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Local universities reopen for fall semester amid pandemic

Chancellors emphasize safety, flexibility

  • 4 min to read
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BACK AT IT — Students walk through campus at Indiana University Kokomo on Monday morning. The university reopened for the fall semester with many COVID-19 precautions in place.

On Monday, Indiana University Kokomo and Ivy Tech community college opened their doors for the fall semester, though the campuses look a little different this year.

Both colleges have implemented stringent policies and changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to keep students safe.

Chancellors from IU Kokomo and Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region weighed in on what their campuses have done to prepare for the semester as the pandemic continues.

Indiana University Kokomo

At IU Kokomo, Chancellor Susan Sciame-Giesecke has been closely following safety guidelines and recommendations set out by IU President Michael McRobbie . While many of the guidelines were aimed at ways to keep students as safe as possible amid the pandemic, emphasis also was put on the need to deliver as much in-person instruction as possible.

According to Gisecke, IU brought together a group of infectious disease experts to work with chancellors and schools across the state. After Giesecke met with the specialists, she put plans in place to rework classroom sets-ups to allow for that in-person instruction while students still could maintain social distancing while able to interact with each other.

This fall, IU Kokomo will have around 250 classes that will meet in-person. Other courses will be delivered in a “hybrid mode” where half the students will meet in-person on one day, and the other half will meet virtually another day and then switch, allowing every student to have at least one day of faculty interaction per week.

IU Kokomo will require face masks when on campus.

“Every student is required to wear a mask, faculty and staff members too,” Gisecke said. “Every student had to sign an agreement that they understood that and follow that policy. Otherwise we would recommend to them that they take all of their classes all online. Indiana University has had a variety of courses and programs totally online for many years. If the student feels like their health is compromised because they have asthma or some other condition, then they could choose to do that. Or if a student says they don’t want to wear a mask, they can do that. We’re trying to accommodate both.”

IU Kokomo also will be doing “mitigation testing” for students. Each week, around 250 students will be randomly selected to receive a COVID-19 saliva test. The goal for the testing, according to Gisecke, is to allow the infectious disease specialists to monitor potential hot spots of the virus on campus. The mitigation testing will occur weekly throughout the semester.

While IU Kokomo will be a bit different with safety protocols in place, Gisecke remained optimistic about the education students will receive this semester.

“I would think the most positive thing is that our faculty have spent the entire summer trying to learn different strategies to engage students,” Gisecke said. “And they have some pretty remarkable ideas on how the students that are on Zoom talk to the students in the classroom. So I guess the highlight for me is teachers are just remarkable people. They know what they want to do in order to help students learn in the best mode, and these faculty have just really gone above and beyond.”

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Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region

At Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Region, Chancellor Dean McCurdy emphasized flexibility for the students returning to campus this week.

“This fall, we’re using a strategy where have many different types of offerings,” McCurdy said. “We have about 25 percent of courses are face-to-face on campus. But 25 percent are virtual, and the rest is a new delivery model where you can learn anywhere. You can come to campus or login virtually, and it allows you to switch at any point during the semester. It’s really maximizing flexibility because that’s what our students need. Our first responsibility as a public institution is to the safety of our students, our faculty our staff, and our communities.”

Despite moving to an online format halfway through the spring semester, Ivy Tech Kokomo Region had the highest course retention rate among students in its history for a spring semester, according to McCurdy.

Like IU Kokomo, Ivy Tech has implemented a face-mask policy for everyone on campus. McCurdy said he has relied heavily on information from the CDC, Indiana State Health Department, and county officials when making decisions that prioritize safety on campus.

“We just had a meeting for our faculty and staff. Of course the number-one thing on the agenda was how we’re going to keep everyone safe this fall,” McCurdy said. “We had lots of forums where people can ask lots of questions. We’ve encouraged the difficult questions as well. Our employees, we’re working with them and accommodating them as we can and wanting to provide as much flexibility as possible. Our goal is to make sure that as much learning as possible can happen in the most effective way possible while keeping everyone safe.”

David Scheblo, the head of human resources at Ivy Tech Kokomo, agreed with McCurdy.

According to Scheblo, Ivy Tech sought to provide a “collaborative effort” when it came to students’ education and safety for the fall semester.

“What you need to know is that our campus is very collaborative,” Scheblo said. “Full-time, part-time, faculty, students, staff, everyone knows everybody. They have embraced this really well, to the point where they’re not afraid to ask questions or to engage in conversations or share in new ideas. It’s just the culture now. We learned as we went through this, and we were able to have conversations with all those groups. And they were very engaged with what we’re doing.”

McCurdy also emphasized that, despite the pandemic, it was still “a great time to pursue a degree or course work.”

“Community colleges are inherently resilient,” McCurdy said. “We’re very flexible. We’re very responsive, and we make significant investments in technology that put us in a really good position. So for all the students that are concerned or parents are concerned, we have those options.”