LEWISTON — Niagara University will be back in session soon but as one might expect, they'll be a lot of changes.

First off, undergraduate students will be working with a new academic calendar void of any holidays to keep them from going home throughout the semester. Instead, they will start classes early, on Aug. 24, and conclude the semester with Thanksgiving break in November. Students will not have to come back for final exams, which will be given online instead.

Debra Colley, executive vice president of Niagara University, said she has been working with a great deal of staffers to ensure the plan works for everyone.

“Our work started early in the spring when information about (COVID-19) first came out and the pandemic was made clear, and, the university, much like other industries had to begin emergency pandemic planning,” she said on Monday. “It really was at that point we had a crisis response team and an academic task force that began moving higher education study to a hybrid online platform. Employees, faculty, students moved off campus and we finished the semester. We put a lot of measures in place to make sure nothing gets in the way of students progressing toward completion after all the work they have done.”

Upon the completion of the semester, administrators began planning for the fall. The comprehensive plan ensures engagement with students can continue on campus.

Faculty, staff and students will be screened daily to develop a dashboard that allows officials to monitor the school. Students from restricted states will be subject to a two-week quarantine in hotels in Niagara Falls, per the orders of Gov. Cuomo.

During their planning process, Niagara University was monitoring the health precautions and safety measures being taken in Ontario, Canada. Classes will still be offered online to keep students from being in classrooms when they don’t need to be. This also enables students at Niagara University’s Ontario campus to take the classes they need considering the border has been limited to essential crossings.

Other changes include students living on campus moving in at staggered times and days, rather than the normal singular move-in date. In order to maintain the new capacities established for the dining halls, Niagara University will be instituting some new technology called AReveryware. Developed locally, this app will allow students to an image with their smartphone, which shows them how many people are in the dining hall.

An issue many students have been wondering about is practicums and student teaching.

“Student teaching is one thing, but almost every program has a clinical experience, same thing for the nurses,” Colley said. “We do clinicals. The New York State Education Department has put out a lot of guidance on ways you can assist students with their practicums to meet the requirements so they’re not delayed by that. The College of Education is working within that guidance with all our school partners, and the College of Nursing is working with all the hospitals.”

In conjunction with their new means of educating, the school has developed the Purple Pledge, which is an affirmation that students, faulty and staff will be working hard to keep the community safe from the spread of COVID-19. While the school has been adhering to Gov. Cuomo’s guidelines on higher education, administrators say they have been doubling down on them by asking students, faculty and staff to wear masks all the time, except for meals.

Living on campus will be somewhat different as most rooms will be singles only, with some exceptions being made to allow two students to live together. However, they must be healthy in order to do so, but there is some flex housing being created at hotels in Niagara Falls. For now, Colley said there has not been a need for the flex housing, though.

Colley added that Niagara University is ready for the coming semester and is excited to have students return to campus despite the ongoing pandemic. 

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