Colleges prepare for in-person classes

Most also will be offering a combination of online only and hybrid classes this fall.

As Michigan reopens during the pandemic, its colleges and universities are taking precautions to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty and staff for the fall 2020 semester.

Schools such as Grand Rapids Community College, Muskegon Community College, Davenport University, Calvin University, Hope College, Aquinas College and Grand Valley State University all have established recommendations and accommodation plans for the fall semester.

Grand Rapids Community College will begin its fall semester on Aug. 31. The community college will offer a mixture of on-campus, online and hybrid courses.

“The pandemic will change many of the ways we do things, but it will not change GRCC playing an essential role in West Michigan’s recovery,” said Bill Pink, president of GRCC. “We embrace our mission, and we won’t compromise on the safety and wellness of our students, faculty and staff.”

GRCC established a task force headed by Provost Brian Knetl and Lisa Freiburger, vice president for finance and administration, and they have developed a four-phase strategy to gradually and safely reopen the campus. 

The task force is in consultation with campus leaders to determine which classes are preferable for on-campus learning and how the school can incorporate social distancing, deep cleaning and other measures effective in slowing the spread of the virus.

The fall semester at Muskegon Community College will begin on Aug. 26. Kelley Conrad, vice president for academic affairs at MCC, said they are planning to have some face-to-face classes while taking measures to keep students and faculty safe through social distancing, frequent and comprehensive cleaning of buildings and rooms, signage to remind people to not enter the buildings if they are sick, appropriate PPE and screening.

“We are preparing for more online courses by training faculty who do not have experience or training in teaching online, converting more classes to an online format and offering more options for how a course is delivered online: in an asynchronous format; online in a synchronous format with scheduled meeting times; courses that may shift from online synchronous to face-to-face as conditions allow; and hybrid courses that include a mix of online, synchronous online, and face-to-face as conditions allow,” she said. 

While preparations are being made for more online classes, MCC is using this time during the pandemic as a teaching moment so students can be prepared to enter hospitals for their clinical work.

Conrad said MCC is planning to purchase three more simulator manikins to equip faculty and students in its respiratory therapy, nursing and medical assistant programs in case they cannot go into health care settings for clinical work due to COVID-19 or space limitations.

Davenport University will begin its fall semester on Sept. 8. The university will welcome students on campus for face-to-face classes. There also will be classes online.

“Our students need to be able to pursue their dreams and Davenport remains committed to helping them achieve those dreams,” said Dr. Richard J. Pappas, president of Davenport University. “We know we don’t have all the answers about what will come next, but our university has the flexibility, the agility and the experience to adapt and ensure our students don’t miss a step when it comes to their future.”

Davenport created a Coronavirus Preparedness Taskforce, which is outlining plans for staff, faculty and students to return to campus by following state, federal and NCAA guidelines.

According to the university, it is considering utilizing small class sizes and a hybrid approach to host classes that will combine in-seat and an online experience to maintain social distancing; initiating strict and consistent cleaning protocols including advanced whole room disinfectant devices; requiring and utilizing facial masks and hand washing; offering disinfectants at contact points and health screening and testing protocols when appropriate for the university community; hosting students on its Grand Rapids campus in modern residence halls featuring 100% private bedrooms; and providing takeout options in its dining services.

Calvin University will begin its fall semester on Sept. 3. and it will open campus to students. To ensure the health safety of everyone on campus, the university is partnering with Helix Diagnostics to allow for access to 5,000 COVID-19 tests for students, faculty and staff when they return to campus.

“At Calvin University, our goal is to demonstrate that we are willing to adapt to the conditions, act quickly, and do what it takes for a safe and healthy return to learning on our campus,” said Michael Le Roy, president of Calvin University. “We recognize that reliable and timely access to testing for infection is an essential component of our overall strategy. Our partnership with Helix Diagnostics is one example of a number of initiatives we are undertaking to serve our students well and keep faculty and staff safe.”

Most of the 5,000 tests will be for initial screenings and the remainder will be used over the balance of the school year to test members of the community who are symptomatic and help support the university’s contact tracing efforts.

The fall semester at Hope College will begin on Sept. 1. The college will have in-person classes and on-campus housing. 

“Of course, not knowing exactly what the future holds, we must consider and plan for different scenarios,” according to the college’s website. “The planning process is underway, and we are focusing specifically on how the college can be agile and innovative, so that no matter what comes our way, we will keep our focus on the students and their ability to flourish inside and outside of classes.”

Aquinas College will start the fall semester with students back on campus. Classes will begin on Aug. 27.

To prepare for the health and safety for everyone on campus, Marissa Sura, associate vice president of marketing and communication, said the college is considering a number of scenarios that will meet students’ needs for an on-campus experience while also keeping the community safe and in line with information and guidance from state and public health officials.

“We intend to begin classes on time this fall,” said Kevin Quinn, president of Aquinas College. “The most important matter facing us now is how to do that thorough planning for our safe return to on-campus work and the establishment of our operational footing for the fall semester in a way that is safe for our community and the broader community.”

Aquinas also established its AQ Task Force with members who represent from all areas of the college. They have been tasked with working with the campus community, state and local health officials and other experts.

Grand Valley State University will be holding classes on campus beginning on Aug. 31.

Maria Cimitile, provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs, said deans and faculty members are reviewing course offerings to identify those that can be adapted to different formats: fully online, hybrid or physically distant face-to-face. She said there will be a shift from scholarship and service for one year to accommodate the need for more teaching.

Tim Thimmesch, associate vice president for facilities services, said a cleaning and sanitation plan is in place on Grand Valley campuses. He said it will be “all hands on deck” as employees return.

“Our staff will transition to daytime shifts and will be visible and available,” said Thimmesch. “We will be sanitizing classrooms, restrooms, break areas and conference rooms each day, and we need employees to hit those touch points in offices and workspaces. We will provide products for that.”

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