Lisa Pearlman and President Laurie Leshin seated before large windows with fall foliage visible; cameras and a cameraman are visible in the foreground

Featuring Lisa Pearlman, Director of Health Services

LL: Lisa, you joined WPI right before the fall term started. What a time to be starting a new position as the director of Health Services! It’s now late October. How has it been going?

LP: Really well. I feel so lucky that so much thought went into how to make this a safe environment for students and how to plan and respond as things change. Having worked at other colleges and universities, I’ve never seen an approach as integrated as WPI’s. It’s been fascinating to work with the Coronavirus Emergency Response Team. They are a smart, supportive group of people who are working so hard to figure this out. Every day we have new questions we need to answer and new protocols we need to develop.

LL: Can we talk about our students and how they’re doing? You and your team are in contact with any students who test positive.

LP: We haven’t had too many, luckily. But we have had some, and we’ve needed to isolate them for 10 days, and quarantine their close contacts for 14 days.

LL: And you’re also helping make sure all of our health and safety protocols are being followed. What are you hearing from students who have been impacted by the pandemic?

LP: They’ve been so cooperative as we have needed to do contact tracing, isolating, quarantining, and all the other things we need students to do to keep the campus safe. It’s really hard to ask students to stay in one space for 10 or 14 days. We support them as best as we can with daily phone calls and visits from Health Services, if the need arises. We try to get them whatever we can to make this work for them, including food they like and help figuring out their laundry. We recognize that it’s a big ask. Overall, our students are doing really well and are supportive of each other. I’ve been incredibly impressed.

LL: That’s great to hear. And all of the students who have tested positive have recovered and are doing OK, right?

LP: Absolutely. It’s been a pretty mild illness for everyone so far.

LL: We talk all the time about how this is a classic theory and practice moment. We planned for months and months to get to the point of being able to be open this fall and welcome our students back. But every new case brings an opportunity for learning. Can you talk a little bit about how you are going about that learning?

LP: As you mentioned, WPI did a tremendous amount of planning before students came back to campus. But it’s really difficult to know all the questions to ask until you’re in the moment. And with each new positive case, new issues arise that we need to deal with on the spot. One good example is how we came up with a testing plan for students in quarantine, based on our first positive cases and their close contacts. Watching how things happened with that first cluster helped us figure out the right questions to ask and the changes we needed to make. As a result, we haven’t seen any real additional spread near the campus from close contacts.

LL: We hope that continues as we get into the winter season. Thank you, so much, for all the work you’re doing on behalf of our students. We’re so happy to have you as part of our WPI team.

LP: Thank you. I’m really glad to be here.

This conversation took place on Oct. 22, 2020.

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