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President’s Corner: Student success, health and safety guide our reopening

The past year has offered a powerful lesson in the importance of flexibility.

Old Dominion University has reacted nimbly to the never-predictable path of the coronavirus. In mid-March, we chose to complete the semester with students taking online classes and employees teleworking. Earlier this summer, we announced plans to start the fall semester early, on August 15, and to finish it before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the recent surge of coronavirus cases in Hampton Roads prompted us to shift gears, with a scheduled opening on August 29 and classes and finals all online after Thanksgiving.

What hasn't changed is our commitment to a well-thought-out strategy. Since March, Old Dominion has had several teams working daily to chart the best path forward, in consultation with health officials, state leaders and our counterparts at other institutions. Our decisions have been driven by several priorities:

First, the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff. That consideration has guided all of the details, including the size of courses, residence hall occupancy and the option of food delivery. One of the primary reasons we delayed the fall start was to expand the capacity for the COVID-19 testing center that Old Dominion will open by month's end.

We also have maintained our emphasis on student success, knowing that

factors outside academics often play a large role. So in the spring we provided a variety of avenues for student workers to continue to earn income. In addition, we are beginning the fall semester with a mix of online, in-person and hybrid classes because we know some students face challenges with access to the internet and other technology.

The success of our fall return hinges on a shared sense of responsibility among the members of our Monarch community. We all must follow guidelines for wearing masks and social distancing. That's why Old Dominion launched the #reignresponsibly initiative. We have asked students to sign a Reign Responsibly pledge and provide daily online symptom checks. ODU has also created videos, sent emails and used social media to prepare them for what to expect when the semester begins.

In turn, we are providing on-campus students with a welcome kit including an ODU-branded face mask and hand sanitizer; we will also have face masks available at several spots across campus. We will be screening all on-campus students as they move in and will randomly test them throughout the semester.

And while we take significant precautions on campus, we are also focusing outward to provide community service, especially needed during the pandemic. Engineering faculty and students have teamed to produce hundreds of masks and other personal protective equipment. Members of our College of Health Sciences have staffed hospitals and promoted telehealth solutions across the globe. Darden College of Education faculty and students have helped public schools transition to online education, and the Strome College of Business is offering free assistance to businesses facing challenges.

I encourage you to visit www.odu.edu/blueprint to find out more details about the fall semester. Despite the challenges, we intend to make it a rich and meaningful experience for our students.

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