Students can succeed in college during the pandemic

The fall semester is now upon UAA students, with classes mostly being online. The future may seem unclear with the current COVID-19 pandemic, but this semester at UAA is planned strategically to make the college experience as positive and comfortable for students as possible.

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

UAA made the decision early on to have a smooth transition for students, faculty and staff to have most fall classes online. Eighty percent of classes this semester will be held via distance learning. Students will learn using Blackboard, emails and Zoom lectures. Courses in person will have safety precautions.

Students can practice social distancing, while not feeling so isolated. Contact through social media is encouraged, as is texting, Zoom sessions and even a simple phone call. Talking to instructors throughout the semester may also help students succeed and humanize the online-learning experience. It is also stressed by UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen that the semester curriculum will be just as challenging and enriching as classes in person.

“We will still provide the same quality education and the ability for students to complete their degree. You are only going to set yourself up for success if you continue your education. Don’t stop now. This is just college during COVID. We can do it,” said Chancellor Sandeen.

The Municipality of Anchorage released a mandate that aims to curb the spread of COVID-19 on August 3 by limiting gatherings of people to 15. To accommodate this at UAA, classes in person will have no more than 15 people, including the instructor. Groups of students in classes will meet at different times and masks will be required in class at all times, unless students or staff have a medical condition that may prevent them from wearing a mask, in which case Disability and Support Services at UAA should be contacted for accommodations. Employees can contact Human Resources for accommodations and guidance for mask exceptions.

The Mask Policy for UAA and all University of Alaska campuses requires anyone on campus to wear a mask or face shield. UAA has implemented this policy per The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, Anchorage Emergency Orders and supports the university’s operational plan for phases A through C. If a surge in cases occurs in Anchorage and the Municipality decides to release a stricter safety mandate, in-person classes may be moved online or deferred to a safer time.

The CDC states that the purpose of wearing face masks is to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Face masks help prevent the user from spreading the virus via respiratory droplets and effectiveness is increased if more people wear masks.  Mask enforcement, according to UAA mask policy is as follows: “Whenever possible, concerns about face coverings should be respectfully addressed at the time such concerns arise by informing the individual about this policy and/or Anchorage Emergency Orders and encouraging compliance in a courteous and considerate manner.”.

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Most buildings at UAA will also not be accessible to students for safety. Designated classrooms, restrooms, the UAA/APU Consortium Library and Student Union will remain available. Students will also need Wolfcards, which is also a student I.D., to have access to these buildings. The cards will work like key cards to the entrance doors. Wolfcards can be obtained at the University Center Cashiering Office or the Consortium Library. Parking passes will not be enforced but restricted parking, such as fire lanes and maintenance spots remain prohibited. The Campus Bookstore is also temporarily closed and orders are exclusively online. Because not all regularly used amenities and facilities won’t be available to students this fall, $7.51 per credit hour was refunded to students’ accounts.

Some buildings at UAA will be closed for the semester, such as The UAA Sports Complex and other buildings require key access, only accessible by request to an instructor, the building manager or with the UPD. Students who require access to The Spine should contact Disability Support Services for ADA accommodation. All buildings and rooms used by students and staff will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized daily and hand sanitizing stations will be placed at the main entrances of all facilities and in busy common areas throughout campus. Sanitation wipe stanchions will also be placed at various locations throughout the campus.

On-campus living will also be very different this semester, with only 123 students in occupancy so far to keep social distancing standards. Each student in residence will have their own room and bathroom. Communal spaces such as study halls and eating areas will be closed. Meals will be in a grab-and-go style, with breakfast and lunch being cold meals and dinner a hot meal. The check-in process for housing has also changed and a more detailed description can be found on the UAA site under Move in Fall 2020.

Testing for COVID-19 will be available to students at Gorsuch Commons and by contacting the Student Health and Counseling Center or SHCC. Students living on campus will meet with SHCC  representatives during check-in to fill out a declaration form that allows On-Campus Living to track compliance with the testing policy and keep students healthy and safe. Residents should have two negative COVID-19 tests presented at check-in with a representative of SHCC. More details about testing can be found on the UAA site under Move in Fall 2020.

If a resident suspects they have COVID-19 symptoms, test positive for COVID-19 or may have been exposed to someone who may have COVID-19, they should contact SHCC immediately. If the health center is closed, the on-duty Resident Advisor of the area should be notified. Applications for student housing are now closed, but students can be added to a waitlist by accessing their housing page on UA Online.

All in-person campus events have been canceled. The Fall Athletic Competition has been suspended until at least Nov. 30. Volleyball and cross-country competitions are put on hold until the spring semester and more information will be made available as the semester progresses. Instead, online events are offered, such as Virtual Campus Kick-Off on Aug. 22, Disney Bingo on Aug. 27, Virtual Family Feud on Sept. 10, and many more. Events can be found on The UAA Student Activities and Commuter Programs Facebook page and the Virtual Engagement Opportunities page on the UAA website. Bruce Schultz, the Vice-Chancellor of UAA, encourages students to reach out to their peers and take advantage of any help the university system can provide if it’s needed.

“It’s important for students to be connected to other students and stay on track with assignments. Students can also take advantage of all the virtual student services that are available,” Schultz said.

For students or staff who may be facing a difficult time, The Student Health and Counseling Center is available through appointment by calling the center at 907-786-4040 or email at [email protected] They offer physical and mental health services for students. The center is closed for walk-in visits, but Appointments may be available virtually through telehealth.

There are many avenues of mental health support for students as well. The UAA Department of Psychology operates the Psychological Services Center and also offers services to students. Feelings of isolation can be prevalent not only during a pandemic but in Alaskan winter as well. The best way to cope is to communicate with others.

Students may struggle and worry about finances during such an uncertain time. Vice-Chancellor Schultz suggests contacting UAA Financial Aid for assistance.

“We are here to help but we won’t know students need help unless they ask,” Schultz said.

Financial help for students is also available through COVID relief funds. UAA has already given students $2.7 million using the Cares Act in the spring of 2020 and some in the fall as well. Additional funding will be made available to students from The State of Alaska, the UAA President’s Office and possible additional funds from the federal government.

For more details about the fall semester, visit College During COVID on UAA online. More information for living on campus can be found at Move in Fall 2020 on UAA online. For health and mental services contact The Student Health and Counseling Center at UAA by calling 907-786-4040 or emailing them at [email protected]

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