Navigating Through A Pandemic

Portrait of Erik Muurisepp, Assistant Vice President for Campus Life

Erik Muurisepp, Assistant Vice President for Campus Life 

Emerson College  |  Boston, MA 

An aviation and airline operations major in college, Erik Muurisepp had always wanted to work in aeronautics. Though his career took off in a different direction, that background, it turns out, has been useful for his job as assistant vice president for campus life at Emerson. And it is even more relevant to his role as lead of the College’s COVID-19 Playbook Team.  

“A lot of [the aviation program] was…crew resource management. It’s this whole mindset, the pilot and copilot have to be ready to respond quickly. You have 400 or 500 people behind you who rely on you,” Muurisepp said. “It’s very relatable. I don’t know what’s going to be on my desk in the morning.” 

Shortly after the pandemic turned normal campus operations upside down in March 2020, Muurisepp was tapped to coordinate the College’s response to the virus and the campus’s careful reopening. He led a team of College leaders whose goal was bringing students back to campus while keeping the community safe.  

There are amazing people all around this College.

Since then, Emerson students, faculty, and staff have become used to regular email communications from him with updates on the virus. But behind every email are long meetings, healthy debates, and tough decisions around how Emerson can best control the spread of the virus, keep the community healthy, and, ultimately, ensure students can continue to learn. 

“I wake up to COVID and I go to sleep to COVID,” Muurisepp said. And so far, that’s paid off. Emerson’s positivity rates have consistently been at or below the rates of most Boston-area colleges and universities.  

Still, Muurisepp misses spending more time on his “day job,” which is leading the departments of Housing and Residential Education, Student Engagement and Leadership, Community Standards, and Student Transitions and Family Programs. Managing through a pandemic, where so much is outside of his control and unpredictable, has taught him a few things that he’ll carry into his Campus Life work even once the masks can come off. 

One lesson is to take calculated risks and trust that sound decisions usually work out. Another is that it’s OK to ask for help, especially when surrounded by a good team.  

“There are amazing people all around this College,” Muurisepp said. “I always knew it, we always say it, but I remember those first few [COVID-19 Playbook Team] meetings. Everyone came to the table and said, ‘What can I do, Erik?’ I thought, ‘Wow, we all do care.’” 

“This [role] has been one of the biggest honors of my life,” he said. 

Photo by Derek Palmer