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Southern Union gearing up for fall
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Southern Union gearing up for fall

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Todd Shackett thinks Southern Union’s faculty and staff will be able to adapt and improve on the fly this fall, just as they did over the spring and summer.

“We will be flexible. If things change, we will change,” said Shackett, who took over the college as president in 2018. “I’m very confident we will be able to manage the safety of students and faculty.”

Southern Union State Community College will open its Opelika and other campuses on Aug. 17, but much of the instruction will be online, as it has been since the COVID-19 outbreak in March.

Enrollment was down 10 percent over the summer, and is at 65 percent for the fall, as compared to last year. However, Shackett is cautiously optimistic that students will come back later this month at close to normal numbers.

“I do think there is some hesitation on some people’s part. … We have a lot of first-generation students who are not as comfortable with online learning,” Shackett said. “They prefer that face-to-face instruction.”

Expect the unexpected

Much of the in-person instruction will be done in the college’s labs and other training facilities.

Southern Union trains many students to do specific jobs. Several manufacturers contract with the college to coach new hires to work on the five-axis and other big, programmable units they will find at their new jobs.

Students in the advanced manufacturing program were denied access to the up-to-date machine shop between mid-March and late May, due to coronavirus restrictions.

They resumed in-person training in June, with much smaller groups to maximize social distancing. That led to an unexpected observation by instructor Alvin McCormick.

“If anything, students did better,” said McCormick. “Each one got their own machine and had more time to work on their assignments.”

McCormick was also more help to the students because there weren’t as many to manage at one time, allowing more individualized instruction.

“There were some interesting differences by area of instruction,” said Shackett. “We had some instances where outcomes were more effective … I think we’re going to learn some valuable things from all this.”

Safety expectations

Southern Union has instituted several rules for students and employees to follow in the fall term to combat the spread of coronavirus, including:

• Students are required to sign a waiver at the beginning of the semester before attending classes, and they are expected to self-screen.

• Face coverings are recommended. Specific departments or instructors may require face coverings and these areas will be posted. Students should carry masks with them.

• Students must complete the COVID-19 Active Screening Questionnaire provided by the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) for use on laptops and cell phones before entering a building.

• Students will get disposable wristbands to show they have complied with the above rules.

• All faculty, staff, and students are expected to practice appropriate physical distancing while on campus and wash hands frequently.

• Students with COVID-19 or who are in self-quarantine at the direction of a health care professional should not attend class. Students are asked to provide confirmation of diagnosis. Reporting protocol set forth by ACCS will be followed.

• Classes will be offered in person, online, hybrid and via virtual (synchronous) delivery formats; however, most will be online. The majority of courses will be offered in either an online or virtual format.

• Any new order by Gov. Kay Ivey that exceeds the guidelines listed above will take the place of said guidelines.

Students, enrolled or prospective, should visit www.suscc.edu for more information.

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