From the President: Fall Reopening Update

June 17, 2020

Dear Southern Community,

As we approach the first days of summer, and more Connecticut businesses open their doors, I wanted to take the opportunity to update you on some of the multiple efforts that are underway to prepare Southern for a fall return to campus.

This week we began the lead-in to the fall semester with the first in a series of summer-long Orientation sessions for our new student entering class. While all of the programs will be offered virtually, our newly named Office of Orientation, Transition and Family Engagement will be providing new first-year and transfer students with a multitude of opportunities to engage with their peers and learn as much as possible to establish a foundation for success in their first year and beyond.

These programs, which extend into August and include specific programming for parents and families, will lead into a virtual New Owl Welcome, details of which are still being finalized. Devising this extended, online Orientation required a great deal of creative thought, careful planning and efficient implementation by Sal Rizza, the Orientation team and their campus partners.

As we launch the new semester, students will find many exciting options for learning. Our faculty are creating a menu of opportunities to take classes directly on campus (with appropriate social distancing and masks required), fully online, or in hybrid mode (a little face to face and a little online).

In addition, there will be opportunities for OwlFlex classes; these are similar to hybrid but offer students the option to be on campus or tune in remotely to class each week.  With social distancing requirements in place, the number and size of available classrooms, as well as the unique needs of certain disciplines, will inform which classes are best offered on ground and which can be effectively delivered in an online format.

Experiential learning will also be available. Our programs in Nursing and other health majors are exploring options and opportunities for needed work in off-campus clinics and our College of Education is finding opportunities for our student teachers at an array of K12 schools.  And faculty members are looking to get back into their labs and studios to pursue innovative research and creative activities - these too, will be available for student participation but again with appropriate safety procedures in place.

Health and safety are at the forefront of everyone’s concerns, and we must have detailed reports submitted to the state Department of Public Health before we can reopen. Our facilities team has been hard at work, measuring classrooms and meeting areas for social distancing; producing safe practices signage that will be visible all over campus, and ordering and assembling PPE and sanitary equipment. Let me share some of these preparations with you:

In our storage facility is a stack of boxes containing 85,000 facemasks (50,000 cloth reusable and 35,000 disposable). These will be issued to all students, faculty and staff as part of an individual Southern Cares kit that will also include hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to clean personal work stations.

All classrooms, labs, studios and conference rooms will have touchless hand sanitizer dispensers, with socially distanced seating. Ventilation airflow in campus buildings has been increased to 10 or more air exchanges per hour, and high-efficiency air filters have been installed. And all “greeter” points for departments, including reception and help desks and library check outs, will feature Plexiglas barriers.

Restrooms will be cleaned multiple times daily and electrostatic sprayers have been purchased to disinfect all classrooms and public meeting areas at the end of each day.

While these and other measures are put into place, it is incumbent on us all to continue to practice social distancing and basic sanitation during the summer months, as our individual actions will play a vital role in keeping campus safe and healthy for all next semester. As Governor Lamont mentioned in his Phase II reopening announcement for the state yesterday: “This is no time to let our guard down.”

A key component of our fall reopening is the student residence halls, which will operate on a reduced capacity – soon to be determined  –  to allow for social distancing and to set aside rooms for potential quarantine use.

Two key dates that students should take note of are June 24, when returning students may begin their room selection process, and July 7, when new students select their rooms. Pro-rated housing and dining plan costs for the fall semester are also available, reflecting the fact that on-campus classes and activities will end on Nov. 24.

First-year students should also know that registration for courses will take place in July, once the course schedule has been modified to reflect the modes of class delivery.

We are still accepting students for the fall, and our enrollment management team will process applications on a rolling basis through July. Transfer numbers are trending ahead of last year, but many accepted students are still waiting to make a decision, reflecting statewide and national trends.

Unemployment and related financial pressures caused by the pandemic are major factors for student concern, coupled with uncertainty about the trajectory of the virus in the fall and the ripple effect on learning and the overall college experience.

If a student has had a change in circumstance since submitting a FAFSA, the Office of Financial Aid does have a process by which they can submit additional documentation.  More information is available on the One Stop website.

For Southern, our challenge will be to continue to respond with efficiency and flexibility to the scenarios that confront us, while creating the best possible learning and working environment. Undoubtedly, all of us will emerge from this extended exercise with new insights and new skills!

During the coming weeks, expect to receive a great deal of information about the outcomes of our planning for the new academic year. You’ll receive regular updates from me, and your vice presidents, and new developments will be outlined on a website – similar in format to the current Coronavirus site – that will be continually refreshed with FAQs and again offer you the ability to ask questions. An initial FAQ regarding the fall is available here: Fall Reopening. And you can continue to send me your ideas and suggestions for the fall at: https://form.jotform.com/201283998543061

I sincerely appreciate your patience and dedication at this time, and I welcome your creative thoughts and positive engagement as we navigate a new course for our university, together.

Stay well.

Sincerely,

Joe Bertolino
President