Plans, preparations continue to move Virginia Tech toward an in-person fall semester
As Virginia Tech prepares to close out the spring 2021 semester with a combination of virtual and in-person commencement activities, plans and preparations continue for a fall 2021 semester that more closely resembles the classroom experiences and campus activities students enjoyed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In celebration of Virginia Tech’s newest graduating class, virtual university commencement exercises will take place on Friday, May 14, at 6:15 p.m., when degrees will be conferred. Virginia Tech announced that 16 smaller, in-person commencement ceremonies will also take place in Lane Stadium, with health and safety protocols in place, May 10-16, and will be divided up by college to celebrate graduating Hokies. In addition, there will be a similar in-person commencement ceremony on May 12 for the Class of 2020.
Additional plans to celebrate the Class of 2020 are expected to be released at a later date. Last spring, the university was forced to shift graduation completely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The university’s commencement delivery team is working with representatives of the class to plan events in addition to the ceremony on May 12.
With more than 8,000 spring graduates departing Virginia Tech campuses across the state, a new class of incoming students will participate in virtual new student orientation sessions this summer. New student sessions will be presented in a hybrid format that includes both a virtual program during the summer for incoming students and their families, and an in-person extended orientation program once students arrive on campus in August. This hybrid style will allow for a more engaged, flexible, and personalized experience.
As COVID-19 vaccines become more widely available to the general public, including Virginia Tech students, Noelle Bissell, health director for the New River Health District, reports that coronavirus cases in the New River Valley continue to decline. Vaccination clinics are continuing throughout the New River Valley and the state, contributing to what Bissell describes as “cautious optimism” about future decreases in COVID-19 cases.
COVID-19 cases in the Virginia Tech community continue to decrease. The current positivity rate is 0.3 percent, with the number of positive cases over the past seven days having dropped to 10 percent. Public health officials are hopeful that the increased availability of vaccines across the region will further reduce the prevalence of the virus within our community. Vaccination clinics continue in the New River Valley and throughout the state. The Virginia Department of Health urges anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.
The university is optimistic that ongoing prevalence testing, increasing availability of vaccinations, and continued adherence to health and safety protocols by the campus and local communities will result in a fall 2021 semester that looks similar to that of pre-pandemic semesters. In preparation for the 2021-22 academic year, Virginia Tech’s in-person experience goal assumes that a high percentage of students, faculty, and staff will have been vaccinated before the fall semester begins.
Faculty and academic staff are also preparing to return and reengage students in in-person instruction and classroom experiences. In coordination with academic deans, Faculty Senate leadership, university leadership, and campus public health and safety officials, a Faculty and Academic Staff Engagement plan has been developed that provides guidance and expectations for returning to in-person academic activities.
The plan merges and confirms a number of conversations that have taken place with multiple audiences across the campus over the past several months. In accordance with the health and safety protocols anticipated to be in place at the start of the fall 2021 semester, faculty are preparing to return to their primary campus on a regular basis beginning in August 2021, with the majority of courses returning to the modality that was used during the fall 2019 semester.
Despite the encouraging public health data and the optimism around returning to face-to-face curricular and co-curricular activities, university leaders recognize that plans are very much contingent on continued vigilance in wearing masks and social distancing and vaccination availability and administration and are subject to any setbacks in the management of the pandemic. Future decisions on continuing health and safety protocols will prioritize the welfare of the campus community and will depend on the state of the pandemic, state requirements, and prevailing public health guidelines.
For more information on Virginia Tech’s campus plans and efforts for the fall 2021 semester, continue to visit the Virginia Tech Ready website.