CSU Looks Forward to Full Reopening This Fall
April 12, 2021
Cougars are not the hibernating type, which is why Columbus State University students and employees alike are responding favorably to news that the university will fully resume normal operations before the start of the fall semester.
“Very few of our academic and operational efforts truly went dormant during the pandemic — COVID-19 just required us to consider hybrid means of teaching and serving our students and community,” noted CSU President Chris Markwood. “ That said, I am looking forward to our campuses returning to the vibrant setting to which our students are accustomed, as well as CSU hosting a robust schedule of campus, athletics and community activities.”
The first step of that plan includes CSU employees returning to full, in-person staffing by mid-May. Throughout the current spring semester, the university ramped up on-campus staffing levels, but staggered employee schedules and maintained some teleworking options where possible to keep campus density low.
“Providing our students and employees with a healthy learning and working environment has been and remains paramount to us,” Markwood said. “Increasing availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and declining reports of positive COVID cases have been encouraging as we move forward with our plan for fully reopening this fall.”
Nevertheless, as the CSU plans for the future, it will continue to observe public safety protocols recommended by the Georgia Department of Public Health and required of all University System of Georgia institutions — even for the many summer programs CSU offers. These will include required face coverings on CSU campuses, physical distancing, and self-screening and self-reporting positive COVID-19 tests or possible exposures. CSU’s COVID-19 Response Team will continue to monitor health conditions and make necessary recommendations if significant changes are warranted.
Data regarding summer and fall enrollment, as well as academic year 2021-22 admissions, all signal that returning to “normal” is welcomed news for CSU’s students. This includes Curtis Walker, a Columbus native beginning his second term as Student Government Association president.
“Next to ensuring our student body remained safe and healthy, SGA’s priority has been helping our fellow students — especially those studying remotely — feel connected to CSU. So much of the ‘university experience’ is tied to your social network and experiences outside the classroom,” Walker said. “It will be a nice change of pace to not have to worry about creating Zoom links and repeatedly telling your friends they’re muted as we think about future events.”
Admissions and enrollment trends support the notion that students are ready to reengage with instructors and classmates, according to Dr. Deborah Bordelon, CSU’s provost and executive vice president. Even during the pandemic, CSU set new records or approached existing ones for enrollment and demand for on-campus housing, and more than 70% of CSU’s classes still included some in-person component. With everyone’s sights set on the fall, CSU is seeing freshman applications and fall class registration numbers ahead of where they were this time last year.
Nearly every student activity, athletic competition and signature CSU event like The Forum and Homecoming were reimagined to include some virtual components. Its annual one-day WinterFest event became a month-long holiday celebration complete with a drive-through campus light display and on-air content by its student-run radio station, WCUG-FM 88.5.
“If there was a silver lining to all the change and disruption the pandemic caused, it is that we as a university experimented with new ways of better connecting or remaining connected with students, alumni and friends both right around the corner or half a world away,” Markwood said.
Student responses to surveys conducted throughout the pandemic lauded CSU faculty for their timely communication, use of technology, and empathy. Students also credited CSU with creating a safe and healthy learning and living environment, and keeping them updated on the pandemic’s effects on the university. CSU has updated students and employees weekly with COVID-19 case management information since last August — with positive cases of COVID-19 rarely reaching double digits at any given time.
The lessons CSU learned throughout the pandemic will be useful, Markwood noted, as the university forms a Post-Pandemic Innovation Task Force. The task force will determine which of the university’s pandemic-era successes, and even its failures, it will keep and build upon.
“CSU’s vision is to prepare students to be creative problem-solvers,” Markwood explained. “We are concluding an extensive period of problem-solving ourselves. I want to ensure, as we move into the post-pandemic world, we harness that energy as we strive to remain creative to the core. While we are not quite out of the woods, we are creatively preparing for our next steps.