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In-person classes going well at Bay

Caroline Carlson | Daily Press Students check out paintings by Carol Phillips in Besse Gallery at Bay de Noc Community College. Pictured, left to right, freshmen Ashly Powell and Abel Rodriguez. Powell is a social work major and softball player from Menominee. Rodriguez is an athletic training major and baseball player from Los Fresnos, Texas.

ESCANABA — Bay de Noc Community College returned to in-person classes on Monday, January 11. So far both students and staff say it’s going well.

“We have not encountered an significant challenges with students back on campus,” said Vice President of Operations Christine Williams.

According to Williams, the college has implemented clear expectations to maintain safety on campus. Protocols include daily health screenings, covering nose and mouth with a mask, and physical distancing in classrooms as well as public spaces.

In addition to these precautions, the college continually disinfects classrooms and high-touch areas. Anyone exposed to COVID-19 is quarantined, where students continue their education online and employees work remotely.

Williams notes the college has not seen any spikes in COVID-19 cases. Bay posts positive case numbers on its website for the public to view.

The school continues to monitor cases and work with the local health department on contact tracing. Vice President of Academic Affairs Matt Barron said there are some students in quarantine, but those cases originated in homes or the community, not in the classroom. Barron said contact tracing has played a big part in preventing the spread of the virus on campus.

Another measure the college implemented to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 was starting and ending the first semester earlier than usual. First semester ended at the Thanksgiving break to remove the risk of students returning to campus after traveling or exposure to more than immediate family.

The extended break caused administrators concern about students losing focus on school. Barron said he did believe the break was good for students, however. He added that the rate of students returning to campus is currently about what administration expected.

Barron said the pandemic forced Bay to get some classes online that had not yet been converted.

“Because we were forced to move online, we got a taste for whether or not a program could be sustained online,” said Barron. ” We have a much better idea now which programs we can run online as opposed to not.”

The forced transition went beyond the classroom. The success Bay had running both student orientation and student advising appointments online has the college looking at how to move additional services online.

Barron said making the transition to online education in a matter of days placed a great deal of anxiety and pressure on both students and staff. What the school learned from the experience though, allowed Bay to improve processes. As a result, Barron believes future transitions will be smoother, should they become necessary again.

“We were able to tweak from March until the shutdown again in the fall on how to make things better,” said Barron. One of the challenges the college has had to face was assisting students without internet or adequate equipment.

Students were pleasantly surprised at how many classes were successfully moved online. Barron said it took a lot of hard work to translate some of the lab classes into a remote format, but faculty found a way. Chemistry students were able to follow along from home using chemistry kits. Biology students ran computerized lab simulations. Physics students were able to participate via Zoom call.

“I have to give credit to the incredible faculty. They really did an amazing job figuring out what could work online and what couldn’t within their own disciplines,” said Barron.

Barron said while some students were nervous about returning to campus, they seem to have been put at ease by the sanitary conditions and safety protocols Bay has in place.

Sophomore Heather Bergstrom said before the pandemic, students used to hang out in the HUB or the Hospitality Room with friends. They don’t do that anymore. Initially, Bergstrom was so nervous about returning to campus in January she dropped out. The education major from Escanaba had second thoughts however, and re-enrolled four days before classes resumed. She’s glad she did, and said after she saw how good Bay has been at taking precautions, she feels a lot better about coming back.

While Barron said he understands some students are nervous, he’s also noticed excitement and energy among students on campus. He’s heard students and employees say it’s really good to be back.

Bay College President Laura Coleman also noticed a positive vibe among many returning students. She said this winter’s head-count is 1% higher than the winter 2020.

“Students are thrilled to be back on campus attending in-person classes! They are happy to be able to interact with their faculty in person and to see and interact with fellow students,” she said.

While a walk through the Besse Center revealed a quiet, low key environment, many students expressed contentment at returning to campus.

“It’s weird but good to get in the swing of things and prepare for the season,” said freshman engineering major Grant Craft, who came to Bay from Canberra, Australia on a baseball scholarship.

Whether exited or a little apprehensive about returning to campus, students expressed awareness of the psychological benefits of being around others in the campus community.

“It’s been really good being back. Not being isolated has made the mental health of the kids here a lot better,” said freshman business major Logan Michalko, from Shelby, Mich.

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