Environmental Design Coordinator Ron Frantz Discusses Program’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Student, faculty and staff safety has been a hot topic of discussion and is of the utmost importance to the University of Oklahoma and the Gibbs College of Architecture. You can learn more about Gibbs College efforts and share your own feedback here.

To help address these concerns, we recently spoke with Gibbs College program directors to find out what adjustments being made to their programs to ensure student, faculty and staff safety, while supporting learning outcomes.

Below, Environmental Design coordinator Ron Frantz shares responses to some frequently asked questions.


Q: How are classes in your program being handled or adjusted this semester in light of COVID-19, and how does this differ from a typical semester? 

A: Environmental Design Practicum with Shane Hampton is (at this time) scheduled to be an in-person class. Historic Preservation Planning with me, Ron Frantz, will be a totally online course.  

As this has the (SERV) designation for community engagement and service learning components, the course normally has the students work with a real community organization on an actual community project.  

Also, the group takes a lot of field trips, normally walking tours in the Norman and Oklahoma City area. A 3-D experience of a landmark or a historic district is much better than another PowerPoint or a chapter reading. This will be a very different experience. I am working on plans right now. 


Q: Can you say how you expect this will impact student learning? What special ways will faculty in your program be working to support students? 

A: I always am very available to work with students throughout the semester. However, I will offer many more opportunities throughout the course to have small group discussions and one-on-one meetings virtually.  

Throughout this summer, I’ve kept in touch with a lot of students,mainly just checking on their well-being, especially if they were in the spring class with me. Also, I have worked with a lot of students (through Zoom, e-mails, texts, and calls) for identifying potential internships and jobs for them as well as guiding with potential graduate programs. I think I am “working my circuit” in about 9 states and D.C. right now, connecting students with good friends and great professionals.  

One thing that I am acutely aware of is the loss of this personal contact. I normally arrive 20-30 minutes early each class just to get organized. As the semester progresses, more and more students begin arriving early. Simply, we just talk and catch up and take a breather from the pace of the day.  

For the spring semester, just as we were about to do the actual field work of surveying cool Route 66 landmarks throughout Oklahoma City, all went online. Teams of three students still successfully surveyed their stretches of this famous and important highway by way of digital maps, photos, and other means. Some teams had all three members remotely working from their parents’ homes. Sometimes all team members were out of state and couldn’t even drive the stretch of road.  

Evaluations noted that everyone missed the group experience of “being out there.” What is worse is that we had set the whole semester up as a fun road trip with great critical reflection writing assignments about road trips the students took with their families and other events. We even did a trial road trip, meeting for a great breakfast (as many road trips start with this) at Hassler’s Café on Porter Avenue and then walked up and down Porter Avenue (a major highway, U.S. Hwy, 77, before the interstate system) looking at historic roadside businesses. These experiences can’t quite be created online….so I am trying to be as creative as possible here. 


Q: Students in your program work on unique projects that have different needs, work cycles, project lengths and outcomes that are unique from other programs in the college and on campus. Can you give examples of some of those projects, how they have worked in the past, and how you expect them to be adapted this semester? 

A: In the previous question I talked about the 2020 spring semester Environmental Design Capstone course that was half in-person and half online.  

For the 2019 Fall Semester, the students in the Historic Preservation Planning class worked an intensive research project for The Britton District. Britton Road is a small, historic district that once was the Main Street for the town of Britton, Oklahoma.  

For 19 years it served as the Route 66 by-pass for Oklahoma City. Also, it was founded as the first major interurban stop for the route from downtown Oklahoma City to Edmond and Guthrie.  

The original reason for this town was a major stop on the “highest point” between Kansas City, Missouri, and Galveston Island, Texas, for a rail line. All of these transportation modes made this small town a busy place.  

In 1950, this became part of Oklahoma City. We researched the area through historic maps, historic photographs, and other documents. Field trips included walking this area and looking at the buildings; attending Route 66 festivals in this district and in Luther, Oklahoma, further east on Route 66; walking through the Oklahoma State Capitol restoration, a Route 66 landmark; and touring downtown El Reno, Oklahoma, another Route 66 town, including a walking tour of downtown, going through buildings of all states of repair, riding a rail-based trolley, experiencing the county historic society museum, and tasting El Reno’s world-famous onion-fried hamburgers on a fall Saturday.  

This was an immersive Route 66 experience to show the students what The Britton District could become. NOTE: Both the 2019 Fall class and the 2020 Spring class were (SERV) designated for the community outreach and service learning guidelines. We worked with staff from The City of Oklahoma City’s Historic Preservation Office and Planning Office and a private-sector consultant from Austin, Texas.  

It happened to be that we could do 2 types of surveys within Oklahoma City and along Route 66. We built in a writing workshop, a photography workshop, personal story-telling components, and critical reflection writing assignments in these courses. 


Q: Are there any unique or different safety measures being taken within your program? 

A: I so wanted to have the fall course in-person.  

One, that would mean the world was just a healthier place.  

Two, I really enjoy these courses where we are out and about, seeing places and talking with people.  

I try to expose students to a lot of outside professionals who can provide guidance and share experiences. I just love this. I so wanted to be in-person. However, as one who has a very rare form of diabetes, I also realized that this could be trouble for me.  

Also, I realized that taking a group of students (30+ of them) on field trips probably would not be good for the students or those who greeted us at various locations. I am heartbroken on so many levels. I will work very hard to get to know the students in this course and make this the best experience possible. Unfortunately, I had to take the ultimate safety measure and go online. 


Q: Returning students are uncertain regarding how the next semester will unfold. Please share some advice or suggestions that may help students navigate this semester in your program and prepare to learn given any special changes or adjustments that are being made?  

A: I am very open with my students about life experiences. I try not to “wallow in my pity” but try to convey the message that most things are temporary, and, if they aren’t, we are smart enough to adjust.  

I graduated from college during a national recession, on a whim moved to Oklahoma just as the 1980s oil bust hit and survived a grueling and depressing five years before getting solid employment.  

The Oklahoma City truck bombing killed or maimed 66 friends and acquaintances in 1995.  

In 2010, I was told I had three days to live due to a rare disease. 

 I try to tell them that not one of us is guaranteed a wonderful road through life. However, we are smart enough to adjust to what happens. Now is one of those challenging times beyond all thoughts and nightmares. 


Q: Parents may have concerns about these same changes and adjustments. What insights might you offer parents who are concerned about the possible negative impacts of these changes?

A: As a parent of twin sons who graduated from OU in 2016, I can flip to my “dad-mode” fairly quickly. I tell parents (and students) that part of my job is to write recommendation letters for graduate schools, internships, and jobs. This is a huge part of my job. I also introduce students to friends and professionals throughout the country if the students are hoping to relocate. 


Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with our students/prospective students and their parents as we prepare for the Fall 2020 semester?  

A: Please wear a mask. Please practice social distancing. Please follow recommendations.  

It is time to act like a responsible adult. An undergraduate degree is not needed. A graduate degree is not needed.  

It may not be the most fun. However, it is how we must be right now.  

When I was in college, there was a new illness or disease that was unknown. Many thought this was just a passing concern or that it would impact only a certain part of the population.  

Unfortunately, we were in college in one of the hardest hit cities in those early days. So many of my young, talented, spirited friends died of AIDS before we knew too much about what this was. What losses of big dreams and even bigger friends. This is a time to be serious and safe.