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Campus community wraps-up an unconventional semester

Student holds a cup of coffee with a positive message on it on the Quad at WVU Potomac State College

Throughout the semester, the Office of Student Experience hosted various initiatives to boost student morale such as a Pop-Up Hot Chocolate Stand on the Quad to give away free hot cocoa in cups with positive messages such as this one that reads, “You don’t have to be perfect to be amazing."

“This has been an extraordinarily different semester for everyone -- faculty, staff and students – as we navigated teaching, learning and living during a pandemic. I’m both proud and grateful for how the campus community rallied to overcome this unique challenge while at the same time maintaining some normalcy of life,” President Jennifer Orlikoff said as the fall semester drew to a close.

The campus community dealt with a different environment this past semester including reducing classroom, dining and study area capacities; rerouting foot traffic in buildings and implementing new protocols such as wearing masks – both inside and outside; completing daily wellness checks, practicing physical distancing; and sanitizing high-touch points multiple times throughout the day; among other precautionary measures.

The fall semester kicked off on August 19, as planned, with the majority of classes being taught in-person. Additional options included synchronous online classes where students logged-in at scheduled times with the instructor, asynchronous online, where students were not required to log-in at the same time, and hybrid courses where students attended both face-to-face and online.

Classrooms and labs looked different with seating blocked off to allow for physical distancing and plexiglass shields installed in front of classrooms for lecturers to stand behind. All students were required to wear masks. All face-to-face classes had assigned seating for the purpose of contact tracing.

The Mary Shipper Library was open and served students with physically distanced study spaces. Tutoring was provided at the Academic Success Center by appointment with limited staff and students as well as by Zoom virtual sessions.

Additionally, the College conducted weekly surveillance testing randomly selecting 10 percent (approximately 100 people) of the on-campus population including faculty, staff and students. The purpose was to stop the spread of the virus by identifying individuals with the virus who were asymptomatic.

Surveillance-testing results were then shared on a public dashboard launched by WVU to track and compile COVID-19 data collected on a daily basis across the WVU System.

The College developed detailed instructions for students and employees in certain COVID-19 situations, including being asked to isolate due to a positive test or to quarantine for being a close contact. 

The College worked closely with the Mineral County Health Department throughout the fall and in fact, was commended by MCHD Director A. Jay Root for its efforts to prevent further spread of the virus specifically mentioning timely reporting, supporting contact tracing, isolating positive cases/quarantining exposures, establishing and enforcing protocols, and conducting surveillance testing.

Regarding Student Life, the Student Recreation Center was open for the first half of the semester but closed halfway through the semester as an extra precautionary measure. Students were invited to participate in virtual activities such as trivia games, bingo and an escape room. Student Government Association meetings were held via Zoom as were Pinterest evenings where students picked up kits and crafted together online.

“The pandemic posed new challenges that required the Student Life staff to come up with creative and innovative ways to engage students and create a sense of community,” said Dean of Student Experience Lucas Taylor.

According to Athletic Director Ray Kiddy, all sports were able to get in 50 of the allotted 60 days of practicing, training and conditioning. The season was cut short; however, due to COVID. “We’re looking forward to all sports, including fall sports, starting next semester in February,” Kiddy said.

The Esports team was able to compete as scheduled since all competition is online bringing home two trophies in the ECAC Madden competition. 

As the semester neared completion, the original plan was for students to remain on campus until Wednesday, Nov. 25, when they would leave campus for the Thanksgiving holiday and finish classes and finals online. However, due to the increase of the COVID-19 positivity rate across the state, students across the three campuses of Morgantown, Keyser and Beckley, transitioned to online classes three days sooner than planned.

The College now sets its sights on the Spring 2021 semester with academic instruction beginning January 19. According to Gregory Ochoa, Dean of Academic Affairs, instruction will resemble the fall semester with 70 percent face-to-face or hybrid classes and 30 percent online classes.

The College will not have a spring break next semester but will include non-instructional days Thursday, Feb. 11 and Wednesday, March 3.

As with the fall 2020 semester, the College will provide free COVID-19 testing to all students, faculty and staff who are returning to the Keyser campus for the spring semester.

The University will require COVID-19 testing for all students who will be taking in-person courses and/or using on-campus resources (e.g., libraries, dining facilities, transportation, etc.) during the spring semester.

Health experts believe the environment relating to COVID-19 for the spring semester will generally be similar to the fall, as it is unlikely that a vaccine will be available to the general population in large quantities until later in 2021. Therefore, all safety protocols and precautionary measures will continue throughout the duration of the spring semester.