Shippensburg University is aiming to keep its students afloat amid a nationwide pandemic where students, faculty and staff must be able to adapt at a moment’s notice if they hope to stay on campus for the semester.
Even as students were sent home last spring, the inevitability of their return to campus hung in the air.
When the initial COVID-19 coronavirus response dust settled, SU officials were tasked with creating a plan to eventually reopen the campus.
SU Chief External Relations Officer Kim Garris said the road to reopening began in February. According to Garris, SU officials developed six committees composed of faculty, staff and students who met to work on various reopening-related issues.
SU also brought Chris Clarke on board to serve as executive director of operations.
Clarke has worked in higher education for several years and is experienced in crisis response, risk management and staff development.
Clarke said almost every aspect of the campus would in some way be changed or modified.
Reopening changes started with campus outdoor areas. Campus community members needed more space to meet, eat and work. SU’s solutions include large tents with folding tables and chairs.
Additional tables allow opportunities for spaced-seating outside of Kriner and the Ceddia Union Building (CUB). Some of the seats are marked off to create a 6-foot space between available seats.
A large part of the average college student’s experience is gathering to hang-out, meet or study with friends around campus. Many inside areas from the CUB and the Erza Memorial Library, to the many lounges scattered across campus have seen similar changes to meet social-distance guidelines.
Clarke said crews moved a couple thousand pieces of furniture from these areas to decrease the number of occupants while also maximizing space for students.
A group of students assisted the moving crews in transforming campus, Clarke said.
In addition to physical changes, SU officials had to develop new procedures for the meeting areas, dining halls and the bookstore to combat the challenges posed by the coronavirus.
Crews placed signs and stickers throughout campus and inside buildings to help direct the flow of traffic. In the CUB, crews divided the main walking area into two lanes to minimize contact when walking.
In the classroom, faculty members had to modify how they run their classrooms. Clarke said faculty members received online training over the summer, to prepare for in-person teaching and how to use the new technology that would be added to the classroom.
Technology has allowed many colleges and universities to offer a hybrid of in-person and online classes while giving students the choice to come to campus. However, these classes look very different from the in-person classes in which students and faculty are accustomed.
Classrooms must be able to keep students and faculty 6-feet apart, as well as have the technology for teachers to broadcast themselves and their lectures for students on Zoom. Some classrooms have a maximum occupancy as low as 14 or 15 students. So Clarke turned to unconventional classroom spaces for classes with a higher student capacity.
Some of the first preparations concerned the amount of technology and resources the campus would need to provide an environment compliant with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) regulations. SU was ahead of the curve with ordering these items, according to Clarke.
In many classrooms, panes of Plexiglas provide a barrier between students and professors. OWL meeting cameras are also a staple in classrooms. These cameras follow the professors as they move allowing for an enhanced experience for remote students attending class on Zoom.
In larger classrooms and converted rooms, such as the CUB multipurpose rooms, one of the key modifications is an alternating seating schedule. These are referred to as “blue green schedules.” During a “blue class” students are only permitted to sit in seats with a blue designation, which leaves green seats between them to keep a 6-foot distance. This way students who are in “green classes” will be sitting in green seats, which are untouched by earlier classes.
Garris said these schedules were changed several times to line up.
While the university has made many changes and plans to adapt to the challenges posed, students also have a responsibility for keeping campus open.
Garris said this led to the creation of the “Raider Respect Pledge.” The pledge is the code and behavior campus community members are expected to uphold during the 2020-21 academic year.
She said it is a way to positively reinforce the coronavirus rules and procedures such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
The pledge reads: “I understand, as a member of the Ship community during the 2020-2021 academic year, that I have an important role in keeping the community strong. I understand that the mitigation protocols I am being asked to follow are necessary to protect the health and well-being of others in my community and beyond. I agree to abide by all federal, state, PASSHE, local, and Shippensburg University mandates, policies, protocols, and procedures related to COVID-19, and I agree to participate in any required training.”
Anyone can take the “Raider Respect Pledge” via email or by going online to the SU website.
The pledge includes short training videos about the new standards and procedures to mitigate the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Those who take the pledge are expected to abide by coronavirus policies including using designated walkways, monitoring health and wearing a mask while encouraging others to wear masks as well.
The pledge initiative also includes social media and email engagement by sending out information and new slogans throughout the week.
Garris said one from the first week was “mask up or pack up.”
The first week of the fall 2020 semester has concluded and students, faculty and staff have had the chance to become familiar with a campus changed by the coronavirus.
Garris said she was impressed by the initiative students have taken to embrace the many new changes without complaint within the first week.
She said while campus regulations and procedures may change throughout the remainder of the semester, everyone has an important part to play in keeping campus open during the pandemic.