The second Students First: Community Conversations coincided with the growing concern about an increase in COVID-19 infections in New York state and throughout much of the country. The discussion, “Fall Academic Plans with the Deans,” focused on academics and co-curricular activities and featured leaders from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Engineering and Computing Sciences, as well as the Schools of Architecture and Design, Health Professions, and Management.
Student Brendan Smoller, an orientation leader, moderated the informative, hour-long discussion. The series launched last year during the height of the pandemic to provide students with information, resources, and engagement tools to help them thrive academically, socially, and personally.
Following a “Wait and See” Approach
The July 29 discussion kicked off with an overview of what the fall semester is expected to look like for students in the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences. For one, classes are expected to be offered in person for most new undergraduate students, according to Dean Babak Beheshti, Ph.D., who also reviewed a list of clubs and activities students can join. He noted that all instructors have been asked to provide live Zoom links for lectures, and he is hopeful that faculty will offer virtual office hours, which were introduced during the pandemic and proved to be beneficial.
Citing a current “wait and see” approach to what conditions will be like in September and throughout the fall, Beheshti assured students that “we will remain vigilant and flexible as we follow the government and health agencies’ guidelines—we have gone through this in 2020 and are prepared to make quick changes to our operations.”
Maria Perbellini, M. Arch., dean of the School of Architecture and Design, shared that while some undergraduate courses will be offered in a hybrid-remote modality, all studio, lab, and fabrication courses are expected to be conducted in person. She expressed hope that study abroad opportunities for architecture and design students will return in the new academic year, which is a highlight of their education.
She encouraged students to ask for help, as needed, and to experience campus life and activities as much as possible. “There is an amazing effort from many units in preparing a pleasant and exciting return to the fall, if the conditions, of course, will allow us,” Perbellini said.
Dean Daniel Quigley, Ph.D., shared with students a unique aspect to the College of Arts and Sciences: all New York Tech undergraduate students spend part of their first two years taking required core courses that are taught by faculty in that college.
He noted that most math and science courses offered on the Long Island campus are expected to be in person in the fall. And while humanities courses were moved online quickly in 2020, many of these courses will also be in person. However, Quigley said, some courses are more suited than others to remote learning at this time, including freshman writing and public speaking. “Speech class won’t work with a mask,” he said.
Diamando Afxentiou, Ph.D., professor of accounting and finance and an academic leader in the School of Management, said that most classes will be offered in a hybrid-remote modality while others will be fully online. However, the school is planning several activities outside of the classroom, including field trips to the United Nations and Federal Reserve Bank, as well as professional development opportunities and access to cultural events.
Afxentiou also pointed out that the school also plans to offer professional enrichment activities, such as lectures, where students can learn from experts in the field.
Additionally, she encouraged School of Management students to join some of the many clubs available and to participate in internships and experiential learning opportunities and competitions, such as the Corporate Challenge.
Dean of the School of Health Professions Gordon Schmidt, Ph.D., explained that faculty and students have been operating in a “pandemic modification” scenario for more than a year now, as most of the courses require in-person instruction. Recalling the last year, he said that “sometimes faculty and students had to wear full PPE [personal protective equipment].”
For students in the undergraduate health sciences program, there will be opportunities for students to come to class, but it will start in a hybrid-remote modality; graduate program courses will be taught in person. Of course, “we have to be ready for things to change at a moment’s notice,” he said. Students in programs with a clinical component, such as nursing and physician assistant studies, complete their training at hospitals and in actual healthcare settings. These students will be required to show proof of vaccination.
Schmidt anticipates that the ongoing renovation of the school’s main facility, the 500 Building on the Long Island campus, will double the classroom and lab space for each of the disciplines. He also hopes the school will be able to resume experiential opportunities, such as the medical outreach program serving refugees in Greece.
A Commitment to Flexibility
Common themes from all academic leaders included a commitment to flexibility to accommodate students’ needs, strong encouragement for students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they have not yet done so, and a call for students to stay connected with the New York Tech community and their college or school as the fall semester approaches, among others. Recordings of the Students First: Community Conversations series, including the question-and-answer component, can be found here.
Additionally, in the Zoom chat function, student attendees were reminded about upcoming events, including Week of Welcome activities and New Student Academic Convocation on September 10.
The Students First: Community Conversations series features discussions aimed at informing students about changes to be made at New York Tech during campus reopening and the support systems available to members of the New York Tech community. Tune in on Thursday, August 19, for the next discussion, “The Campus Experience: New and Improved Spaces.”