouck
Jason Ching

Jon explained that College of the Environment building coordinators, working together with Associate Dean Stephanie Harrington, standardized building processes as much as possible, based on the University’s COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Currently, there are several SAFS groups conducting essential research in the buildings, including the Wetland Ecosystem Team and the Padilla-Gamiño, Wood, Schindler, Taub, and Roberts labs.

Jon has assisted SAFS faculty by helping design hybrid lessons for multiple courses, which combine in-person and online activities. These include Autumn Quarter’s FISH 406 Parasite Ecology and Winter Quarter’s FISH 427 Tropical Marine Biology.

“For the Tropical Marine Biology class, we sent at-home lab kits to students that included live sea anemones and fertilizer treatments. When we first conceived this idea, we immediately went to Jon for advice,” said course professor, Jacqueline Padilla- Gamiño. “He was quick to point out several safety concerns that we hadn’t thought about and worked with us to navigate how to follow proper safety protocols by mediating discussions with Environmental Health and Safety. Additionally, he has been an invaluable resource for obtaining lab supplies for class activities, both before COVID when we had labs in person, and since COVID when we shipped them to students.”

For on-campus labs, there are spacing and equipment limitations, such as sharing setups and enhanced cleaning requirements to consider. Jon said that he and faculty members work collectively to put together a model of what all these setups could be. Some instructors have even taken to filming their labs so that students can view the experiments from home, further reducing the number of people on campus.

Jon is now planning for spring quarter courses that will follow a similar model, including FISH 312 Fisheries Ecology, which traditionally has multiple field components. As one can imagine, this takes a lot of thought, resourcefulness, and creativity.

“We’re trying to make sure the students are having a fruitful learning experience, but it’s a challenge because you certainly can’t do as much as in person,” said Jon. “Some of the hands-on work the students do is applicable later in their careers. We’re doing what we can to make sure that, whether through video recordings or limited in-person labs, students can see it happening so they can understand the process.”

Labs in a pandemic:

Interact with this 360 video (click and drag) to see how Chelsea Wood’s FISH 406 Parasite Ecology lab was operating during the autumn quarter.

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