Elise Gregg / Staff Writer
From COVID-19 to classes, spring 2021 at FIU has left students with a lot of questions on what to expect from the new semester, and what they need to do to be prepared.
On Monday, January 25th, FIU hosted a Student Town Hall to inform students of current information for the spring semester, as well as answer students’ questions about the upcoming semesters.
One of the topics discussed was graduation: President Mark Rosenberg said that for this semester, FIU is planning on hosting in-person commencement ceremonies.
“I’m already preparing for what we hope will be a real set of graduations, this spring,” Rosenberg said. “There’s nothing more special than an in-person graduation…we’re considering all options…so our graduates and their families have the safest and the most enjoyable commencement experience.”
While Rosenberg mentioned everything is still in a planning phase, and is subject to change, he announced the commencement team has a few proposals for this semester’s ceremonies.
These include having a commencement caravan for each college, an outdoor ceremony, photo opportunities with Rosenberg and Roary, and what Rosenberg called a “condensed version of the traditional ceremony”, where graduates will participate in a limited program before crossing the stage.
While there are several components FIU is still organizing, such as ticket sales and how many guests students can bring, Rosenberg also said that this semester’s graduation option will also be available to all 2020 graduates.
“There will be the usual array of careful measures that have been articulated by the CDC and our FIU health in order to keep you safe, but we are looking forward to the graduation,” Rosenberg said.
The panelists also addressed things students should be aware of for the spring semester regarding COVID-19, as well as updates for future semesters.
Chief Executive Officer of the FIU Health Care Network, Eneida Roldan, spoke about the importance of maintaining current health practices, as well as staying up-to-date with new procedures.
“As you know your healthcare team has been working hard. It’s been almost a year since we have been faced with this unprecedented time and this pandemic, COVID-19,” Roldan said. “However, there’s always a good ending to the story. We have come now full-circle: we have educated on prevention. We have ways of screening, we have ways of diagnostic, therapeutics and immunity.”
Roldan encouraged students to continue wearing masks, physical distancing, monitoring health, and using the P3 app.
She also discussed what the new semester will look like in terms of the pandemic, and resources available to FIU students, faculty and staff.
These include the P3 app, testing through on-campus clinics (as well as other community testing sites), and surveillance to supervise on-campus health.
“Test and test frequently,” Roldan said. “Months and months ago, this was a challenge: not anymore.”
FIU has also received 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, and while not available to all members of the FIU community, Roldan said that students should vaccinate as soon as possible.
“Very soon this is going to open up, we know that point of distributions will include something as simple as crossing across the street, a CVS or Walgreens, where you’re going to be able to get vaccinated. So we encourage you that as soon as the vaccine is available for your particular group, please vaccinate,” said Roldan.
The panel also addressed what future semesters may look like during the Q&A portion of the meeting.
Provost Kenneth Furton addressed one question asking whether FIU would remain partially virtual or remote indefinitely, and whether there will be a time where masks and physical distancing will no longer be required on campus.
“We don’t know the exact answers to it but based on the latest information that we have from the leading epidemiologist his expectation is by…fall, as more and more people are vaccinated,” Furton said.
Furton also said that FIU may be able to ease out of physical distancing as early as fall 2021, although face masks may still be required due to uncertainty of whether the virus can be transmitted through vaccinated individuals.
“And of course we’re Florida International University; many countries will still be working on increasing the percentages of their citizens that are [receiving] the vaccine so I think you’ll see a gradual return to normalcy this summer,” said Furton.
Furton added FIU will most likely continue with many online courses in the future in an attempt to accommodate all students.
Along with general COVID-19 updates, the panel talked about on-campus living and what students need to know for spring, summer, and fall of 2021.
Andrew Naylor, Senior Director of Housing and Residential Life, discussed how residential life has been holding up under the pandemic.
“COVID cases…have remained low in housing. And so we’ve proven that these precautions that students take work, and they’re helping us have a great semester,” Naylor said.
Naylor also said that spring applications for student housing are still open, and that students can also begin applying for summer and fall housing.
“I understand that some students may be cautious about what their next step is going to be,” Naylor said, “so I want you to know that any student that applies now [for summer and fall] has the opportunity to cancel their housing by April first should things…change.”
Applications are open for both campuses, and based on the dates students move in, any new housing would be prorated, lowering the cost of coming in.
The town hall also included discussion on various events happening on campus. President of the MMC’s Student Government Council Alexandra Valdes listed several events happening in-person and virtually, as well as athletic events happening in January and February.
Notably, all 16 sports offered at FIU are competing this spring except for football. However, in January and February, students can come watch women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, and the baseball home opener.
Students can also enjoy FIU’s Wellness and Recreation Centers for both MMC and BBC online and in-person.
Sanyo Mathew, assistant vice president of academic and student affairs, said that group fitness, personal training, sports programs, and several other programs are being offered in-person, and that FIU will also keep virtual resources available for students who aren’t ready for in-person options.
Mathew also said that many of FIU’s dining and retail centers were open, and suggested students go to shop.fiu.edu for more information. Likewise, Mathew mentioned students are welcome to study at FIU and host events, and that they should reserve spaces to do so at reserve.fiu.edu.
“We’re also ready to welcome you back, the energy on campus has been amazing, and we welcome the rest of the Panthers to come on out,” Mathew said.
Charles Andrews, assistant vice president of academic and student affairs, also reminded students of things they can do right now to get ready for the spring semester.
One thing Andrews recommended is utilizing the Panther Success Network, and staying in contact with advisors.
“Now that we’re through the rush, our advisors appointments are more available so don’t wait until registration time to make an appointment to talk about summer and fall classes, you can do that now,” Andrews said, adding that February would be a good time to set up appointments to discuss both short and long term plans with advisors.
Andrews also listed Handshake, on-campus employment, and the Center for Student Engagement as great opportunities for students to stay involved with campus life, as well as ways to gain academic and career-related skills.
The town hall ended after about an hour, with Rosenberg making the closing remarks.
“What lies ahead of us is very exciting, your education, your journey, your development as adults.” Rosenberg said. “You’re learning, and our university is poised, ready, very committed to working with you to make sure you get everything and more that you deserve.”