California State University, Sacramento

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Hornet Family returns to campus after challenging pandemic years

Sac State weathered a tumultuous two years that saw classes and other campus operations switch to mostly online delivery, and back. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Tossed and buffeted by COVID-19's unpredictable winds, Sac State steered successfully to safe waters before again catching the fair breeze of relative normalcy as the pandemic rolled back.

In pivoting quickly to remote learning and student service, then back to a mostly full campus, the University navigated the unprecedented challenge of protecting the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff while maintaining its educational mission.

In March 2020, Sac State shifted to mostly virtual learning, teaching, and staff work to help slow the spread of the virus. As the pandemic continued, the University implemented safety protocols such as face coverings, physical distancing, virus screening, and testing. The campus also became a community vaccination site in early 2021.

Just over two years later, the Fall 2022 semester began with 80% of students back on campus for at least one in-person class. More than 3,200 students moved into campus housing.

"Our students and their families experienced many challenges during the pandemic. University faculty and staff worked hard to connect with our students to help them connect to resources to stay enrolled." -- Ed Mills, vice president for Student Affairs

When the pandemic hit and then exploded, the contrast with normal University operations was dramatic. As the duration of the crisis grew from days, to weeks, to months, then years, Sac State adjusted, exhibiting care for what President Robert S. Nelsen calls the Hornet Family.

"I cannot express enough how thankful I am to our staff and faculty for their dedication to our students and our campus," Nelsen wrote in a January 2021 message to the campus community. "Our students are working diligently despite unprecedented challenges, and they deserve our patience and recognition. These are difficult times for everyone, and I hope we can continue to act with a spirit of generosity, understanding, and kindness."

To serve students' educational needs, the University adopted or adapted various technologies, including new outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots to provide wider internet access to students taking classes virtually. Faculty received training on how to convert their existing classes into online or hybrid courses and on ways to enhance the virtual experience for students.

Other innovations surfaced. The pro bono Physical Therapy lab used baby dolls during remote lessons, and music faculty experimented with virtual platforms that allowed choirs to sing together in real time. Some classes convened outdoors, socially distanced.

As the uncertainty of the pandemic continued, Student Affairs and other divisions connected with students at risk of dropping out.

"Our students and their families experienced many challenges during the pandemic," said Ed Mills, vice president for Student Affairs. "University faculty and staff worked hard to connect with our students to help them connect to resources to stay enrolled.

"For students who were not able to continue enrollment, we continue to reach out and help them work on plans to return and complete their education."

Those efforts are succeeding, and in 2022, a record 9,435 students graduated, their celebration marked by a return to Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento for the first in-person Commencement since 2019.

As Sac State kicked off its 75th Anniversary celebration, more than 6,400 students and their guests attended Hornet Nest Fest, an event that featured food, music, and more to mark the beginning of the 2022-23 academic year.

"Being together on the Housing Quad with our students, their families, and other guests as they ate, played games, socialized, and danced, warmed my heart and fed my soul," Nelsen said.

"We truly are a Hornet Family, and I am so proud that we are together again."

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About Anita Fitzhugh

Anita Fitzhugh, at Sac State since 2015, is public information officer and writer. She has more than 20 years of experience as a broadcast journalist/producer and PR consultant. Anita often can be found enjoying the American River Parkway or on a new adventure with her family.

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