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Students settle in to new coronavirus campus experience as NWI universities begin again in person
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Students settle in to new coronavirus campus experience as NWI universities begin again in person

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Campus is quieter these days.

Hand sanitizing stations mark building entrances, and it’s difficult to go far without running into a glossy posted reminder to wear your mask or keep your distance.

But, at the Indiana University Northwest and Purdue University Northwest campuses, education is happening.

Both universities began their first in-person classes two weeks ago, after moving to online platforms in the spring and summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.

University administrators weigh return to in-person learning this fall

Both universities continue to employ varying online, virtual and hybrid models of learning to help limit campus crowding. However, students in select lab classes and lectures are returning to campus for face-to-face — albeit socially distanced — instruction.

“I’ve been here over 20 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the same enthusiasm and morale for the start of a semester,” said PNW Professor Richard Rupp, who is teaching approximately 20 American Government and Politics students this semester in a room designed for 40. Most of his students this semester are freshmen.

“We know this is the key semester to anchor them in the university and to be a positive experience,” Rupp said. “That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to teach in person.”

Purdue and IU’s northwest regional campuses have not seen the same spike in cases as students return to the universities’ larger, flagship campuses.

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At Purdue Northwest, only 15 active cases have been reported among students and one among faculty or staff on PNW’s Hammond and Westville campuses, according to a weekly dashboard kept by the university.

At IUN, just one case has been confirmed among symptomatic individuals tested, according to the university’s most recent update on Aug. 31.

However, both universities are taking steps, even before students’ arrival for class, to ensure students self-screen before arriving at the predominantly commuter campuses.

At PNW, students, faculty and staff are asked to sign off on a daily self-screen checklist in the university’s smartphone app. Though completion of the daily exercise is somewhat based on an honor system, the PNW Mobile App screening tool allows university staff to better gauge what days individuals have been on campus and when they began showing symptoms in the event contact tracing is needed.

University dashboards track COVID-19 cases on campus; several new cases reported in Region schools

In PNW’s College of Nursing, students have their temperature checked at the classroom door in courses that require frequent movement or group collaboration in scenarios where social distancing may not be possible.

“This is a good experience for our nursing students because nurses have to roll with everything,” nursing professor Sarah Dunleavy said. “Anything can happen at any time.”

At IUN — and on Indiana University campuses across the state — students, faculty and staff may be selected at random, or based on their affiliation with a group at high-risk for community transmission, to take a test regardless of whether the individual is showing symptoms.

“This is just to watch the data and make sure we can still be healthy,” said Vicki Román-Lagunas, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at IUN. “I am so humbled by the flexibility of our faculty and staff and students.”

How to find known COVID-19 cases in NWI schools

Students on both campuses may be taking a combination of in-person and virtual classes so, at IUN, administrators have repurposed classroom space, open due to fewer in-person course assignments, as “Zoom Rooms” for students to take advantage of in between on-campus meetings.

Seats across all IU campuses are marked with red dots to indicate where individuals can sit while maintaining social distance.

It’s an adjustment, students and faculty say, but many say they’re glad to be back.

Mackenzie Artim, starting her first semester in PNW’s nursing program, said keeping track of in-person, virtual and rotating lab group meetings on campus has proved to be hectic.

Move-in week: Pandemic brings changes to residence living on PNW campus

“It seems like it would be easier to be all online or all in-person,” Artim said. “But, there’s only so much you can do. Everyone is being very straight-forward and honest because no one knows what is going to happen still.” 

Angad Sidhu, president of IU Northwest’s Student Government Association, praised university faculty for working with students to make the best of a difficult situation.

“It’s been a difficult time for a lot of people, especially for those who have lost family members or lost jobs,” Sidhu said “It gives some hope that people are working hard to make this happen. We’ve got to do our part as students.”

Gallery: PNW, IUN campuses adjust to COVID-19 pandemic

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