#8: Responding To A Crisis — David Collier, Trellis Director at the Cowen Institute — A Series Documenting How New Orleans Educators and Schools Are Reacting To COVID-19

This is the eighth in a series of interviews and Q&As conducted by the Cowen Institute with New Orleans educators to highlight how schools are managing with the current COVID-19 outbreak.

In this edited Q&A, we begin a focus that provides updates on how the programs at the Cowen Institute are responding to the COVID crisis. This is an interview with David Collier, the director of Trellis, our hybrid college program.

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For those who are unfamiliar, can you describe your program and the services that you provide, as well as the number of individuals that you serve?

Trellis is a hybrid college launched by the Cowen Institute in January 2020 in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Trellis’ mission is to provide an affordable, supportive, and individualized pathway to a college degree for New Orleanians. Through our hybrid college, students complete online, self-paced, and career-aligned coursework through SNHU while receiving 1:1 intensive support from Trellis staff. Our goal is to dramatically increase college persistence and graduation rates among student populations that historically have not realized post-secondary success. Trellis currently serves 15 students with the goal of enrolling over 60 by the end of 2020.

How has COVID impacted your ability to provide services?

The educational component of Trellis, SNHU’s online AA and BA degree programs, continues without disruption. We shifted all of our 1:1 support, which includes admissions counseling, financial aid application support, college completion advising, and career counseling to virtual platforms in mid-March. While we aren’t meeting with students in person, the level of support hasn’t changed.

Have you had to shut down or dramatically change any aspects of your program due to the quarantine?

We needed to close Trellis’ physical study space, where students could use computers and internet access to complete their SNHU coursework. To compensate we distributed Chromebooks to students who did not have a computer and will be distributing internet hotspots for those with unreliable internet access.

How are you communicating with participants in your program right now?

A core component of the program’s design is each student’s weekly meeting with their College Completion Advisor. Instead of meeting in person, we are meeting via Zoom. We communicate regularly with students via a weekly email update, which is continuing as well.

How often are you reaching out to them?

Keosha Griffiths, Trellis’ College Completion Advisor, is in frequent contact with students in addition to their weekly advisor meeting. She answers questions via text as students have them and usually reaches out at least once per week via text herself.

When you are interacting with the participants in your program, how are they adjusting to the crisis?

The crisis has been disruptive for Trellis students as over half have lost employment. Some students are also staying with friends and/or relatives because they are unable to pay housing costs independently. For Trellis students who are also parents they have had to provide childcare at home as well. Most students have reported that the disruption to previously established routines is most challenging and has impacted their academic progress.

What are the most common services or assistance that your participants need at this point and what are you providing?

At the beginning of the outbreak we supported students in applying for unemployment benefits. We also created a stipend fund to assist Trellis students who lost employment due to the pandemic. Because many students have lost income recently, we’re currently supporting students in appealing their Pell Grant award package to SNHU with the hopes of decreasing out of pockets costs that students can no longer meet.

Are participants able to complete the educational components of your program during the quarantine?

Yes, fully! SNHU is a national leader in online education and students’ education hasn’t been disrupted.

The mission of the Cowen Institute is to advance public education and youth success in New Orleans and beyond.

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