The lifeblood of the University of West Florida began to move once again Tuesday as students returned to campus to start moving into their dorm rooms.
Instead of having a single move-in day, UWF administrators this year opted for a move-in week, a safer option as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country.
“Typically, it’s a one-day, come-one, come-all, free for all,” said Neal McMillion, executive director of UWF Housing and Residence Life. “This year, we’ve really limited the numbers — cut the numbers per day down to social distance.”
Approximately 70 students are allotted to move into their dorm rooms per hour. But before those students are even allowed to step out of their vehicles and onto campus, they must go through a drive-thru, check-in process.
“What we are having everyone do is having them go through a centralized drive-thru, check-in,” McMillion said. “Typically, what we would do is have everybody come to the buildings to do check-ins.”
This year, vehicles filled with students lined up, each one rolling down their windows and slowly driving past rows of university staff and volunteers who provided the new arrivals with their first-day gear.
“As you can see, they just drive up and check-in, and we hand them their key and their personal bag of (personal protective equipment),” McMillion said, pointing to a large pile of masks and bottles of hand sanitizer that will be given out all week to students.
At the end of move-in week, the university’s 2020 convocation will be broadcast, as opposed to the tradition of taking place before an in-person audience.
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That’s only the beginning of the changes in store for the fall. All classes will move to online instruction after Thanksgiving break, and faculty are already preparing for remote learning.
“We are very hopeful that by midterm, we’ll have a different environment and we can relax a little more,” UWF President Martha Saunders told the News Journal. “If not, we are ready for whatever.”
UWF faculty and department chairs are also developing contingency plans for their classes if conditions change during the semester and instruction needs to shift online.
For the first part of the semester, approximately 70% of the university’s courses will be taught online, with only around 17% of classes scheduled for full-time classroom instruction, according to UWF spokesman Tom St. Myer. About 9% of the university’s courses will be taught through hybrid classes, combining both in-person and distance learning.
Hybrid classes will include courses such as chemistry that require one out of every three class sessions to be lab-based.
“The faculty have put a lot of thought into making sure the delivery (of classes) is effective,” Saunders said. “I mean, if nobody is learning anything, what’s the point?”
While face masks may have concealed students’ smiles Tuesday, many expressed positive outlooks and nervous excitement about the upcoming school year as they lugged items up stairs and into elevators.
“I was excited that they are letting us return,” said Lindsey Casey, 19, a sophomore from Pensacola who moved into Pace Hall. “I had such a great time last year that I was worried that they wouldn’t. But I think with all the protocols they have in place, it’s going to be fine.”
Casey said she finds comfort knowing she and her peers will be required to wear makes inside and practice social distancing and to avoid congregating in groups of more than 10 people in community areas.
Macy Morris, 18, a freshman from Destin, sat outside of Presidents Hall on Tuesday and explained her decision to move into a dorm, despite COVID-19.
“I felt that it would be better for me because I really just want the full experience,” she said. “All of my classes are online, but I still want to be here. … Now, that I’m in an enclosed space with a lot more people, I am wearing my mask a lot more.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m concerned. But now that I’m here, I would say that I am a lot more aware of what I am doing in terms of COVID.”
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8680.