By Dixie Reid
The Fall 2020 semester at Sacramento State will be like no other, as historic wildfires burn in California and the world battles COVID-19.
Preparing for the return to classes – virtually and in person – has been what President Robert S. Nelsen calls a massive undertaking, made possible only by the “tenacity and dedication of staff and faculty.”
As for those coming back to continue their educations, “We never forget the chaos that’s going on in every student’s life right now,” said Bill Macriss, interim dean of students.
Yet for this unprecedented school year, Sac State is welcoming 31,442 students — even more than in Fall 2019 – to classes that begin Monday, Aug. 31.
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“As 2020 continues to present historic challenges to education, the Hornet Family amazes me every day,” Nelsen said. “Our students continue to make progress toward their degrees despite unprecedented challenges in their lives. We are all in this together, and we will come through it together.”
Most instruction is online because of the pandemic. Less than 5% of classes — in Nursing, Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Theater, and Film Studies — are face-to-face.
Move-in Week for the 460 students who’ll live in the American River Courtyard and Riverview Hall residence halls started Aug. 25 and will continue through Sunday, Aug. 30, and possibly into next week, depending on the effects on air quality caused by the fires. Poor air quality has caused residence hall move-in to be staged in smaller groups to reduce smoke exposure.
And, if smoky conditions worsen next week, the start of on-campus instruction could be delayed, said Provost Steve Perez.
Sac State’s normally bustling campus is nearly deserted and unusually quiet this fall.
There will be no football games or other sports played until at least spring, and scheduled events, such as the iconic Weeks of Welcome and UNIQUE Programs’ variety of entertainment, will be conducted virtually.
The Hornet Bookstore is open with limited hours. Student Health and Counseling Services is open and available through telehealth. Several buildings and parking structures not in use this fall are closed.
Anyone without business at Sacramento State should stay away from campus to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For students, faculty, and staff who are on campus, strict safety protocols are in place to reduce the risk of anyone contracting coronavirus. Face coverings are required, with limited exceptions, in indoor public spaces and when 6 feet of distancing isn’t possible outdoors, per Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order.
Also, a COVID-19 screening survey has been created, and students, faculty and staff are "highly encouraged" to take it each day before coming onto campus. The link is on the Health & Safety page of the University's new online suite of COVID-19 news and information.
Standing ready to help are the Student Safety Ambassadors, representing what may be the first program of its kind in the CSU. They will be stationed in classroom buildings to open doors and push elevator buttons so that multiple people don’t have to touch common areas. The ambassadors will dispense face coverings and hand sanitizer as needed and take any safety concerns directly to Risk Management Services for immediate resolution.
Campus drinking fountains are turned off. Bottle-filling stations remain in service.
On the academic side, nearly 800 faculty spent three weeks at the virtual Teach ON!-line Summer Camp learning how best to convert traditional face-to-face classes into online or blended courses. They also learned how to enhance the virtual experience for their students.
Sac State committed $1 million from its federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security (CARES) Act funding to create the innovative summer camp.
“We have exceptional faculty who are dedicated to the success of our students, and it’s inspiring,” Perez said. “They showed it last spring when they transitioned to virtual instruction, and they showed it over the summer when they put in the work to get ready for fall.”
The University stands ready to help students maneuver the world of distance learning and give them the campus experience, even from afar.
“Those of us in Student Academic Success and Educational Equity Programs (SASEEP) are working tirelessly to provide a dynamic set of events, programming, and services in support of all students,” said Marcellene Watson-Derbigny, associate vice president for Student Retention and Academic Success.
Among the virtual assists for students:
- Student Academic Success Day, on Monday, Sept. 21, will offer strategies to help students navigate the virtual world and life’s daily challenges.
- SASEEP has tutoring services available 24 hours a day across all academic subjects.
- The DEGREES (Dedicated to Educating, Graduating, and Retaining Educational Equity Students) Project offers peer coaching and workshops, along with personal and academic support.
- The Peer and Academic Resource Center provides online tutoring and supplemental instruction.
- The Center for First-Generation Student Initiatives helps those who are the first in their family to attend college find success at Sac State.
- The Educational Opportunity Program supports first-year and transfer students with online events and counseling.
- The Parents and Families Program provides stipends for child care, along with individual advising, workshops, and town hall meetings.
- The Martin Luther King Jr. Center, Native Scholars Transition Program, and Project HMONG all schedule weekly programs to help students have a sense of belonging, connection, and community.
“Our goal is to engage the student experience, inspire excellence, and to help Sacramento State scholars reach their highest level of success,” said Watson-Derbigny.
“All programming is delivered through a virtual lens with an eye toward innovation, creating a sense of belonging, and helping with the range of needs that students express.”
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A comprehensive back-to-school plan focusing on safety and effective delivery of classes has been the focus of the University. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)