ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Mandatory face coverings, altered housing arrangements, limited in-person classes and an emphasis on digital learning are just some of the changes students returning to the University of Central Florida will experience this fall.
“We monitor (the COVID-19 pandemic) daily,” said UCF’s new president, Alexander Cartwright, who was hired by the university shortly after the virus began spreading in Florida. “Our plan was built so it is as flexible as possible.”
Students will begin moving into university-owned housing this weekend under a phased approach, with limited on-campus instruction resuming Aug. 24.
“I’m very excited to live independently and be on campus. But obviously it’s very different,” said Kaitlyn Gamory, an incoming freshman.
Even before classes resume, UCF has identified more than 430 students and staff members who’ve contracted COVID-19, the second highest of any major American university, according to the New York Times.
UCF, one of the nation’s largest universities by enrollment, has been using its own team of contact tracers to actively identify members of the campus community who have been exposed to the virus, including those who live out-of-state or have not been on any campuses.
“This is a top priority for the health and well-being of our campus community, and we are expanding our contact tracing team,” said a UCF spokesperson.
Kaitlyn Gamory’s mother appreciates such precautions.
“I feel that UCF is doing a good job. I’m very impressed by the information that they’re giving us,” Janet Gamory said. “I mean, you can’t be 100% (safe). But I feel comfortable with what they’re doing.”
Although Janet Gamory’s daughter will be taking a few online courses, the theater design technology major will also be spending a lot of time in UCF’s performing arts buildings.
“With tech, we still have to learn to work with the equipment and work in different spaces,” Kaitlyn Gamory said. “One of my classes is a lab for stagecraft, so obviously I have to be in-person for that.”
More than two-thirds of this fall’s courses will be taught online, allowing students to learn remotely if they prefer. In comparison, about one-fifth of classes were online last fall, according to university officials.
“It’s not going to be all face-to-face,” Cartwright said. “It will be a mixture of remote classes, some digital learning and some hybrid courses where it’s in-person and a mixture of online.”
Cartwright told News 6 that UCF has the ability to rapidly add additional virtual classes if there’s a resurgence of the virus.
All UCF courses will switch to remote instruction after Thanksgiving to minimize the risk of spreading the virus after the holiday break.
In-person courses will be limited to a small number of students and, in some cases, held in larger classrooms than usual.
University officials have been taping off chairs in classrooms and lecture halls to promote social distancing while sanitizing buildings, adding virus-killing ultraviolet lights to ventilation systems and installing touchless faucets and toilets in restrooms, among other safety measures.
Some university-owned housing has been reduced to single occupancy and no visitors will be allowed in residential facilities.
All residents of university-owned housing, on-campus Greek housing and student athletes will be required to undergo a COVID-19 test.
The university has designated some housing units for students who contract the virus and cannot return home.
All students, faculty and visitors are now required to wear masks on campus. UCF is issuing one free mask to every student that can be picked up at various campus locations and vending machines.
Lexis Constant decided to return to UCF for her junior year even though all her courses except for a lab will be held online.
“I love it here. There’s no going anywhere else. This is it,” she said.
Constant, a health sciences major, said professors did a great job teaching summer courses but she is concerned the pandemic will limit her access to the library and other resources.
“(In the past) you could go get help from professors anytime you needed to,” Constant said. “So I feel it is going to be harder to learn, especially with harder majors, harder classes.”
Constant is also disappointed that many campus activities will be held virtually or potentially postponed until the pandemic subsides, with the fate of the UCF Knights football season and other collegiate sports yet to be determined.
“I think it’s really sad, especially for incoming students who haven’t gotten to experience any of it,” Constant said.