An atypical semester begins

An atypical semester begins
flowers in front of a college building
An unprecedented semester begins at CFAES.

The campus experience has an atypical look and feel as autumn semester begins this week at The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Faculty and staff have been preparing for the return of students and the resumption of classes, both virtual and physical, with new procedures in place to safeguard against COVID-19.

Krista Scott

“Things look different, but we’re still here for them,” said Krista Scott, CFAES director of undergraduate recruitment and student engagement.

Enrollment figures will not be available until after the 15th day of the semester, but the majority of courses are being taught online.

As of last week, nearly two-thirds of CFAES’ sections offered on the Columbus campus during fall semester are in courses that are fully or partially distance learning. About one-third of college sections involve in-person instruction, including a few designated as hybrids, according to estimates from the college’s Office of Academic Affairs.

These estimates include undergraduate and graduate sections as well as those for one-to-one courses such as internships, independent study, and research. Many distance and in-person course offerings have multiple sections, such as lectures or labs, in which students enroll.

The number of sections available in a distance format is likely to change over the next first few weeks as students revise their schedules and faculty amend course offerings to support student learning.

Josh Strine

The in-person sections are limited to 50 students.

Like the rest of the university, CFAES’ Columbus classrooms, as well as those at the college’s Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster, have been reconfigured for physical distancing. Face masks are required on campus, and students, faculty, and staff are being provided with return-to-campus PPE kits to support healthy behaviors. University-wide, faculty have received training on how to handle students who are not following protocols.

Faculty, staff, and students were required to sign a pledge called “Together as Buckeyes,” promising to stay safe and not to engage in behavior that will jeopardize themselves or others.

As for prospective CFAES students, processes have been changed to allow for engaging with the college from a distance, Scott said.

“The biggest thing is that for a person college bound and their family, a high school senior, or community college student looking to transfer, that is still an option,” she said.

Cameron White

Also among those doing their jobs differently are the CFAES peer mentors, who ordinarily meet with freshmen and transfers in weekly recitations, or meet one-on-one for coffee to help them get acclimated to the college experience, or organize fun activities to help break the ice. Instead, the peer mentors are mostly scheduling Zoom sessions with their assigned students, who were given a choice to meet virtually or physically.

It will be even more important to connect with students this fall, which is the critical time for newcomers, said peer mentor Cameron White, a senior majoring in animal sciences.

White has fewer students than in previous years, and she has noticed that she is struggling to get them to talk  to her on Zoom meetings.

“It is so much easier in person,” said White, who tries to meet with her students in person when possible.

Coming up with opportunities to make connections will be more difficult, said Josh Strine, a peer mentor and senior double majoring in animal sciences and agricultural business and applied economics.

Mary Logue

“When the incoming students don’t have the experience they normally have, it will be more critical for us to make their transition and experience as normal as possible,” Strine said.

In mid-August, Strine introduced himself to his assigned students through an email.

“I remember getting reached out to by a senior peer mentor. It can be a bit intimidating, someone who is older and experienced talking to you,” he said. “The stronger connection you can form, the better peer relationship you can form.”

Not every college has a peer mentoring program, which makes CFAES special, said Mary Logue, a senior animal sciences major who is also a peer mentor.

“CFAES is like a community to itself. We are a family. We are a support system, but we are still peers,” she said.

Story by Matt Marx, video and photo by John Rice, CFAES Advancement.