Community Conversations: Planning for Return to Normal

Provost Helble and guests talk about what the pandemic has taught them.

Watch the May 12 Community Conversations webcast with Provost Joseph Helble and his guests.

The Dartmouth community continues to be on track for a hybrid summer term that will prepare the campus for a return to more normal residential operation in the fall, Provost Joseph Helble told viewers of this week's Community Conversations webcast.

Helble was joined by Jon Kull '88, dean of the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies; Laura McPherson, an associate professor of linguistics; Peter Roby '79, the interim director of athletics; and Douglas Van Citters '99, Thayer '03, '06, an associate professor of engineering and associate dean for undergraduate education at Thayer School of Engineering. The conversation was moderated by Vice President for Communications Justin Anderson.

Lessons Learned From a Year of Experimentation

Asked to speak about what he's learned during the pandemic, Van Citters said, "I am going to give you a decidedly Dartmouth answer as opposed to a scientific answer: I learned an awful lot about people, the importance of society working together, and how we can solve problems in a much more human-centered way."

He said he plans to find ways to "continue to include humanity in my own science as well as in the administration of an engineering program" when the campus returns to normal operation.

Kull described the graduate student experience during the pandemic, noting that unlike most undergraduates, who were sent home in spring 2020, the majority of Guarini graduate students and postdoctoral fellows were "already home" in the Upper Valley. While "that was pretty isolating for many of them," Kull said the closures of labs and other campus facilities had at least some benefit: giving many a chance to write papers and grant applications and plan their research programs.

"Then in June, the research ramp-up happened and they got back into the lab—and, in fact, I think they were pretty heroic," Kull says. "They were some of the first people in the Dartmouth community to go back into Dartmouth buildings. It was hard, but I was really proud of them—that they did it, and they were safe."

Asked about plans for teaching a mix of remote and on-campus students this summer, McPherson said she hopes to include as much in-person instruction as possible in her classes, but that her ability to do so "depends on what enrollments look like."

"We're all hungry for that in-person experience, the return to the classroom, so as much as possible, I would like to give that experience to the students," McPherson said. "But assuming that there will be some people who will be studying remotely, my aim is to have an equitable approach to the class."

Approximately 20% of students enrolled in summer term will not be on campus in the summer, Helble said. Course registration ends this week, so faculty will soon have a good idea of the make-up of their classes, and will have the option to add in-person elements or convert their courses to a fully in-person model.

"We remain committed to supporting the continuity of education for all of our students," including those learning remotely, Helble said. He added that the administration continues "to value and trust the judgment of our faculty, as those who know best how to teach a class of mixed learners, to decide how best to engage students in learning."

If students in her three-day-a-week "Linguistics 26" course include a mix of on-campus and remote learners, McPherson plans to teach two days virtually and then have one day "split into a remote session for those who can't be here in person, and then have another class in person for students to be face-to-face," she says. "That will allow us to do some of the activities that I really love doing in the class."

Asked how student-athletes are doing this term, Roby described their attitude as increasingly hopeful as some teams have resumed limited competition and training. "I don't think you can put a price on what it means to actually see people competing and practicing in a normal way and looking forward to what the fall has to offer," he said.

Roby said athletes are highly motivated to get vaccinated.

"People who are on teams want to keep each other safe, and they want to do everything they can to be able to compete—that's the incentive," he said. "There's that dynamic of never wanting to let your teammates down, and wanting to keep everybody healthy and safe and have a successful experience."

Vaccination Update

There have been no positive COVID-19 tests on campus in nine days, Helble said—contributing to Dartmouth's lower COVID-19 positivity rates than the community saw in the fall. This likely reflects the fact that more members of the community are getting vaccinated. Currently 25% of students on campus and 34% of employees who work on campus regularly have self-reported that they have received their COVID-19 vaccination.

Last week, Dartmouth hosted vaccination clinics for students, faculty, employees, and family members, and second-dose clinics for those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will take place May 27.

Helble urged community members—whether they received their vaccinations on campus or elsewhere—to upload their completed vaccination information "so we can keep track of progress and use overall progress in vaccinations as one gauge of moving toward more flexible campus operations."

Students should upload their vaccination record to Dick's House; faculty and staff should report theirs to Axiom, Dartmouth's occupational medicine partner.

Employees may take time off to get vaccinated, and those who have completed their vaccinations can reduce their COVID-19 surveillance testing to once a week and have greater flexibility to travel without needing to quarantine, Helble said.

Beginning Aug. 1, Helble expects the campus to return to the "full access" phase of the five-phase reopening plan developed by the COVID-19 Task Force last spring—meaning that while there may still be some distancing and masking requirements, labs, studios, and other facilities will "return to full capacity in advance of a return to normal capacity of residence halls and classrooms in fall term," he said. (Currently the campus is in the "limited access" phase.)

Upcoming Spring Events

Helble described some of the activities available to those on campus in the final weeks of spring term:

  • The next Live@Collis concert, featuring New England singer-songwriters Cole Davidson and Pete Kilpatrick, at 5 p.m. on Friday (streaming is available).
  • Sundown Cinema presents Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar at the Kemeny Courtyard at sunset on Saturday.
  • A nine-hole disc golf course is now open on the former front nine area of the golf course. Discs are available at the Collis Information Desk.
  • The Ledyard Canoe Club is open for free rentals (with a Dartmouth ID) of canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards.
  • May is Pride and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Event schedules are available on the Office of Pluralism and Leadership website.
  • Thursday Together will provide refreshments and socializing from 12-2 p.m. tomorrow, in front of Collis, Streeter Hall, and Anonymous Hall.

Community Conversations is a live production of Dartmouth's Media Production Group and the Office of Communications that airs on selected Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. The next show is scheduled for May 26.