WESTERVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — Katie Shrum is entering her senior year at Otterbein University, and more than anything, wants to wrap up her college career going to classes on campus.
“It’s really important to me,” she said. “I feel badly for the seniors that didn’t get that experience so I’m hoping that as an Otterbein community, as a country, we can prevent that from happening next year.”
That is Otterbein’s hope as well.
On Monday, the school sent out a message from President John Comerford letting students know the university is already thinking ahead to the fall.
“Otterbein University is announcing today that we intend to resume in-person classes in the fall,” Comerford wrote. “Of course, there is much we cannot control, but we believe that in-person classes, athletics and other co-curricular activities, and our campus community are central to what makes an Otterbein education so special.”
“I was really excited!” said Shrum. “I know a lot of universities have talked about staying online in the fall and that was one of my biggest fears. I want to come back so bad and be with my friends and have as normal of a learning environment as possible. So I was really excited to see that and I think they’re handling it very well. They’re trying to keep us all safe.”
After making the announcement, Comerford said one of the biggest concerns is for the incoming freshmen starting their college careers in an off-campus setting.
“Especially for a new student, to start their college experience online is not usually what they’re looking for and so this is where we intend to be in person for them,” he said. “So we are getting a lot of questions – they’re mostly worried about will we have in-person classes at all, because if you’re coming to a place like Otterbein, you want resident halls, fraternities, sororities and athletics. You want the whole experience, so that’s what they’re interested in knowing: if it’s going to be available. And it will be, probably, in some modified form. In all likelihood, we’ll have to do some things differently, but we expect to be able to do the in-person experience and that’s what we want to assure people now.”
One of the differences Comerford and other university officials have discussed is what on-campus housing may look like if COVID-19 is still any kind of a factor.
“That’s one of the areas we’ll be looking to the state and the CDC and others for guidance about residence hall living and whether we need to de-densify somewhat and what exactly that would look like,” Comerford said. “We are doing some contingency planning of how to make even more housing available, ask local students to commute, but we’re not near those decisions yet. We’re just thinking about the options.”
Those contingency plans also include class structure and the rest of campus life.
“We have plans for additional cleaning, to segregate ill students, faculty, and staff, to offer some courses still online or hybrid for folks in high-risk categories, so we have all these plans in place, but we also know we have the next three months to get more guidance and more specificity,” Comerford explained.
Shrum feels relieved to know that the school is already looking ahead to try to make her final year have that college community experience, which is why she decided as a freshman to come to Otterbein.
“One of the hardest things about being away is that I have so many connections with people here, whether that’s students, faculty, and my professors. Being away from them just hasn’t felt the same,” she said. “Going into my senior year, I want to make more of those connections with new classmates I meet and the new professors I have. So back in person will just strengthen those connections and just feel like being home again.”
Otterbein moved to online instruction March 10 after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine requested colleges and universities in the state do so in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.