Preparing for the 2020 fall semester has been unique in many aspects. Due to COVID-19, students and professors alike have had to alter daily practices, class schedules, classroom set-up and more.
Classrooms are getting technology updates to accommodate online learners, new desks to provide physical distancing and clear dividers for faculty. Also, sanitizing stations have been placed prominently around campus.
Residence halls have been changed to all single-occupant living and physical distancing will be enforced.
The university as a whole has put a return-to-campus plan into effect that all students, staff, faculty and visitors must adhere to but each department is finding their own challenges to tackle.
Teresa Wilkerson, assistant dean of the School of Business, has been busy looking for ways to keep her courses fun this semester.
“I personally have been acquiring a variety of different masks to make this a bit more palatable and not so dreary, although my favorite mask is Dr. Dreary — it’s a mask that resembles the beaked-nose that doctors from the plague would wear and place potpourri inside due to the smell of death,” she said.
“It’s hysterically funny-looking and after about three breaths, the little round plastic eye-holes fog up and I’m semi-blind. It’s also very difficult to breathe when wearing it but totally worth the chuckles I get. We need some silliness and laughter to help us all get through this bizarre time.”
Wilkerson will teach courses on campus, online and in a hybrid format, as will most professors. She’s excited to get back in the classroom but along with all other professors, is prepping material for virtual delivery, if necessary, to ill or quarantined students as well as students who simply opt for the online option.
“While this is a challenge, it’s also been fun being creative in trying to offer dual modalities of my classes. So. Many. Details. But I think it will be worth it and, hopefully, appreciated by the students,” she said.
She’s finding that attempting to mirror on-campus opportunities through online learning can be difficult but her priority is that all students learn the same concepts.
“I’m so stinkin’ excited to see my students again. I don’t care if they are on Zoom or in the classroom. I’m simply thrilled to be able to connect with them again and anxious to see how my class plans actually roll out,” she laughed. “I’m sure there will be a need to tweak here and there.”
Dean of the School of Business Jill Fort is also looking forward to starting up her courses again and connecting with students. Communication has been key throughout the changes but the ever-changing situation guarantees some confusion.
“We have been busy fielding all kinds of questions from faculty, staff and students. I know everyone is unsure of what to expect, but we are doing the best we can given the circumstances,” she said.
The weeks before a new semester are always hectic but they don’t always include so many health and safety precautions.
This semester, masks will be required in buildings and on campus when physical distancing cannot occur. All Newman community members will be held accountable for wearing masks and a three-strike policy will be implemented for individuals who do not have a medical reason with documentation on file.
The first time an individual offends the mask policy, they will meet with Dean of Students Christine Schneikart-Luebbe to discuss the offense and receive education on the purpose of the policy. After the third offense, the individual will be asked to not physically return to campus for the remainder of the semester.
Fort said they have been stocking up on masks, wipes and hand sanitizer for anyone who visits campus.
Most faculty will be teaching on-campus courses and will be provided with face shields to do so.
“The modality of how people are planning to teach is all over the board this upcoming semester,” said Fort. “We are really just getting people ready to go regardless of how they will be teaching this fall and making sure all of their needs are met prior to the start of the semester.”
Fort is hoping students, as well as faculty, feel prepared to start this unconventional semester but she is sure they are feeling a little stressed. Either way, she’s looking forward to seeing her students again.
“Honestly, I am excited about getting everyone back on campus. This makes me nervous as well, but also excited. It feels so weird not having students on campus any time of year. So seeing the students again always makes me smile, and really makes it feel like things are normalizing. At least for right now,” she said.
All students have surely felt the stress and confusion of the upcoming school year but student-athletes have dealt with more changes than most. As of Aug. 18, 2020, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Association (MIAA) suspended all sports until January 2021.
The athletics department is working to create a team atmosphere and excitement for student-athletes even without formal competitions.
“Information changes all the time, so you prepare but also prepare to adjust,” said Associate Athletic Director for External Operations Zane Ehling.
“Our main goal is for our student-athletes to have the best experience they can have in the environment we are in right now with them being safe and keeping our coaches, staff and faculty also safe. That being said, we have to look at all details of practice, weight room, training room, etc. to determine what is the best way to accomplish a good and safe experience.”
Normally, student-athletes prepare for the semester by showing up early, getting a physical, checking eligibility and more. Some of those things are still happening but in a slightly different manner than normal.
“Physicals, for example, are now being spread out over a few weeks instead of a couple of days. We have to make sure we keep locker rooms clean and what that process looks like. It has been very different but still exciting to have the students back on campus,” said Ehling.
Along with all other departments on campus, Ehling said the athletics department is excited to have students back on campus, even if things are different.
To find the latest information regarding COVID-19 and the Newman University campus visit our COVID-19 webpage.