It was not the fall semester that first-year students alongside sophomores, juniors and seniors hoped would happen just a few months ago. The same could also be said of faculty, staff, and even parents of students. But as final exams and a term gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic come to an end, leaders at UP have positive reflections and an optimistic outlook heading into the Christmas holidays and beyond.
The campus has been quiet since last March when the COVID-19 virus first exploded into a wave that sickened millions worldwide, and caused nearly 300,000 deaths in the United States alone. UP faculty and students pivoted to an entirely virtual curriculum; most staff began teleworking; and our beautiful campus emptied of nearly all activity. These challenges, though, triggered a response that University president Rev. Mark L. Poorman, C.S.C., says was inspiring.
“I have deep admiration for how our community members responded when unprecedented difficulties redefined our University’s operations,” said Fr. Mark. “Despite the challenges we faced, a spirit of perseverance, optimism and shared responsibility arose within the UP community. We focused energy and resources on all that we could accomplish, rather than the obstacles that stood in our way. Our successes are the result of working together and caring for one another. We’ll use all that we’ve learned as we prepare for what we anticipate will be a slightly more normal spring term. I’m deeply grateful to our students, faculty, staff, and families for their flexibility, creativity, and dedication to our University and its mission.”
UP is preparing to welcome more than 900 undergraduate students to its residence halls in late January with a tightly-managed arrival schedule. Classes for the entire enrollment of more than 4,000 students will still be primarily virtual, but some in-person courses taught by dozens of faculty members who volunteered to teach on campus will be offered to first-year students.
Robust COVID-19 prevention efforts are in place, including a campus health awareness campaign, screenings, surveillance testing, and contact tracing. UP campus operations are reconfigured to meet federal guidelines, and state and local mandates for pandemic safety. Separate residence hall spaces have also been set aside for any isolation or quarantine needs.
“We have a lot of momentum coming out of this successful fall term and that sets the stage for an even more successful – and at the same time more challenging – spring semester. Our faculty members are embracing this direction, and returning students are excited,” said University provost Herbert Medina. “Certainly, we would have preferred to have a more normal campus experience for all enrolled students regardless of academic classification. But several hundred first-year students will finally get a small taste of what a true collegiate experience is like.”
Many success stories surfaced this fall, especially faculty members who maximized technology and virtual instruction with their own creative ideas. The lack of mass numbers of students living on campus along with no in-person fall classes recalibrated virtually all administrative and operational roles. But thanks to collaboration among essential and furloughed employees, UP maintained near-optimum daily campus functions, which has proven vital to all planning for next year.
Examples of some of the academic successes include:
- Eric Anctil, School of Education: Applauded by students for unique ways that he generated a sense of connection and community among students, especially during the adjustments of being separated and trying to learn from remote locations.
- Jordyn Wolfand, Shiley School of Engineering: Praised by students in an Introduction to Engineering class for creating at-home kits to build simple things and understand basic engineering concepts through hands-on learning.
- David Turnbloom, theology: Received high marks from theology students for leveraging VoiceThread multimedia technology to engage and gather student reflections and share diverse perspectives.
- Lora Looney, international languages & cultures: Developed especially effective methods for teaching Spanish courses remotely by sourcing ideas from national Spanish-language organizations to use with a project-based approach to the curriculum.
UP will close administrative operations for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays from December 24 through January 1. Classes for the Spring 2021 term will begin on Monday, January 25.