NOVA is Back and Thriving
Learned Lessons from Our Virtual Experience
By: Robert Hull
After transitioning into telework for employees and remote instruction for students in March 2020 because of the pandemic, NOVA will be back to full on-campus operations for the Fall 2021 Semester, starting on August 23.
NOVA will come back better than ever before because we have learned some lessons from our virtual experience that will improve the services and instruction we offer.
We established safety protocols that will continue into the foreseeable future, including handwashing signage, hygiene stations in classrooms and hallways, providing free face coverings and alcohol wipes, improving indoor air quality, and maintaining enhanced cleaning services.
Social distancing and capacity restrictions have been lifted in Virginia and NOVA will not impose additional social distancing requirements for students or employees. But, in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), NOVA recommends face coverings for all non-vaccinated employees and students.
Vaccinated students and employees can continue to wear face covering if they choose to do so and they will be available to students and employees who do not have them at each campus NOVA Parking and NOVACard Office.
It was on January 1, 2020, when Dr. Anne Kress took office as NOVA’s new president and was almost immediately faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Spring 2020 Semester started on January 13 and Spring Break began on March 9, with students due back to campuses on March 15.
Worried about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our students and employees, Dr. Kress issued an order on March 11 telling students not to return to campus after the break, cancelled March 16 and 17 classes, and moved classes to remote instruction om March 18.
On March 12, Governor Northam declared a State of Emergency to combat the pandemic, which prompted Dr. Kress to order employees on March 13 to begin teleworking. To track guidance from state and federal authorities, the Return to NOVA Advisory Group, led by our Office of Emergency Management, was created and we have followed their advice throughout this period.
We provided instruction online either through asynchronous classes offered by NOVA Online that could be viewed at any time or synchronous classes offered via Zoom at set times with a live instructor like it was live in the classroom.
All campus resources were shared college-wide and we became more of a “One NOVA” than in the past, including creating a 24-hour online student services operation to provide the increased help our students needed. We also created virtual wellness and mental health offerings to help students and employees experiencing mental health issues because of the pandemic and remote instruction.
To provide broadband for students who did not have access to it, NOVA campuses enhanced their wireless networks to allow students to access the Internet from our parking lots. When we learned that some of our students did not have computers at home, we created a loan program using our surplus laptops.
Because many of our students or their family members lost their jobs and were put into financial stress when the pandemic hit, the NOVA Foundation, the non-profit organization that raises private funds to support NOVA, immediately created a student emergency fund to help students with grants of up to $500 for emergencies related to the pandemic.
When the CARES Act passed Congress on March 27, 2020, it included provisions for higher education that allowed us to provide even larger emergency grants. Each of the stimulus bills passed since then have also included this funding and NOVA continues to provide these grants to students.
Campus activities and events shifted to virtual events. To continue to provide Student Life activities, the Virtual Student Union was created to provide activities similar to what students would experience on campus, such as movies, disc jockeys, and exercise classes.
Starting in the Fall 2020 Semester, we continued virtual instruction, but courses that required the use of NOVA facilities for hands-on instruction, such as lab courses for nursing and allied health professions, automotive technology, and HVAC classes, returned to campuses along with a limited number of courses in a hybrid format, part campus and part online.
We created a summer program in 2020 called JumpStart using CARES Act funds for graduating high school seniors to take two free college courses at NOVA and we have been able to use new federal stimulus funds to offer it again this summer.
In October 2020, Governor Northam announced creation of the Re-Employing Virginians or REV initiative by allocating $27 million in CARES Act funds to Virginia community colleges, including NOVA, to help Virginians who lost full-time jobs due to the pandemic and either started receiving unemployment benefits or took part-time jobs.
REV provides $3,000 for short-term training or certification programs in health care, information technology, skilled trades, public safety, and early childhood education and the program has been extended through December 14, 2021.
This year, the General Assembly approved legislation creating the “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back” or G3 program at Virginia community colleges and Governor Northam signed the bill at NOVA’s Alexandria Campus in March. The program pays the full cost of tuition, fees, and books to low- and middle-income students who pursue degree programs in high-demand fields.
We had to cancel our live May 2020 commencement exercises due to the pandemic, but we held a virtual 2021 commencement over three days on May 5, May, 6, and May 7 that included graduates from May 2020, December 2020, and May 2021. It was a big success with the name of every student who earned a certificate or degree announced and their photograph displayed.
With the lessons we have learned providing virtual courses and offering virtual student services, NOVA will be back better than ever for the Fall 2021 Semester. It starts on August 23 and registration is open now. For information about registration or anything involving NOVA, including the REV and G3 programs, go to our website at nvcc.edu.
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