The NC State Memorial Belltower on Wednesday, March 26, 2020 on NC State University's main campus.

On Thursday, May 21, NC State announced its calendar changes for the Fall 2020 semester. The university will begin class nine days early on August 10, forgo fall break and finish the semester, including in-person finals, before Thanksgiving break to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on campus, according to Chancellor Randy Woodson.

“NC State is a global university; we have students from all over the world, and we have students from all over the country,” Woodson said. “The epidemiologists had made it clear to us that one of the best things that we could do to ensure the health and safety of our students and of our community was to limit the amount of time that they may leave campus and go literally around the world and come back.” 

Woodson said NC State worked closely with UNC-Chapel Hill to reach this decision because of their vast knowledge in the field of public health and the universities’ joint biomedical engineering department. 

“UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State really began to think collectively about ways that we could help our students be successful in the classroom, but also ensure safety,” Woodson said. “We essentially landed on the idea of an earlier start and an earlier end. The only way to do that safely and effectively was to limit breaks, like fall break.”

Finals are scheduled to take place in-person before Thanksgiving break. Many decisions regarding finals have yet to be made since they are driven by individual colleges, schools and departments. However, NC State will keep finals as close to normal as possible following the new calendar, according to Woodson. 

Changes to campus

Some of the changes students can expect to see in the classroom include smaller class sizes, cleaner spaces and increased sanitation, according to Woodson. Many decisions and specific details regarding implementing the social distancing strategy will not be finalized until mid-June. 

Classrooms will be equipped with hand and surface sanitizers for student use before using a work space. Additionally, larger lecture halls are anticipated to be used for smaller classes to allow students adequate space to spread out, according to Woodson. 

Woodson also said the Nonwovens Institute in the College of Textiles has partnered with private providers to supply materials to create hundreds of thousands of face masks everyday—one of the great things about being a university with a great textiles program.

“We also know that a lot of students will want to ‘accessorize,’ as they say, and express their own personality with their own facemask, but we’re definitely going to provide those coverings,” Woodson said. “We’re going to do everything that we can that people will wear facemasks in their private space or when they're socially distancing. We’re hoping that our community values everyone’s safety and health and agrees to wear face coverings when they’re out in public.” 

In addition to providing masks, NC State is already taking action on campus to inform students, faculty and staff about how to stay healthy, according to Student Body President Melanie Flowers. 

“NC State is doing a really good job of setting the expectation that students will take the virus seriously and that we all adhere to cautious behaviors when we are around big groups, and I think that will strongly impact how students will operate day to day,” Flowers said.

According to Flowers, there is “Protect the Pack” signage in Talley Student Union, which was opened during North Carolina’s Phase I of reopening. The displays are used to inform students on how to protect themselves and others, Flowers said.  

Woodson also said that resources, like online classes and other special accommodations, will be available for any students, faculty or staff who are immunocompromised or have underlying health conditions. The university plans to adhere to faculty needs and reassign classes as necessary for staff who feel vulnerable to infection. Students will have to make individual decisions for returning to campus and the university will do everything to meet their needs, according to Woodson. 

Off-Campus Housing

Most off-campus housing complexes have been adaptable to the calendar changes the university has made since most leases begin mid-August, Woodson said. 

NC State has limited control over off-campus housing, but they have been talking with the complexes as they made changes to the fall calendar, according to Woodson. He said that several student housing complexes have said they aim to be fully flexible with students to provide an option for an early move-in.

“It's important for them too; It’s part of their economy, and they want desperately for our students to be able to come back to campus,” Woodson said. “They understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. We’ve been very impressed with the willingness of the local owners of the student residence complexes to change the terms of the lease and allow for an earlier move in.”

Campus Events

Woodson said large events like New Student Convocation and Packapalooza may look different this year. 

“Every time I'm reminded of those kinds of things I feel so sad,” Woodson said. “I’m saddened for all of us. I believe that the interactive experiences that students have on a campus like NC State are so critical to their success. But I have to constantly remind myself that we are in a global pandemic and we are going to have to think about doing things differently until we have confidence that our community is safe.” 

According to Woodson, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor in the Division of Academic Student Affairs Lisa Zapata will lead the Student Activities task force and find new ways to engage students in meaningful ways that also acclimate them to campus, including transfer students and the incoming class of 2024. Woodson has named 10 task forces to prepare NC State in different areas for a successful adjustment to changes this fall.

The 10 task force areas of focus and their respective leaders include: 

  1. Academic Calendar (Louis Hunt)

  2. Campus Facilities and Grounds (Doug Morton)

  3. Student Activities (Lisa Zapata)

  4. Organized Research (Mladen Vouk)

  5. Extension (Rich Bonanno)

  6. Partnerships, Engagements and Economic Development (Kevin Howell and Leslie Boney)

  7. Development and Alumni Engagement (Brian Sischo)

  8. Athletics (Boo Corrigan)

  9. Campus Enterprises and Dining (Rich Berlin)

  10. University Housing (Donna McGalliard)

A Learning Experience

Woodson said the 2020 spring semester has been a learning experience for everyone. The university has learned new ways to support students, especially regarding mental health. 

“We’ve learned a lot about ways that we can provide support, mental health counseling and just general support to our students in a very effective way, remotely,” Woodson said. “And it turns out that a fair number of our students have expressed a preference for remote counseling because maybe their apprehension about accessing counseling services when they have to walk into the building to do so. So a positive outcome of this is that we’ve had more students access mental health counseling that might not otherwise have accessed it if they had to walk in and see a counselor."

Woodson said that the goal and what the university is planning for is a normal semester in spring 2021 and all the work the university is doing is designed to limit the impact of a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

“We’ve already shown an ability to be agile and our students have shown an ability to be agile, at least with what we had to do this spring,” Woodson said. “Our hope is that we are able to limit, at least locally and on our campus, a second wave by those steps that we are taking. We want to have a normal spring semester and everything that we’re planning on is a normal spring semester, but if we have to adjust the schedule for the spring or if we have to adjust the way we teach our students, we will do everything we can to keep our students moving forward educationally” 

Read Chancellor Woodson’s letter to NC State students, faculty and staff here. If students have any questions or concerns for Student Government, they can fill out their Fall 2020 Schedule Feedback Form

This is an evolving story. Check back for more information.