UMSL leaders look toward fall semester at virtual town hall

by | Jul 20, 2020

Panelists answered viewers' questions about classes, events, social distancing and more ahead of students returning to campus for the fall 2020 semester.
UMSL Student Town Hall panelists

Jessica Long-Pease (clockwise from top left), Natissia Small, Matthew Taylor, Dixie Williams and Chancellor Kristin Sobolik discussed plans for the upcoming semester, including campus events and classes, and answered viewers’ questions during a virtual town hall. (Screenshot from UMSL Student Town Hall)

For students, parents and educators, one question stays at the top of their minds: What will school be like this fall?

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent stay-at-home orders, University of Missouri–St. Louis leaders have been researching best practices and weighing options for the fall semester. Next month, students will return to campus for a semester unlike any in UMSL’s history.

The course catalogue offers a range of both remote classes and hybrid classes, which combine the strengths of in-person learning and online elements. Online and blended course fees are waived and all on-campus activities will follow social distancing guidelines, including mask requirements.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Office of Admissions conducted the UMSL Student Town Hall via Zoom. Chancellor Kristin Sobolik hosted the event and answered questions alongside panelists Jessica Long-Pease, director of Millennium Student Center operations and Student Involvement; Natissia Small, assistant provost for access and academic support; and Matthew Taylor, associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences. Director of Admissions Dixie Williams moderated the discussion.

More than 250 people tuned into the town hall, which provided an overview of classes, activities, services and safety precautions in the upcoming semester. Viewers were invited to submit questions beforehand, and panelists addressed a range of concerns.

“I want to assure you that as we are seeing and experiencing the impact of this ongoing public health crisis, our university’s shared priority continues to be focused first and foremost on the health, safety and well-being of our community,” Sobolik said. “It is literally what I think about every single day and frankly sometimes actually through the night.

“We love interacting with our students and we miss our campus community, so as we explore ways to engage together safely, we are also creating very flexible plans to allow us to respond to the ever-changing public health situation.”

UMSL’s plan for next semester includes requiring people to wear masks indoors, on shuttles and when social distancing is not possible outdoors. The university is also adhering to social distancing guidelines by ensuring that class sizes and rooms are set up to allow students to remain six feet apart. Before coming to campus, students, faculty and staff will be asked to take their temperatures and complete a health check via a mobile app.

Sobolik stated that fall sports are currently set to go on as planned with precautions such as temperature checks and minimal use of the locker room.

Long-Pease addressed how student life and campus activities will be adjusted to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Student Affairs remains committed to providing a high-quality service that our students have come to expect,” she said. “To this end, the departments that are effectively able to meet the needs of our students in an exclusively virtual format are going to continue to do so in the fall semester, while the majority of our departments in Student Affairs will provide both in-person and virtual support as needed.”

The Millennium Student Center will open in early August with modified hours and traffic flow designed to encourage social distancing. Select eateries will provide dining and an app will be available for online ordering and payment. The Recreation and Wellness Center will also open early next month with modified hours and reduced building capacity, offering group fitness classes both in person and online. Computer labs and the library will be open throughout the semester.

Several campus events, like the welcome bash and the internship and job fair, will take place virtually. However, the university will offer new events where social distancing is possible, such as a drive-in movie night.

Long-Pease also stated that Mansion Hill and Oak Hall will offer on-campus housing for the semester.

Taylor addressed academics and how learning will continue in the upcoming semester.

“UMSL is ranked No. 1 in Missouri for online programs by U.S. News & World Report,” he said. “We wanted to ensure that online format maintains the highest quality possible.”

Over the summer, faculty members attended training on best practices and techniques for remote teaching and course design. In the fall, the majority of labs and studio art classes will be held in person while some have transitioned online.

Academic support will be available, with a range of services provided in virtual settings.

“During this time, we are well prepared to support you in your academic journey to pursue your college degree to completion,” Small said. “At UMSL, we are confident that we have a variety of academic supports in place to meet your individualized needs.”

Services include the University Tutoring Center, Writing Center, Math Academic Center and mentoring. Advisors and academic success coaches also provide support to help students navigate their degree path.

In addition, the Keep Learning website offers tips for a successful remote learning experience.

“We are spending the time and the energy and the effort to provide the best possible education,” Williams said. “It looks very different now, something that none of us have been through, and so we are doing what we can to make sure that each student is successful and works toward degree attainment.”

Karen Holman

Karen Holman