#BackPorchProject shows support for those still on campus 

#BackPorchProject shows support for those still on campus 

April 30, 2020

Maryville College’s facilities have been closed to the public since March 19, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and students began moving out of residence halls on March 25.

However, about two dozen students remain on campus – including international students who cannot return to their home countries due to current travel restrictions.

While essential campus services (including food service and Residence Life) are still providing support to the students who are still living on campus, a group of MC staff and faculty members wanted to do something special to show their care and appreciation for these students.

The idea started as a conversation on Facebook between Kirsten Sheppard, director of international education; Dr. Becky Lucas, associate professor of education; Dr. Crystal Colter, professor of psychology; Dr. Gabie Kerr, lecturer in management; and Dr. Maria Siopsis, associate professor of mathematics.

They came up with a list of items that would be most helpful for the students, including individually packaged treats and other food items, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, soap and notes of encouragement.

“Many of the on-campus students don't have transportation, so they can't easily get supplies they need. Others have lost jobs and are low on funds,” Sheppard explained.

Adhering to the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations for physical distancing, the faculty and staff group chose the back porch of the International House (I-House) as a safe drop-off location. Sheppard notified the students to pick up the items.

The #BackPorchProject was born.

“The goal was to help international students feel connected and loved by the campus community,” Sheppard said. “This project is about showing the care and support we have for students in a time of anxiety and isolation. We are letting them know that they aren’t alone, and hopefully eliminating some stress about food and supplies when they are trying to stay safe on campus.”

Group members who started the project realized they would need more people to help out through the remainder of the spring semester, so they created a Facebook group, I-House Back Porch Project, and posted information in the College’s daily email newsletter to faculty and staff to spread the word about the project.

They were overwhelmed by the response.

“It started small, and I didn’t anticipate the enormous support from the community when I first posted about it,” Sheppard said. “I was thinking that I could use a few more people to make it through the end of the year. In the last two weeks, the support has grown and has included 95 people on the Facebook group and a dozen or so others.”

“We have heard from alumni, faculty, staff, former staff, churches, host families, and community members connected to campus in various ways,” Sheppard continued. “One alumnus told me that he remembered times he was hungry in his student years, and he wanted to help current students avoid that.”

Sheppard said the project is making a difference. She said one international student shared a message on social media to express appreciation for the donations, saying: “The #BackPorchProject has shown me how much love there is around the MC International Community. I haven’t felt lonely or lacked love during the past couple of weeks, and that is thanks to all those that support international students that are still on campus. We love you just as much and can’t wait to show support as you are in the future!”

Due to popular demand, the project has now expanded to include two more groups on campus. In addition to the students in the residence halls, the project includes providing care packages for Maryville College’s essential employees who are still working on campus (Physical Plant, Residence Life, Food Services and Security), as well as welcome baskets for the Blount Memorial Hospital employees who are staying in residence halls.

Sheppard said she has received a number of generous offers from members of the MC and local community, in addition to offers to drop off treats, food, toiletries and supplies. Those include offers to: give their phone numbers to the students on campus, if they need someone to talk to; donate money; fulfill Amazon wish lists; purchase hot meals to be delivered to students; and order hand sanitizer from a small business to be delivered to I-House. There also have been offers to participate in weekly Zoom gatherings that include current and former students (both international and U.S.), which has resulted in multiple reconnections through a Maryville College International Facebook group.

“We have an amazing community!” Sheppard said.

Those who are interested in participating in the project can find more information on the Facebook page, which includes details about signing up for items to drop off and how to donate to the project.

Watch Instagram video messages from several MC international students who are on campus, or search for @maryvilleinternational on Instagram.

Written by Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications


Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”