With social distancing shutting many campuses down, colleges and universities in Manitoba are doing what they can to support their students.

Institutions have been moving more classes online for years, and the recent advances in conferencing software make live experiences even easier. The challenge for Steinbach Bible College's Academic Dean, Terry Hiebert, is to replicate the on-campus experience online.

"We've started online video care groups," he says. "We have chapels twice a week now online. Our formation groups with students and faculty have moved online as well. We had one recently, with about a half dozen of us, just like we would have in class, except we were in several different provinces."

For students, being sent home was not easy. Hiebert says that American, Mexican and Canadian students were all able to make it home before border closures. International students from outside of North America have faced more uncertainty.

"Thankfully," Hiebert says, "we've had people volunteering their homes. So right now, everyone has a place. There's been an outpouring of generosity from people."

However, the empty campus has left students, faculty and staff feeling cheated. Hiebert says, "Students miss the community. They're having a hard time making the adjustment. I've asked my students recently what God is saying to them this week. Two responses were Psalm 121, The Lord watches over you and Psalm 42, I will yet praise Him."

Cameron Mckenzie, Provost and VP Academic at Providence University College in Otterburne, describes a similar situation. While transitioning to online academics has been relatively straightforward, the real challenge has been the community experience that so many students come for.

"The students come on campus because they want the classroom experience," he says. "Everyone understands why this situation has required a shift, but that doesn't take away the fact that there's a certain amount of disappointment and grief that students can't do what they wanted to do."

Thankfully, technological advancement in recent years has led to increased capabilities for instruction in music and Providence's well known TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program. Mckenzie acknowledges the challenges faced by professors and students but framed it as an opportunity to grow.

"This crisis presents students an opportunity to practice their own resilience and flexibility and find new ways to do learning exercises that use the online modalities."

For Kevin Kilbrei, Director of Communications and Marketing at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, maintaining a routine is important.

"Students are at their heaviest point of the year in terms of workload, and the stress of moving online is not lost on anyone. We're maintaining our chapels online through Zoom, as well as having virtual workouts together. With everyone cooped up in their house, we're trying to provide opportunities for normalcy, but also opportunities to step back, reflect and pray."

He says that the camaraderie between staff and even different institutions is encouraging. "It's interesting to watch how everyone is coming together. It doesn't matter which university you're at. We're watching neighbours banding together and seeing what they can do to help."

For now, university celebrations have all been moved to the fall, depending on the relaxation of social distancing protocols.