Michigan Tech aims to maintain the ‘college experience’ during the pandemic

University leaders are keeping the experience as normal as possible while ensuring everyone stays safe and healthy.
Published: Aug. 27, 2020 at 6:01 PM EDT
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HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - While the focus of higher education is education, there’s no denying the experience of college life is one that carries on for a lifetime.

In the pandemic, Michigan Tech University leaders are keeping that experience as normal as possible while ensuring everyone stays safe and healthy.

“The students, from my perspective, how delighted we are to have them back. Where I sit, that’s what makes the campus so exciting,” said Dean of Students Bonnie Gorman. “Having them back and having everyone do their part so that this works is what I’m looking forward to.”

Gorman said of the 6,847 students enrolled this semester, 353 are enrolled for entirely remote learning. That means nearly 6,500 students are on campus for classes.

Gorman said it’ll be a campus-wide effort to stick to protocols and avoid having to close down either partially or entirely.

She said while the university has a close eye on the dorms, she was pleased to learn fraternities and sororities have stepped up in their own houses.

“They have given this some thought,” said Gorman. “Some of the houses will be closed, just to the people who live in them. Some will be open to all members but not beyond membership. Some houses have gone as far as establishing some protocols, so they have hand sanitizer at the doors, they talked about that. Others have identified that they have isolation space in their house if someone gets sick.”

Regular testing is also a priority.

Caryn Heldt is the manager of the new covid-19 testing lab on Tech’s campus.

She wants to test 600 students per week.

“It’s pretty painless. We are doing oral swabs, so similar to if you have strep throat or something like that,” said Heldt. “We’re not doing the nasopharyngeal swabs that are quite painful.”

Heldt said about 98% of test results are received within 36 hours.

She said students will be randomly selected to be tested unless there seems to be a cluster of cases somewhere.

“If there’s increased positive cases in a dorm, then we’ll concentrate more on that dorm than we will other places,” she explained. “So, some of them will be selected and some of them will be just randomly.”

Michigan Tech Public Safety Chief of Police Brian Cadwell says maintaining a positive relationship with students is vital to enforcing face coverings and social distancing.

“We’re taking the approach of coaching rather than strong enforcement right off the bat because we want to have people cooperate with us and do it willingly. We’re better off that way,” he said. “If we wind up with cases where folks will not wear a mask or are resistant to wearing masks, if they’re students then we’ll be sending them back to the conduct office here on campus for further action. And if they’re employees, we’ll be referring to human resources.”

Cadwell said it’s important to remember that under Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders, there are certain consequences that can be applied for not adhering to policies. However, he said that’s not his aim.

“I think we accomplish more with a kind word and some guidance than we do with a strong hand,” he said.

While many campus events will now be held virtually, Gorman says student organizations will have plenty of guidance for in-person events.

“Our student leadership and involvement office has prepared an event planning tool for student organizations so that if they want to hold an event, they can do it adhering to the guidelines,” she said. “As well, they’ve put together guidelines for club sports and also guidelines for students who are living in a shared living situation so that students can work together and talk about the protocols that they want to adhere to in their households.”

Huskies will all be making the most of this unique school year, one day at a time.

Copyright 2020 WLUC. All rights reserved.

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