Words by: Josh Maxwell
Photo courtesy of: Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Facebook
With schools opening back up, it is important to understand that Covid-19 is still a global problem that everyone is continuing to grapple with. Social distancing practices are still just as imperative as they were eight months ago. College campuses across the nation are continuing to open and with this being the first face-to-face semester since Covid-19 started, it is important to understand exactly just how far Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) has gone to ensure its students safety.
TAMU-CC University Health Center Director Zelda Y. Chacon, MSN, FNP-BC and University President and CEO Kelly M. Miller, Ph.D. were more than happy to share their viewpoints on how the school is progressing with face-to-face learning in unpredictable times.
“Most college students are extremely social and that is part of the college experience, and so to ask them to refrain from social events that they look forward to is very much a sacrifice for them,” University Health Center Director Zelda Y. Chacon, MSN, FNP-BC said when discussing how students might have a hard time adjusting to the new safety procedures on campus. Chacon highlights how nerve-wracking college already is without factoring in the stress of a global pandemic.
“Many college students already suffer from anxiety, and then you add a pandemic on top of that, it really escalates the level of anxiety they can experience,” Chacon said when describing how stressful this semester has become for students.
This stress is very apparent for Communication Major Teresa Flores. Flores is not only a student, but a mother of three who has to manage studying full-time and homeschooling her children.
“Countless hours are being spent homeschooling my kids every evening where we used to have family time. The change has created anxiety and stress in my once happy children,” Flores said when explaining how the pandemic has affected her life.
Even with the high amount of unpredictability that the campus is facing, testing has become a very viable option for students this semester.
“Luckily the Texas A&M University system was able to build a contract with Curative [which] is a laboratory Covid-19 testing facility out of California,” she said. “They agreed to purchase an agreed upon number of tests for all twelve system schools, and they have allotted TAMU-CC 1,150 tests per month.”
The contract has aided the campus in testing both students and faculty on a regular basis. This has resulted in the university being able to diagnose more patients and mitigate the spread of the virus.
“So far this [semester], we’ve tested approximately 972 students, staff, and faculty and we’ve had 17 positive cases as of today,” Chacon said. In fact, the large amount of tests available have resulted in an impressive positivity rate for the university. “We have about a 1.7 positivity rate, which is excellent compared to other universities.”
While the health center is doing everything they can to aid students in this time, the administration is also figuring out ways to help and bring some type of calmness to campus and student’s lives.
Due to the high number of current and incoming students President and CEO Kelly M. Miller, Ph.D. knew that a blend of online and face-to-face instruction needed to happen to better protect students.
“If you’re doing clinicals or many of the upper division science labs, you need to be in person. So, we have to put all those protocols in place,” Miller said when discussing the importance of a blended learning style. “We had [to think about the] faculty teaching classes that were going to [need] to be face-to-face, as well as students who might have health issues.” Miller went on to say, “I was so proud of the faculty, because every single time they stepped up to help those students.”
Even with safety being a top priority, there’s still a sense of loss and sacrifice that students face when tackling this difficult semester.
“We know a lot of student’s parents lost their job and they can’t get the help they once got, or students who had jobs that got shut down because of Covid. They might have been earning a little bit of extra money, but that means a lot when you have to eat,” Miller said when referring to how students had to endure financial hardship these past few semesters.
This past spring semester, students had the option to pass/fail their classes without the fear of hurting their GPA. Students had been petitioning to have that same option when this semester started due to the difficulty online learning can present for some students. However in some instances pass/fail might not work in the student’s favor.
“Well it’s not as easy as that, because in certain cases you can’t do pass/fail,” Miller said when discussing the complex nature of the pass/fail process. “Certain accrediting bodies don’t allow pass/fail, or if the student wanted to go to graduate school or was on academic probation it could hurt the student.”
Despite everything, Miller still makes it her top priority to try and give students the opportunity they worked so hard to achieve.
“One commitment I have made is that when we get to the end of this, any student who has graduated during this time period who wants to come for a face-to-face graduation can. I don’t care if I have to have ten graduation ceremonies one week at some point,” Miller said when speaking on her determination to provide students with an opportunity to potentially walk the stage in the future.
Students from the spring and summer semesters were not able to physically walk the stage due to the pandemic.
“I just think it’s such an important rite of passage to have your family drive up and see you walk across the stage. Students have worked too hard for this experience to let that be their only option,” Miller said.
Even with the low positivity rates and strong protocols in place, Covid-19 is still playing a strong role in society and how we interact with others. Students are still being advised to wear protective face coverings and practice social distancing.
“I think it’s important for us as a research institution and as a university to take those matters seriously all the time, and do everything we can to help improve this situation for our community,” Miller said when discussing what students and faculty can do to help mitigate the spread of the virus.
Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi has enacted many changes for the protection of their students and faculty alike. These changes have helped mitigate the spread of the virus and showed just how tough Islanders can be when they come together.