Alliant navigates through pandemic online

Alliant International University President Andy Vaughn (second from left) walks the institution’s Scripps Ranch campus with some students before COVID-19 forced everyone to study or work from home. (photo by Paul Nelson)

Alliant navigates through pandemic online

While the Scripps Ranch campus of Alliant International University (AIU) may seem pretty quiet these days, administration, faculty, staff and students have all been busy keeping education on track amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As explained by Cielo Villasenor, assistant vice president, communications for AIU, all of what used to be on-campus courses are now being held in a synchronous remote format and will continue that way through the end of the fall 2020 term.

“Classes are the same time they usually are,” Villasenor said. “It’s still interactive with all of the faculty and students joining via Zoom.”

AIU’s online programs have continued to operate as before; however, residencies, internships and other such programs that provide hands-on practice for students in both online and on-campus programs have been impacted.

“Every student has a field training director and they’ve been working with students to see if they can move their internship to maybe telehealth or if they maybe need to change those internships and practica to something that can be done remotely,” Villasenor said.

Since March, she said, a cross-disciplinary team of administration, faculty and staff have been meeting daily to address all needs.

“We’re constantly keeping our finger on the pulse and talking with faculty and students about how it’s going in our new normal,” Villasenor said.

She added that the university’s key focus was allowing students to continue progress toward their degree.

“A lot of our students are working on their masters and doctorate level degrees,” she said. “We knew what we needed to do was make sure they could continue to progress in their degrees; that we provided them with a platform and a model that could help advance their academic success.”

No programs are paused, Villasenor said, with the university team able to get each course in each program continued online.

Right now, the only people on campus are members of the security, facilities and post office/printing teams, she said, with hopes of bringing some library staff back soon.

“We are working on a plan to have library staff on campus just to ensure our students have access to our physical library items,” Villasenor said. “We have a vast online catalog, but we want to make sure each and every service available pre-COVID is available post-COVID, and currently, they are.”

She added that tutoring, and services for international students, career assistance, and military and veterans are also still available.

“Everyone is available to meet, whether it’s by phone, Skype or Zoom,” she said. “For now, that is our campus presence.”

International students have added challenges at this time due to travel, visa and particular international study requirements and timelines. To help them, Villasenor said AIU has held regular webinars and question-and-answer sessions, and noted that the International Scholarship office has remained reachable by phone and electronically.

“This is not an easy time to navigate if you are an international student,” she said.

While working to continue education online, Villasenor said AIU is simultaneously planning for a safe return to campus, whenever that may be.

“The same cross-disciplinary team (that’s been working on online solutions) have developed a pretty comprehensive return to campus plan,” she said. “It’s dynamic, but it incorporates guidance from the CDC and local public health departments. It allows us to quickly adapt to developments, challenges and opportunities.”

She said ideas being explored include modified classrooms with things such as distanced desks, plexiglass dividers, air circulation modifications and other measures. Outdoor classrooms are another idea. Enhanced video and audio will be included for these campus-based options to accommodate those who can’t or don’t feel able to join in person once campus has reopened, Villasenor said. She noted that these changes would serve as the prototype for what may be expanded to other AIU campuses.

Beyond education, AIU also hopes to preserve a semblance of campus life in a time of social distancing. Villasenor said that so far, student organizations have continued to communicate and operate amid pandemic restrictions.

“I know there have been a number of student groups that have continued remotely,” she said. “They just have to do it in a creative, remote way.”

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