The Hokie nation is moving in a positive direction.

Virginia Tech’s COVID-19 cases are declining. 

University leaders are working to plan multiple in-person commencement ceremonies, in lieu of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement this week.

Virginia Tech plans to hold fully in-person classes this fall

But despite this news, it’s too early to celebrate, said President Tim Sands during a Thursday afternoon virtual town hall for the university community.

While the university is heading down a hopeful path, a year after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, vigilance and patience are more important than ever, he said. The community needs to continue following public health guidelines to keep positive COVID-19 cases at bay and to help move the university forward.

“All it takes is a brief lapse to trigger a big setback,” Sands said. “Our current situation, while improving, is fragile.”

During the town hall, Sands was joined by Rachel Holloway, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs, and Frank Shushok, vice president for student affairs, who discussed what Virginia Tech is planning for the rest of the spring semester and into the fall.

Keeping the campus community safe

Hokies should continue to wear masks, socialize only in small groups or pods, and avoid large gatherings, Sands said. The next few weeks and months are crucial to helping Virginia Tech keep its positive momentum in the midst of the pandemic.

“It’s hard. We’ve been through a lot and everybody’s looking to get back to normal,” Sands said.  “We are going to look back and say we’re glad that we stuck to it, that we didn’t drop our guard too early. We have a good bit of optimism that things will improve if we remain vigilant now.”

Commencement live

Virginia Tech will host multiple in-person May commencement ceremonies in  Lane Stadium, and leaders are preparing guidelines and details that soon will be announced to the campus community. The university’s main commencement ceremony on May 14 will remain a virtual event. 

“We are looking at how we can have guests invited; we’re looking at how many different events we will need to schedule in order to accommodate those who want to graduate in person,”  Sands said. “A lot of things are up in the air but are quickly falling in place.”

Tailgating at university parking lots and large gatherings will not be allowed.

Virginia Tech also is considering ways to honor students who graduated in May 2020, when commencement only was held virtually due to the pandemic, Sands said.

Holloway added that many faculty are just as excited as the students to celebrate commencement in person this May.

“I know your faculty want to put on the robes and wear the silly hats with you,” she said, addressing students during the town hall.

A fully in-person fall

Next week, students can begin registering for in-person classes for the fall 2021 semester.

“The schedule of classes that will go live next week will look like a pre-pandemic schedule,” Holloway said. 

Some classes may incorporate what Holloway described as a “flipped format,” which could be a mix of in-person and online components based on what faculty learned worked well in the past year.

Also, students can work with their academic advisors to plan out the class format that they prefer, she said.

Fall campus life

Campus life for students is expected to look more traditional in the fall if the public health  situation continues to improve. That includes regular operation of residence halls and dining facilities, Shushok said.

Also, student organizations will be up and running.

“We are here to continue to turn the lights up on a path towards what we remember as a pre-pandemic time,” he said. “I think student life will be vibrant and fun. It’s going to be an encouraging time to be back on campus.”

Read more about the university’s plans for the fall semester.

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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