With the rapid growth of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the country have been shut down, including the closure of most schools, colleges, and universities. On March 13, Sierra Nevada University Interim President Ed Zschau informed students that spring break vacation will be extended for an additional week, and the following week SNU Provost and Executive Vice President Shannon Beets announced that the college will be moving to an online-only learning platform for the remainder of the semester.
With the quick transition to a virtual platform, SNU students and faculty have had to adapt to this new learning model and have begun to make changes in their academic and professional lives.
“The biggest change has been taking all the classes online,” Dean of Students Will Hoida said. “We have amazing faculty, and over the extended spring break they got together, modified courses, and got ready to go online. I think that’s really great that the faculty was able to adapt to do that so quickly.”
Aside from faculty, Hoida also credits SNU’s students for coming together, staying positive, and being flexible during this transitional period.
Though all of SNU’s spring semester classes have been moved to a virtual platform, the dorms on campus remain open. As of March 27, 46 students were still living on campus, with more students planning to check out of the dorms by March 30, according to Director of Students Affairs and Student Housing Elizabeth Thibodeau.
With 52 students still residing on campus, the college is keeping students in the dorms informed about practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing, and keeping common areas sanitized. R.A.’s are also still available for students via phone call, if needed.
“We are all living the quarantined lifestyle,” Thibodeau said. “I know people will be getting antsy, but I am hoping that school will keep our students busy [during this time].”
With only a few weeks left of spring semester, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, many student events have been canceled or put on hold, including business competitions, senior symposium, and interdisciplinary studies presentations.
“We recognize the special value of these opportunities to share with others the extraordinary academic and creative achievements of our students,” Zschau said. “The faculty will be arranging virtual options for such sharing and for the learning for all those who attend in that manner. I personally look forward to being in the appreciative audience engaged at a distance.”
SNU is still working towards keeping some events on the calendar, depending on the status of the outbreak at that time. Hoida said events planned for the end of April and early May are still being handled on a “case-by-case basis,” including the biggest event of the year: graduation commencement for the class of 2020.
Another requirement is the mandatory three-week intensive block scheduled at the end of April to be completed by early May. These courses have also been moved to a virtual platform to allow students to fulfill the classes.
With the status of commencement and some end-of-the-year events still unknown, Zschau believes that SNU has unique advantages during this time, that many other colleges don’t currently have.
“Our advantages are ‘the power of small’ and our location in Incline Village,” Zschau said. “Our small student body, our small faculty, and our small class sizes are making the transition to effective online teaching and learning easier, in contrast to the universities that have thousands of students, hundreds of faculty, and class sizes of 75-100 or more.”
Zschau also credits SNU’s location in Incline Village as a unique advantage during the global pandemic.
“Our location on a small campus in a relatively isolated town [is helpful],” Zschau said. “Rather than in a large, congested area with lots of in and out traffic, living in a small town enables us to be more protective of the health of our students who wish to remain on campus.”
Zschau and other faculty are remaining optimistic despite the uncertainty.
“Our number one priority is protecting the health of our students, offering each student a uniquely valuable educational experience in a manner that is safe and effective,” Zschau said. “We strive to still be preserving and building the value of our students’ educational investments.”
During this time, students are still being encouraged to stay connected, even when physical proximity isn’t an option.
“I hope students will continue to communicate with each other, with their professors, and with everyone in their various circles and communities,” Chair of the English and Humanities Department June Saraceno said. “In difficult times, we have to support and uplift each other. This isn’t easy on anyone. There’s a lot of anxiety and fear, there’s so many ways we’re affected—that’s why we have to care for each other in word and deed. Were in this together, and we’ll come out of it together, ideally sooner rather than later.”
For any additional support, questions, or concerns, students are encouraged to reach out to SNU faculty.