GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Aquinas College [aquinas.edu] has concluded nearly 14 weeks of in-person instruction as it approaches the end of a fall semester that was unlike any other. The College offered approximately 85 percent of classes in person and recorded no exposures directly related to classroom instruction.
“Our goal as an institution was to provide as normal and as safe an experience as possible for as long as possible for our students,” said President Kevin G. Quinn [aquinas.edu]. “The fact that we were able to accomplish that goal is the direct result of the strong character of our students, faculty and staff. For us, it clearly demonstrates the Aquinas College difference and that small can be mighty.”
The College implemented a revised academic calendar in August, starting one week earlier than planned. In-person instruction ended on Nov. 17 in compliance with the state health department’s most recent epidemic orders, just three days shy of the scheduled end of classroom meetings. The remainder of the fall semester will be conducted through distance learning.
This past spring, the AQ Opens Task Force, in collaboration with College departments, developed plans to welcome students back to campus for the fall semester. Students were given the option to take classes fully in person, fully online or a hybrid of the two. The College employed a multi-layer strategy that leveraged the institution’s Dominican value of community and each person’s individual responsibility to themselves and to others.
“Students at Aquinas College are getting a top-notch liberal arts education, but our campus culture and commitment goes beyond the classroom,” President Quinn said. “We are committed to educating the whole person. Our students are learning that their fields of study exist in the context of a larger society and that the decisions they make have an effect that ripples through the community.”
The Saints Together plan [aquinas.edu] implemented recommendations from public health, government and higher education experts, such as required use of masks, social distancing, good hygiene practices, enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, limits on gatherings and more.
In addition, the College’s daily health monitoring program was executed in close partnership with the local health department and allowed for a quick and personal response to every student, faculty member and staff member in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus.
“Our institution was able to be flexible and nimble during a time of rapid change, said Nick Davidson, associate vice president for student affairs and athletics. “Our team did everything from deliver three meals a day to our students in isolation to set up outdoor classrooms in order to continue to provide care and support for their academic and personal goals.”
Common spaces on campus were modified to reduce capacities, classrooms were outfitted with technology for distance learning, new outdoor learning spaces were established, building HVAC systems were modified, student activities and campus events were offered outdoors or virtually, athletic teams practiced in functional teams, and on-campus resources supported student mental and emotional wellbeing.
The College was also able to welcome prospective students for in-person campus visits by utilizing the campus’ unique urban forest environment and the College adopted a test-optional admissions policy.
The Saints Together Fund and Sister Aquinas Weber, O.P. ’58 Endowed Scholarship Fund provided support to students affected financially by the disruption caused by COVID-19. More than $110,000 was provided to more than 75 students for emergency needs, tuition, books and supplies.
The College is looking forward to welcoming students back to campus for spring semester and will be rolling out plans for their return in the coming weeks.
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