Northern Michigan University is preparing to be fully operational this fall, returning to pre-pandemic levels of face-to-face instruction, services and campus activities. NMU President Fritz Erickson made the announcement during a virtual community forum March 16. He said Northern's ability to continue in-person classes and keep its residence halls open this academic year has increased his optimism for the approaching fall semester.
“Our goal is to be back to the way things were in 2019,” Erickson said. “That's our expectation and plan. There are various teams on campus working to put those steps in place. We see no reason at this point in time why that shouldn't happen, and we look forward to the vibrancy that's normally on campus to return.
“At the same time, we're making contingency plans because we're still living in an uncertain time. Our commitment is to continue following the science and directives of the CDC and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. But we expect that when August comes, we will be ready to go. We're very excited about getting back to a normal set of operations. We've learned that what students want most of all is the interactive experience of face-to-face learning. That's what is guiding us as we prepare for the fall.”
Erickson said Northern is working hard to recover enrollment declines this year, when some students opted to remain home in the context of COVID-19. NMU previously made a decision to conduct its annual summer orientation sessions virtually because of the advance planning and effort required, along with uncertainty surrounding the pandemic at that time.
“One of the things we're focusing on right now is creating a conference-style approach to allowing students and their families to come up and experience Northern's campus and the Marquette community. Our team is working very hard to set that set up for the summer. It will draw a lot of folks to the area and will be a positive addition for us.”
Because most summer courses are delivered online, there won't be much impact on those. But Erickson said the university is planning summer academic and athletic camps for area youth. He added that NMU will be lifting all or most of its restrictions on campus visitors, effective June 15.
Erickson summarized the lessons learned over the past year during the pandemic:
-While succeeding in its commitment to remain open, NMU proved consistently flexible and adaptable, from responding to evolving safety protocols to the faculty's creative approaches to in-person, online and hybrid instruction.
-Students contributed by adjusting to new environments and learning tools, and in most cases doing their part to keep the COVID-19 case numbers relatively low.
-Mass testing of all students and employees at the start of each semester and double the number of follow-up monitoring tests this semester were helpful in gauging active cases and trends.
-Northern's notebook computer program and high-speed broadband provided through its Educational Access Network (EAN) were critical to students, faculty and staff. The EAN also benefited school districts and families in rural communities across the Upper Peninsula that previously had no internet and were suddenly confronted with the demands of virtual instruction.
-Relationships with various community groups are especially important during challenging times. Erickson used the Marquette County Health Department (MDHD) as an example. “They've done an absolutely outstanding job in the Northern Center of providing vaccines through a smooth and responsive system. They've also kept us updated with the latest information and guidance on how to manage it well.”
Erickson said NMU's Health Center is prepared to administer vaccines when an allotment becomes available. The university will follow the same priority group order and procedures as the MCHD. “Giving everyone the opportunity to be vaccinated is critical in order to have a successful fall opening,” he said.
View a recording of the full forum here.