Published August 31, 2020 in News
Following a week of leadership meetings, Clarks Summit University opened its doors to welcome students back to campus for classes which began Monday, August 24. Students arrived on campus to study in their choice of nearly 40 residential undergraduate programs.
On August 17, online students began their eight-week fall 1 session in one of 39 online programs spanning from undergraduate to graduate to doctoral options.
Dr. Bill Higley, vice president for academics, is starting his 20th year at CSU and said he has never faced the challenges or opportunities they have faced this year. As the school prepared to open its doors and welcome students back to campus, they also prayed about the potential this year would bring.
“We have some advantages in this situation that other schools don’t have,” said Higley. “Our guiding principle is to do what is least disruptive but most responsible. We believe the plan we have in place can accomplish that,” referencing the Safe on the Summit COVID-19 plan.
Higley says CSU carries this advantage because of responsible students who want to serve each other, serve the community and are willing to do their part. Approximately two-thirds of students are enrolled in completely online programs. Of the remaining third, 97 percent of those residential students live on campus.
New students attended a physically-distanced orientation when they arrived on campus at staggered times beginning Thursday, August 20. Some changes this year included limited pre-scheduled arrival times and health screenings administered upon arrival.
“Our residence hall structure serves us well in this situation,” said Frank Judson, vice president of student services. “We don’t have barrack-style dorms with 350 people in one building. Our residence halls will have less than 50 students and are set up for containment. We have freedom and convenience within the design of our residence halls.”
Safe on the Summit
Guidelines have been put in place which include physical distancing, face coverings, expanded sanitation procedures, limited seating in classrooms and the utilization of outdoor spaces. Tents have been set up to allow students to spread out for meals and physically distant social gatherings. Gathering areas and public spaces operate with limited occupancy.
“We have worked hard to assure parents that CSU is a responsible, safe and healthy place for their son or daughter,” Higley said.
CSU is launching a hybrid schedule for its on-campus classes for this school year. Faculty worked on plans for their classes to reduce contact time by one third. Two credit hours of classroom time are scheduled in the hybrid model with one credit hour completed remotely. Fully remote options are available for all classes if it becomes necessary with synchronous time online with professors as well as online discussions, materials, class work and projects.
With decades of experience in online education, CSU has been delivering online classes since 1997, so remote learning is not a new development for the school. CSU is adaptable and prepared to accomplish their mission in the 2020-21 school year.
“Every class is prepared for both options, and we can pivot any time we need to,” Higley said.
A Year of Opportunity
In a year that has been characterized by many challenges, the leadership at CSU also saw opportunity. The CSU experience has benefited students spiritually, emotionally and socially and will continue to do so. Even though the experience has undergone changes this year, it provides opportunity for students to grow and learn in ways they might not otherwise. Effort and planning has gone into giving students a fun and engaging school year.
“When we say we want what is least disruptive for our students, we mean that we still want to offer them the bulk of what we do here and a great college experience, but we want to do that responsibly,” said Higley. “We want to preserve the CSU experience, because it is so much more than just getting a degree. That’s why we worked so hard to bring our students back to campus. Our circumstances are reshaping that experience, but we believe it will be a unique and positive one. We are taking the adjustments that we have had to make and turning them into advantages.”
As the school looks to the fall, they found an opportunity. With the Colonial States Athletic Conference’s cancellation of collegiate sports, CSU’s fields are available. The school has planned on a more comprehensive intramural sports program during the hiatus of Defender athletic programs.
“This allows us to use the space we have and use it creatively,” said Frank Judson. “This year is different and it’s challenging, but we don’t have to reinvent the wheel for this. We have all the pieces and people in place to do what we do well. If anyone has a chance to be successful in this, we do. Our structure is containable; our school is small, and our students love God and their neighbor. All these things point to the fact that we have a fighting chance.”
As they responsibly and reasonably navigate the start of the 2020-21 school year, CSU is poised for growth and looks forward to a great year ahead!
By Julie Jeffery Manwarren