St. Mary’s College of Maryland President Tuajuanda C. Jordan presented the 2021 President’s Trailblazer Award to the woman who took the lead on the College’s health and wellness response during the Covid-19 pandemic.
On top of her regular duties overseeing the personal and mental health needs of students, Wellness Center Director Laurie Scherer found herself on the frontlines as the College quickly pivoted to continue educating students while adhering to local and state health and safety guidelines and mandates.
"Trailblazers are not just the first to do something. They do that something exceptionally well and in a manner that ensures that those who come behind them have an easier path. Laurie Scherer is that person and more,” said Jordan.
“Not only did she help us ensure that the College was compliant with COVID-related public health guidelines this year, she took care of everything from identifying test providers to ensuring that those in quarantine and isolation had everything they needed to be comfortable, to developing and implementing new programs to support our students' mental and physical health. She has set a new standard of excellence for wellness center directors," she added.
Asked about her duties and the role of the department pre-pandemic, Scherer said, “The Wellness Center would go about the business of supporting student health and mental wellness quietly and behind the scenes to allow students to focus on academics.”She said the wellness center was “thrust into the spotlight” when the pandemic hit.
New responsibilities of the wellness center under Scherer’s leadership were collecting negative COVID test results for residential students returning to campus; COVID training for residence life student staff members offering PCR testing for anyone who was symptomatic or exposed to COVID-19; administering campus-wide surveillance testing; identified contacts of COVID positive students; supervising student quarantine and isolation; and administering weekly COVID testing for frontline College staff.
The Wellness Center also tracked the responses to the SMCM Daily Symptom Tracker, updated the College’s COVID dashboard daily, and frequently communicated with the St. Mary's County Health Department regarding cases and test results.
“The list of ‘firsts’ that Laurie has taken on this year is incredible,” said Shana Mayer, interim vice president of student affairs. “Her organization and communication helped to ease anxieties, comfort parents, and certainly were a factor in keeping the campus positivity rate low this fall. She is welcoming, cheerful, and optimistic, even with the challenges we've faced.”
Scherer said along with all the new duties, the Wellness Center found creative approaches to continue offering mental health counseling to students.
“We were able to be responsive to student needs because we had support from President Jordan and our executive leadership team to prioritize student wellness,” Scherer said.
Scherer said the College community has come as far as it has through the pandemic due in part to the College putting people first. “As we navigated the many options for delivering services and education, we always kept the welfare of the students in mind. Second, we are a relatively small campus which makes it easier to shift focus quickly, but, more importantly, we are people who are willing to jump in and try new things and change quickly when necessary. I’ve been honored to watch our community consistently choose to do what is best for the students even when it was not the easy thing to do.”
Scherer has been the director of the Wellness Center since 2017. Prior to that, she was with the SMCM Counseling and Healthcare Services department before it combined with the Wellness Center; assistant director for counseling and psychological services; and completed a year-long post-master’s internship at the Counseling Center in 2011-2012.
“While I have been front and center, I couldn’t have done anything without the dedication of everyone at the College. I’m grateful for strong, caring leadership and an unbelievably dedicated administrative staff in the Wellness Center.”
Scherer also acknowledged collaboration with other schools in the University System of Maryland who were focused on the same concerns for higher education. She also cited St. Mary’s County Health Officer Meenakshi Brewster and the staff of the St. Mary’s County Health Department whom she says served as a constant source of information and wisdom as all involved explored the best ways to respond to the constantly changing COVID-19 information.
The President’s Trailblazer Award was created by President Jordan in 2015 to honor those individuals or enterprises whose actions are notable “firsts” in the history of the College. Previous Trailblazer Award-winners includeTrustee Donald “Donny” Bryan ’73, president emeritus Edward T. “Ted” Lewis, Julie Croteau ’93, The Patuxent Partnership, and Professor of Anthropology Julia King.