College campuses are working hard to stay connected with students during COVID 19 pandemic

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) – With only five weeks left in their spring semester, Gulf Coast State College and Florida State University Panama City are rolling-out virtual school plans that might extend into their summer semesters.

Irvin Clark, Associate Dean of Faculty Development & Administrative Affairs at Florida State University Panama City Campus said that this isn’t their first time having to go through this exercise.

“Not long ago, a little hurricane named Michael decided to hit Northwest Florida. It was during that time that we were forced to put all of our face-to-face classes online,” Clark said. “Because of our experience with Hurricane Michael, the COVID 19 transition has been much smoother because we already had a blueprint we could use.”

Katie McCurdy, the executive director of community engagement of Gulf Coast State College said their classes will resume on Monday in an online or remote format as well.

“We extended spring break through March 29th but classes will resume on March 30th. Every instructor has the option to use whatever modalities they determine is best for their course and their students to extend learning outside of a face-to-face atmosphere,” McCurdy said.

Online video conferencing services like Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Microsoft Teams are a few of many virtual options that instructors are using to stay connected to their students.

“It makes more sense for some faculty to be in their actual classroom space and to be Facebook Live — to where it’s happening in real-time. Others, record their lectures ahead of time and then post them for the students to watch later,” Clark said. “It’s all situational.”

With summer and fall semesters right around the corner, both colleges are in uncharted waters for registering prospective students for future semesters.

McCurdy said that Gulf Coast is currently waiting for further guidance from the Florida Department of Education and the Florida College System on what their summer semester will look like.

“Gulf Coast registration will open on April 6th online-only, for both summer and fall 2020 semesters. That doesn’t necessarily mean the classes will be online,” McCurdy said, “but registration will be completed online.

“If this new normal lasts longer than anticipated, we are already making preparations for summer and perhaps fall classes to be online,” Clark said, “it will all depend on recommendations from the CDC, federal, and state governments.

Gulf Coast and FSU PC both plan to offer virtual campus tours for prospective students and each college is making every effort possible to stay connected to current students in their own unique way.

“We are using video messages from our president and faculty members through social media and our YouTube channel to communicate with students,” McCurdy said. “We think it’s important to keep that type of interaction with our students even though we can’t be face-to-face.”

“We are doing something really cool,” Clark said. “We are doing virtual activities with our students so they can continue to have student engagement. We are also putting our clubs into an online format,” Clark said.

FSU PC has also set up The FSU PC Promise information line that will be available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“If at any point a student wants to have a conversation with the university administration, they have the leisure to do that,” Clark said. “We want to stay connected and engaged with our students.”

Financial help might also be on the way. Clark said that FSU is re-setting up the Seminole emergency fund that will provide financial help for students who qualify.

“If students have lost a job, or are dealing with food insecurities, or need help paying their rent, they can apply for funds,” Clark said. “Once we are up and running, a review committee will look through the applications.”

While both colleges look forward to getting things back to normal, each one has a message for all their students and their staff.

“We miss our students and we know this is only temporary. Our community has overcome a lot in the last two years and we will do whatever we can to help our students cross that finish line at the end of the semester,” McCurdy said.

Even though FSU PC graduation ceremonies have been postponed for a later date, Clark said they are doing everything possible to help students achieve their goals and complete their degrees.

“Florida State University Panama City is committed to student success. We haven’t wavered in our effort, despite moving to an online environment, and we keep our eyes and ears open to do everything possible to help our students achieve their goals,” Clark said.

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