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University leadership details return to campus this fall during virtual town hall

Student Town Hall on April 8

Nearly 900 parents and students joined a virtual town hall on April 8 to hear from DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban about university operations and plans for a return to campus this fall. Following the presentation, members of the president's cabinet and senior leadership joined a question and answer session.

​A recording of the event will be shared in Newsline when it becomes available. The following summary captures key topics addressed throughout the event.

On campus this fall

Dr. Esteban began the town hall by acknowledging how much he and his wife, Jo, miss seeing students, faculty and staff on campus, and looking ahead to fall 2021.

“I know you are tired of hearing how you have persevered and overcome obstacles, but we can't ignore living through a global pandemic is a defining experience," he said. “You're different because of it. You're more flexible and stronger. We are proud of you and can't wait to welcome you back home to DePaul."

Dr. Esteban and other panelists noted the university's intentions of having a full complement of on-campus courses for the fall, as well as DePaul's traditional wide variety of on-campus activities.​​​

“If you want to live in a dorm, we're planning for residence halls to be open. If you want to go to a concert at the School of Music or see a play at The Theatre School, you'll be able to do that," he said. “You can even grab pizza with your friends at the STU. We're planning for you to have the full campus experience I know so many of you have missed."

Eugene Zdziarski, vice president for Student Affairs, reiterated the point students will have an array of on-campus options in the fall.

“We have already begun to host a number of events on campus this spring," he said. “We've also planned an expanded, two-week Welcome Week so more students can participate. Along with increased engagement opportunities, all student support services, such as our identity-specific resource centers, will be open for in-person gatherings."

The first portion of Welcome Week, which kicks off Aug. 30, will host a number of events specific to rising sophomores and other students who are new to campus who may have missed the full campus experience during their first year at DePaul.

“We also have developed a rising sophomore and new-to-campus student page in DeHub," said Courtney James, director of student involvement. “We realized early on the need for special attention to these students to make sure they got the orientation and resources they need to be successful at DePaul."

COVID-19 vaccine

As most faculty, staff and students prepare to return to campus this fall, leadership touched on the topic of COVID-19 vaccines.

“The university is weighing a multitude of considerations; it's a complex issue," Zdziarski said in response to a question of making the vaccine mandatory. “We've done an assessment of faculty and staff, and 92 percent stated they have already or plan to get the vaccine. We currently are surveying students and so far, we see a strong interest from them in getting the vaccine. We strongly encourage everyone to get the vaccine when it is their turn."

Zdziarski noted the city of Chicago controls the allocation of vaccine doses, and currently is not allocating doses to DePaul. However, the university is advocating to host a vaccine clinic on campus before the summer break, and is planning for a sufficient vaccine supply to be available for a clinic on campus this fall.

Housing and dining

Rick Moreci, the director of housing services, provided an overview of what students can expect for fall 2021.

“We plan to return to pre-pandemic levels of occupancy, both in Lincoln Park and the Loop," he said. “We may set aside a limited number of rooms for potential quarantine cases, but we are planning for as many students as we can to live together as roommates and suitemates. We also are not raising housing rates for next academic year."

Moreci noted rising sophomores and other upperclass students will go through the same process of room selection, set to begin mid-May. These students will have the opportunity to utilize the university's apartment-style housing options both in Lincoln Park and University Center. As in years past, move-in will be the weekend of Labor Day – Sept. 4 and 5 this year -- though Moreci expects it may span some of the weekdays preceding Labor Day to allow for social distancing if necessary.​

While the university is planning to accommodate as many students as possible in the residence halls, health and safety measures remain a top priority.

“The pandemic is not over, but we have learned so much in the last year," Moreci said. “We navigated a small population living on campus, which has given us insight to what we must do to keep students safe. Everything we've become so familiar with – mask wearing, social distancing, sanitization – are practices we will continue to do."

Bob Janis, vice president for Facility Operations, noted each residence hall room has its own air unit.

“These units do not mix air with other rooms or spaces in the building," he said. “Additionally, all units have had filter upgrades and common spaces have been upgraded to hospital-level filtration. We worked with licensed professional engineers on adjustments to the operation of our ventilation systems, increasing air flow, introducing a higher volume of fresh air into the systems and installing a higher grade of filters."

The university also plans to bring back a full complement of dining options, including meal plans and on-campus locations.

“We now have kiosks for ordering food in the Lincoln Park Student Center, for both eat-in or to-go orders," Moreci said. “We tested mobile ordering this year, and plan to implement that in the fall, too."

Academic opportunities

Beyond on-campus engagement opportunities, the university currently projects offering 75 percent of courses in-person this fall, with classes remaining at pre-pandemic sizes.

“We will continue to monitor the pandemic and follow guidelines set by the CDC and Chicago Department of Public Health, but our intention is to offer the majority of classes face-to-face," said GianMario Besana, associate provost for global engagement and online learning.

Prior to the pandemic, DePaul offered 85 percent of its courses in-person, and 15 percent online.

“We have learned a lot throughout the last year," said Caryn Chaden, associate provost for student success and accreditation. “Our colleges are now offering some degrees fully online because it's what students want."

In addition to fully in-person or online options, students will have the opportunity to choose courses from a new “flex" category.

“These courses will be taught on campus but held in Zoom-enabled classrooms to provide the option of being on-campus or remote," Besana said. “This gives students flexibility according to their needs for that day or week."

While university leadership expects students to be able to find whatever class modality works for them, Chaden encourages students to register early.

“As in any quarter, registering early means students have a better chance of getting the class, and modality, they want," she said. “As always, some courses fill up faster than others. Do not wait until the last minute."

Key dates: April 29: Fall 2021 registration begins; Aug. 30: Expanded Welcome Week begins; Sept. 4 and 5: Move In Weekend

Registration for the fall quarter is set to begin April 29. Students should refer to Campus Connect for their specific registration date and time.

As many students look ahead to returning to campus this fall, Dr. Esteban provided advice for Blue Demons completing their academic careers this spring and summer.

“Take advantage of our alumni network and Career Center," he said. “There are many virtual opportunities right now, but I expect in the next 12-18 months as our economy rebounds, there will be many new opportunities. Keep your mind open to different career opportunities."​

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