6 things to know about the spring semester with Dean of Students Byron Hughes
While Virginia Tech gets ready to bring our students back to campus and the New River Valley for the spring semester, we want to prepare students for another semester during the current pandemic. With that in mind, we have been working with public health officials to identify how we can provide the best possible experience to our students.
1. What types of opportunities will students have to engage with each other during the spring semester?
We talked a lot about forming pods (and sticking with them) during the fall semester, and this spring, we’re expanding the engagement opportunities for those who do. The pod experience we’ve developed will start with helping students find their pod if they need it, take them through registering their pod, and then provide programs and services for those in registered pods. We heard that students want more to do on campus, and we believe this program is a way to provide that experience safely.
As the semester progresses, we hope to cautiously increase the opportunities we’re providing for in-person engagement, as conditions and guidelines allow. While we won’t be able to suddenly switch to non-COVID practices, think of it as a dimmer switch where we hope to slowly turn up the light as appropriate.
2. How will Virginia Tech continue to serve students who must isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19?
We spent a lot of time talking to on-campus students about their experiences in isolation and quarantine during the fall semester, and that has allowed us to make some improvements to that process. Students who must isolate or quarantine this spring will be assigned a Student Advocate who will be their contact throughout the process. The Student Advocate program is a new initiative designed to provide individualized attention and case management for these students. Students in quarantine or isolation will have access to additional dining options and even be able to get outside for some fresh air during their isolation or quarantine time. For students living off-campus that get tested on campus or disclose their positive results to the Dean of Students Office, they will continue to be checked on during their quarantine or isolation. We are committed to the well-being of all of our students, and while we know that having to isolate or quarantine can be challenging, we hope to make it the best possible experience we can.
3. How are services and programs for students evolving?
As we continue to turn up that dimmer switch during the spring semester, we’ll be finding new ways for staff across campus to help serve our students and for students to engage with others. One example of this is the ways we’re improving the on-campus isolation and quarantine experience, such as providing outdoor spaces and individualized case management for these students. We also continue to be thankful for the employees who have worked tirelessly to meet students’ needs in a wide variety of ways. Many of us have adjusted our roles, and yet we still have a collective goal of providing a true Virginia Tech student experience. We want to encourage all students to utilize Newman Library, student centers, or available classroom spaces for personal or small group study to start normalizing being back on campus. It is okay to change it up a bit this semester and get out of your apartments or residence hall rooms. Take full advantage of faculty office hours (in-person or virtual), advising resources, and the support of your academic dean to make this semester work for you.
4. What will COVID testing look like for the spring semester?
Similar to the fall semester, we will have plenty of options for students to be tested on-campus. If you live off campus and need a test, consider our clinic on campus and leaving off-campus urgent care clinics for permanent residents in the area. Students can always check the Ready site for a schedule of testing clinics and additional information about testing. In addition, we’ll continue the mandatory prevalence testing program we started this past fall, requiring students who are living on-campus or off-campus in Blacksburg to participate in testing clinics at Lane Stadium when pulled as part of a random sample.
5. How might vaccine availability impact plans for the spring semester?
The Virginia Department of Health is managing vaccine distribution. As more and more people become eligible for the vaccine, we will communicate through our usual channels, such as emails and the Ready site. Before and after vaccination, though, each person will need to continue adhering to the public health guidelines we’re so familiar with. Guidance from public health officials indicates that even while vaccinated, we will still need to follow the guidelines until enough of our country receives the vaccine. We are hopeful that the vaccine, along with continued vigilance, will allow us to slowly transition to a more normal Virginia Tech experience.
6. What can students do to ensure they have a successful spring semester?
Similar to the fall semester, we continue to ask students to practice many of the measures that have been found to be effective against COVID-19. This includes reduced gathering sizes (current guidelines allow for only 10 people per gathering), wearing masks whenever outside of their residence, and washing their hands frequently. The work of students who followed these guidelines during the fall allowed us to successfully complete the fall semester with little impact to our surrounding communities, and we hope to see much of the same this spring. You all are an important part of this success as Virginia Tech students and residents of the New River Valley. As local hospitals do their best to serve our region, let’s continue to make good choices and not stretch their resources.
Remember your return to Virginia Tech for the spring semester is a continuation of your academic year and your life in the New River Valley. We persisted through the fall semester and we will do the same this spring semester. Our Community Wellness Commitment remains in place and it represents the agreement we make to each other and ourselves to succeed at this - together.
Dean of Students