We are getting ready! Your fall semester starts in less than 60 days, August 24. As we know, COVID-19 disrupts and makes planning contingent. We will have to be flexible and take actions based on the circumstances as they exist when the semester begins. None of us faces that alone. Our St. Thomas community meets that challenge head on, together and with bold confidence.
Here is how. Our students, faculty, and staff are getting ready. We are not just waiting to see what happens, we are making things happen. We are adding resources and building ways to learn, to teach, to thrive, in person and online. Last spring we had to hastily use the internet to connect. Now, we have built a team of experts to help faculty and students leverage online learning as one more way to build that unique St. Thomas experience, even better.
We plan to be in person, on campus too. It is often said that a truly Catholic approach is “both and” not “either or.” Students and faculty will have choices that fit their needs. Students should not have to worry about whether their futures will be delayed and they will not. We are working hard to make our in person and online experiences excellent and safer. We are also prepared to pivot as necessary.
Preparations have been underway for months now to ready campus. Some of those include: deep cleaning, sanitizing, clear shielding, and distancing markers (Lenny’s paw prints). Ventilation systems, temperature taking, symptom checks, and contact tracing protocols are in progress. Residence life, dining, athletics, music, student activities, and every aspect of life on our campus is being reviewed. In the classrooms, we are measuring, spacing, adding loads of technology, and determining alternating occupancy schedules. In short, we are redesigning much of our “normal” to be safer and continue building an even better, safer experience.
Is all that enough? No. Many of our students have been hurt by COVID’s economic downturn. That is why we have reduced tuition in some programs and have provided all undergraduates with additional scholarships. We have also distributed over three-quarters of a million dollars in Celt Care and CARES Act funds to students and launched a new $3,000,000 campaign to help students (more than $1,000,000 is already pledged). We are serious about helping students succeed.
Students are getting ready in many ways too. They are registering in large numbers, both returning and new. Summer enrollments have been strong. Current indications are that incoming cohorts of first-time and transfer students may be at record levels and the new Associates Degree programs have hundreds of students admitted already. New programs in nursing (ABSN and MSN) and engineering are strong. This compares to a reported decline in most of higher education of about 20%. Our students are bold, confident, and understand the value a UST degree has in the world.
The wide view as we get ready for fall semester is this. Each day brings changing rules on how to operate given COVID-19. That dynamic makes detailed planning impossible. UST Celts are people of positive change, unafraid to “set out into the deep.” Our trust and faith in the Lord gives us courage and confidence to proceed, even into ever changing times. We also have a plan that defeats the uncertainty. In dialogue with faculty, staff, and students, St. Thomas’ plan for the fall semester will:
- keep students on track to degree,
- ensure clean, safer learning spaces, and
- provide faculty and students in person and online, flexible environments.
We already proved last spring we can overcome COVID-19’s uncertainty. This fall we will prove we can master it and become stronger despite it. Continuing updates on progress and specifics about the start of fall semester will be coming soon.
God bless you, stay safe, and get ready!