The New Normal
When Ursinus College students left campus on March 7 for a much-anticipated spring break, they never imagined the spring semester would unfold as it has.
State mandates caused the closure of the campus on March 13, and instead of returning to campus for the final few months of the academic year, Ursinus students, faculty and staff — like those at colleges across the country — were quickly adjusting to a new normal. This included making a pivot to teaching and learning online and celebrating spring events in unusual and unexpected ways … and at lightning speed. So, while the campus may look empty and quiet to passersby, a transformation to a virtual environment has enabled the community to remain closely connected — and, in many ways, as vibrant as ever.
Ursinus is very much open for business and has stepped up to carry forward its vision, both to students and to the broader community.
Virtually the Same
While some events were canceled or postponed, thanks to technology and some innovative thinking, the college was still able to stand by its commitment to support students and celebrate their achievements.
- Celebrating Student Achievements and Art – The Celebration of Student Achievement (CoSA), usually a full day dedicated to students presenting their research to the campus community, became a week-long virtual event, including online performances by theater and dance students. The Annual Student Art Exhibition will open online on May 15, with creative art, a few studio visits, and interviews with artists. The college is also planning to launch a virtual summer music series at the end of the month that captures the spirit of the inaugural Music on Main festival originally slated for April.
- Commencement – While the traditional Commencement ceremony was postponed until later this fall, an online celebration of the Class of 2020 will kick off on May 16 with a student-produced video, social media activities and a virtual visit by Oscar-nominated actor Colman Domingo and NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch. Koch, who just returned from 328 consecutive days in space (the longest-ever single spaceflight for a woman), will deliver remarks that reframe the meaning of “isolation” through an inspirational and optimistic lens. An on-campus ceremony is also scheduled for this fall.
- Enrollment – The college’s biggest admission event of the year, Admitted Students Day, was also transformed to a three-day virtual immersive experience, prominently featured by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
- Community and Alumni Engagement – College faculty and staff in the Office of Career and Post-Graduate Development (CPD) stepped up with virtual seminars — one specifically for local small businesses. The events attracted reporters from such places as the Wall Street Journal. The annual Bear2Bear Benefit and Bash, originally slated for RiverCrest Golf Club, was a roaring success online and drew over $220,000 for those students facing unexpected financial hardships.
Adjusting is a Process
Ursinus is still making adjustments. In-person summer programs and camps have been canceled through July, but academic deans are leading the effort to completely transition the Summer Fellows program to a virtual format so students will still be able to benefit from working with a faculty mentor on independent research. This is, much like the many other transitions this spring, a challenge that will bring a new way of teaching, researching and learning. Ursinus students will also be working at virtual summer internships in the community.
Continuing Community Outreach
A few members of the Ursinus community relations team met with Collegeville’s borough manager and its council president, along with a CEDC representative, to discuss a shared approach to support and promote small businesses and local organizations. The conversation ranged from fall events, including the community opening of the Schellhase Commons and an annual Music on Main event, to potential service and volunteer opportunities and a new community-focused website promoting our partners across the Collegeville area.
The college is still making adjustments as a community. They are working towards one common goal: to prepare campus for a safe, healthy and organized return of students this fall. There is still significant uncertainty regarding the path and impact of COVID-19, but college leadership, faculty and staff are working together to prepare to welcome students back to campus as soon as possible.