Re-entry Committee Members Discuss What to Expect this Semester
By: Olivia Frasca
On August 26, CSI students began their fall semester in a very different way. Instead of arriving on campus by crowded bus, or circling the parking lot for a prized spot, they started their classes online.
During the summer, students were notified via email and CUNYfirst that most of their fall classes had been converted to fully online or hybrid formats. This is consistent with CUNY’s decision to operate remotely as much as possible in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vice President of Campus Planning, Facilities Management, and Operations Hope Berte and Provost Michael Parrish announced in an email on August 25 that CUNY and the state have approved the college’s reopening plan. “We will now move forward and focus on implementing the measures outlined in the plan with a focus on ensuring the health and safety of the members of the campus community who are approved to return,” the message states.
Administration advised the campus community in another recent email that it is focusing on opening three high-priority buildings: 5N, 5S, and 6S. Nursing, Physical Therapy, and Pre-Med students rely on in-person labs and clinicals in these buildings to obtain their certifications.
Access to the campus will be limited once certain students are notified to return and signage will be in place to enforce mask wearing and social distancing.
CSI formed the Campus Health, Safety, and Re-entry Committee, as well as several subcommittees to design reopening plans and implement regulations with stakeholders across the college.
Student Government President Maxwell Velikodny sits on several of these committees, providing a student’s voice and advocating for the needs of students as the college starts a mostly virtual semester.
He summed up the re-entry plan as comprehensive, with safety at the forefront. “We took into account the small things like how would going through a building work, or how would we promote social distancing, or [access] the book store.”
In the transition to remote operations at the college, committee members noticed that some systems worked better online. Jane Marcus-Delgado, Professor of Political Science, shared that aspects of academic advisement, tutoring, and registrar services could be done more efficiently when remote.
“There’s a whole bunch of things that we found [where] instead of making students go from building to building, we are able to build in processes that actually streamlined a lot of things,” Marcus-Delgado stated. “So we learned a lot of things going online in terms of student success.”
Jonathan Peters, Professor of Finance and Data Analytics, added that the college was testing out remote access to campus computers during the summer. “If students can dial into our computers remotely, then they can get that solid technology platform that will help them do the classes well.”
This is a realistic solution that would utilize the hundreds of computers available on campus, some of which contain special programs that students would not typically have on their home devices.
The size and location of CSI set it apart from most campuses in the CUNY system and this difference became more apparent when designing the reopening plans. For example, the 204-acre campus allows for more social distancing than other CUNY campuses like Hunter or Baruch, which are confined to a much smaller space.
“We have a different type of campus than most of CUNY, and that should be reflected in how we operate,” Peters said.
“We answer to a lot of people. We answer to our constituents because we are a public school, we answer to our students, our school community, but we are part of a bigger system,” stated Marcus-Delgado.
While being part of a large institution such as CUNY comes with benefits, CSI must often abide by standard procedures across all campuses which may not reflect its suburban location and status as the largest campus in New York City.
Marcus-Delgado compared CSI’s role within CUNY to steering a battleship. “We have to move when the ship moves and the way that the ship moves.”
Part of reopening the college also involves closing the college if problems occur.
“At the very least we have an out. It’s not like we’re in March again,” said Velikodny. “We have [guidelines] in the plan in case things get bad again. We’re in a much better position than we were in March. I feel like students are much safer because the plan is comprehensive, there are guidelines, and there are ways to return online if need be.”
“That was an important component of the plan — is to have a closing plan. In other words, no matter what we get open, we have to have a reversing plan right away,” Peters added.
Will students have the ability to convert their letter grades into credit or no credit options like last spring? Probably not. This time around, faculty members have had time to set up their online classes and students are aware of the transition.
“In the spring, life happened. I’m glad that CUNY was sensible with their approach. That was a fair alternative and there was a lot of time for students to opt-in,” said Velikodny about CUNY’s decision to establish a credit/no credit grading policy in the spring semester.
While the flexible grading policy likely won’t be adopted this fall, Velikodny says that Student Government and University Student Senate are in talks with CUNY administration to ensure students’ various needs are supported.
There are plenty of opportunities to get involved with the college’s organizations in a virtual capacity. Velikodny encourages students to be proactive during club hours every Tuesday and Thursday from 2:30 pm-4:30 pm.
“There are many different clubs and organizations that are accepting students, and there’s a lot that you can still do virtually. Students are able to contribute with their voices, to professionally develop themselves with different clubs, and just enjoy themselves honestly,” he added.
Students should check their CSI emails to get involved with the latest virtual events and activities.
“To me, what you get out of college has always been equal to what you put into it,” Marcus-Delgado responded when offering advice to students entering this semester.
Both professors agree that lack of class engagement is a drawback of going online. They encourage students to ask questions, as faculty want to answer them and make the virtual classroom a positive experience.
“It’s a two-way street,” described Peters. “The more you bring to the table, the more we can help you and the more we will try, and I think that’s the biggest thing that will be of help this fall.”
Quotes have been lightly edited for readability.