Closing Our Year, Preparing for What's Next

Dear St. Thomas students,

I want to wish all students the very best as we close out this unique and challenging academic year. Law students completed their finals this week, and other students will be completing finals next week.  In this time of disruption and change, my wishes for your health and wellbeing are stronger than ever.

It has been lonely around campus without your presence. Yet, there is a newfound spirit of hope in the air. Our beautiful trees are in bloom. Our new residence halls and the Iversen Center for Faith are almost completed.  And, Governor Walz has indicated that he is “turning the dial” slowly to reopen Minnesota in a way that will allow us to safely find our next “new normal” in the continued face of the virus.

Like you, my most fervent hope is that we can return operations to as on campus as possible, as soon as possible. Our next academic year will continue to be a year of change and adaptation, and we are preparing for fall in many ways.

Reducing Risks, Preparing to Adapt

This fall, we will welcome as many students to both campuses as we can safely accommodate, putting your health and safety first.

Our approach to the 2020-2021 school year will be guided by advice from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Centers for Disease Control.  Currently, we are working proactively and very closely with experts from the MDH on safely resuming all aspects of life on campus. I am confident that while there is no way to guarantee an academic year free of the risk of COVID-19 infection, we will have the right plans in place to keep our community as safe as possible.

As a member of the St. Thomas community, you will be asked to take part in measures that protect you and those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, such as those described below:

  • Practicing social distancing on and off campus by maintaining 6-feet of physical space remains vitally important to slowing the spread of the virus. We will create accommodations in classrooms, residence halls and other settings throughout campus so that we can practice safe distances. We will help educate each other about best practices, and you will see many reminders on campus about this new normal behavior.
  • Creating a respectful culture where masks are worn on campus by people in close proximity to one another. CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. It is important to keep in mind that there are a few individuals for whom wearing a mask or face covering is not recommended, and we must be equally as supportive of them.  We have ordered purple face masks for every member of our community. Remember, this is about you helping others, especially those more vulnerable to this disease.
  • Avoiding large gatherings and events on and off campus.
  • Washing hands and augmenting the increased sanitation on campus by helping to sanitize spaces that you use.
  • Staying away from others when sick. Community members will be asked to self-report COVID-19 symptoms and to isolate if sick or after close contact with someone who has tested positive.

COVID-19 testing on campus is currently in place at the Center for Well-Being.  We anticipate ongoing, additional capacity across the state and at St. Thomas for viral testing and contact tracing to help ensure flare-ups of the virus remain contained. 

These, as well as additional, measures may be necessary to inhibit the spread of infection.  The specific measures in place will depend on updated guidelines at the time we resume classes on campus, as well as throughout the year. We will ask for your partnership and cooperation in protecting the health of everyone, of all ages and health conditions, in our St. Thomas community.

Flexible Academic Setting for Fall

The continued need for physical distancing will impact in-person instruction next year, yet our tradition of personalized and holistic education, which is our signature at St. Thomas, will remain constant. We have many classrooms that allow for adequate social distancing and are creating alternative spaces on campus to accomplish this goal.  We will need to provide multiple teaching models which include providing accommodations for students unable to attend in-person classes for health reasons and protections for faculty and staff. 

Faculty will be working hard throughout the summer to prepare for a mix of in-person instruction and online teaching.  They will be supported by a team of online program professionals who will assist them in incorporating best practices which help integrate in-person and online learning and which enrichen the engagement and effectiveness of the virtual components of instruction.

Our faculty came to St. Thomas because they love to teach, and their primary passion is teaching and mentoring students. In any learning environment, our faculty will go above and beyond to connect. Our commitment is to use technology in a way that enhances learning, while retaining personal relationships.

Living on Campus

Residence Life is looking forward to welcoming undergraduate students back into our residence halls. All residence halls are being deeply cleaned and sanitized this summer for your arrival in the fall. Residence Life is working closely with the Minnesota Department of Health to create specific guidelines for healthy and safe residence hall living.  Dining services will update protocols to provide a safe experience in our dining venues as well.

Student Financial Support

I know that many of you and your families are facing financial struggles as a result of lost employment and other economic disruptions during this pandemic.  Please know helping to meet your financial needs is of utmost importance to us.  

Our number one fundraising priority is to raise funds to support hardship scholarships for our returning students. Funds raised will be made available through financial aid to help students pay their tuition and stay on track to graduate.

We also seek to help you meet living expenses and other costs you are struggling to meet as a result of the pandemic.  As part of a coronavirus stimulus package approved by Congress, the University of St. Thomas has received federal funding to provide emergency cash grants to students.  The federal CARES Act funds can be awarded to students who are eligible for federal financial aid.  We invite all students eligible for federal financial aid and who have expenses related to the disruption of St. Thomas campus operations due to COVID-19 to apply to the CARES Act Emergency Grants

We also have dedicated internal funds and raised donor support to establish a St. Thomas emergency fund. We encourage students who are not eligible for the CARES ACT Emergency grants, including our DACA/Dreamer and international students, to apply for emergency grants under the St. Thomas Student Emergency Assistance Program for COVID 19-Related Financial Hardship, which has broader eligibility guidelines.

St. Thomas Together: Monday, May 18th 12:00 p.m.

Students, please join me for a gathering over Zoom this coming Monday at noon, cohosted by Logan Monahan, President of USG.  It will be a conversation to share gratitude and inspiration about our experience so far with COVID-19. We will answer students’ questions and talk about the ways we are adapting for the future. You can submit your questions and inspiration prior to the call here. Use this Zoom link to participate Monday at noon. I am looking forward to hearing more about Senior Week and how we can celebrate together virtually as we close out our year.

A sincere congratulations to the St. Thomas Class of 2020 - our undergraduate four-year graduates, Dougherty Family College graduates, law school graduates and those completing graduate degrees.  Your St. Thomas community is celebrating with you, and we will never forget this unique spring that marked your commencement. We also look forward to bringing you back to campus at a later date to celebrate in-person with one another and the community.

To our returning students, I sincerely look forward to welcoming you back to campus in the fall, even if from six feet away, and to your continued journey with us!

 

With warmest regards,

Julie H. Sullivan, Ph.D.

President