TWU Senior Health Advisor Dr. Sonya Grypma leads campus safety

During a time of global health crisis, a university community needs health expertise and capable leadership. The Trinity Western University community, with its annual student enrolment of 5,000 along with staff and faculty of 800, has greatly benefitted from the leadership of our campus COVID-19 Health and Safety task force, led by our Senior Health Advisor, Sonya Grypma, PhD, RN.

Dr. Grypma is the Associate Provost of Leadership and Dean of TWU GLOBAL, and she serves on the TWU Executive Leadership Team. She is also the current President of the Canadian Association for Schools of Nursing (CASN). For the past 6 years, Dr. Grypma was Trinity Western’s Dean of the School of Nursing. A nurse, scholar and a historian, she has taught students and conducted research at Trinity Western for over 13 years.

In a recent TWU Town Hall, Dr. Grypma expresses confidence in Trinity Western’s preparedness for the fall semester. She remarks, “In some ways Trinity Western has been preparing for this year long before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Trinity Western responds to a global pandemic

Dr. Grypma remembers the date, January 23, 2020, as the day when the first signal of the impending pandemic appeared, through concerns raised at the TWU Richmond campuses related to the spread of COVID-19 in Canada (Ontario had just reported Canada's first cases). Within two days, a Trinity Western COVID-19 response team was set up and a strategic plan established. This plan guided the school for the next few months.

On March 13, 2020, Trinity Western made the bold decision to suspend all in-person classes and move all of its courses to an online format, in order to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding communities.  By that evening, two other universities, UBC and SFU, also announced their decision to suspend classes due to COVID-19. The University held intensive in-person training sessions for faculty switching to online, equipping faculty for online learning success – sessions which have continued remotely since as Teaching Online Effectively (TOnE Sessions). The University also helped students living on campus to move out in a safe and secure manner, while helping students who were not able to travel back home (often because their home countries had closed borders) to remain healthy and well cared-for on campus.  

Trinity Western’s Health and Safety task force “Dream Team”

Today, Dr. Grypma leads Trinity Western’s COVID-19 Health and Safety task force. Since early May, this task force has been busy preparing the TWU campuses for a safe fall semester by developing a comprehensive Return to Campus plan. This plan gives direction to University leaders based on provincial and public health recommendations. As a team, they are providing guidance regarding decision-making around every kind of campus activity ranging from which courses can be safely taught face to face, to how many students can be safely housed on campus, to how to safely manage and offer services to those who are living, working, or learning on the campuses.  

Speaking of the members of this task force, Dr. Grypma says, “We have a dream team.”

The task force is made up of leaders and health experts from around campus. Notable members among the team include Dr. Barbara Astle, RN, a PhD-prepared Nursing professor with expertise in global health, and Michele Regehr, MSN, RN, the Associate Director of the Wellness Centre.

Global Health expert, Dr. Barbara Astle, RN

Dr. Barbara Astle remarks, “As a nurse scholar who has devoted my career to the field of global health, the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the interconnectivity of our world.”

“It is particularly noteworthy how ‘Nursing,' from the onset, has played a major role in being ‘at the table,’ forging and providing the vision for the pandemic plan at TWU," Dr. Astle continunes, "Coincidently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 2020 as the ‘International Year of the Nurse and Midwife,’ in honour of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth. Nightingale was also a visionary nurse and leader, which illuminates the importance of nursing today in providing leadership and vision during this pandemic.”

Wellness Centre Associate Director, Michele Regehr, MSN, RN

Michele Regehr, MSN, RN, the Associate Director of the Wellness Centre, also serves on the Healthy and Safety task force. The Wellness Centre is Trinity Western’s campus clinic, and it is staffed with physicians, clinical nurses, public health nurses, and mental health counsellors.

“Serving the TWU community alongside other nurse leaders has been a true privilege,” says Regehr.

Regehr believes the nursing process – assessment, planning, implementing and evaluation – that is central to all nursing education, is the lens that contributes to effective leadership from TWU nurses. “Using this unique nursing lens,” says Regehr, “it is very evident that the critical thinking and leadership of nurses has contributed to the health and safety of our TWU community."

Newly joining the task force are two public health nurses, Taryne Lepp, MPH, RN, and Victoria Wilkinson, BSN, RN, who are here for the next year to provide additional support for the campus community expressly related to COVID-19. Additionally, Trinity Western’s School of Nursing serves as a key resource for the Health and Safety task force.

Rising to the occasion and journeying forward together

As a nurse historian who has written three books on missionaries in China, Dr. Grypma has studied pandemics, world wars, higher education, and Christian responses to suffering. In the recent TWU Town Hall, she reminds students and the TWU community that we are now in the midst of a world-changing event. “We are living in a historical moment that is going to challenge you to rise to the occasion,” says Dr. Grypma.

Knowing that this fall semester will be a new experience for everyone, she says, “We attract a lot of people to Trinity Western who have a sense of mission in the world, of wanting to make a difference in the world, of wanting to know what it’s like to reflect Christ in serving others.”

“You’re going to get that opportunity here,” she says, “because a challenge of historic proportions is unfolding here and now for everyone in the world. This next year we will learn much about ourselves, about Christ's love and about God's sovereignty as we journey together through this pandemic.”

Dr. Grypma, together with Dr. Astle, Regehr, and the entire Health and Safety task force, invite students to journey forward at TWU.


About Trinity Western University

Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to find and fulfill their purpose in life. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vibrant faith community devoted to supporting godly leaders seeking to have a transformational impact on culture.

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