Earlham College reopens for in-person classes; embarks on historic year
August 07, 2020
The class of
2024 arrived at Earlham College on Friday, Aug. 7, for new student orientation after extensive preparation by faculty and staff to safeguard the campus community during the coronavirus pandemic.
The incoming class represents 32 states and 17 countries, with about 33 percent identifying as the first in their families to go to college. The class earned an overall 3.6 grade point average, and 61 percent of students who submitted a class rank reported being in the top 20 percent of their high school peers.
“With colleges and universities across the nation being closed for an extended period of time, witnessing students’ excitement as they return to campus has brought me so much joy and hope for the upcoming year,” Earlham President Anne Houtman said. “We are well prepared for the resumption of classes and student activities on campus. We are planning for change and adjustment to guard the continued health and well-being of our community as the regional and national situation evolves.
“For those students still affected by travel restrictions or who remain at home due to concerns about their safety, we look forward to working with them virtually and having them back on campus as soon as possible,” she said.
Classes for the 2020-21 academic year begin Monday, Aug. 10, pushing up the usual start date for Earlham by a few weeks. A two-month pause in the academic year is planned for after Thanksgiving, the height of the traditional flu season in the Midwest. An optional, virtual term will be available for interested students in January.
Also in light of the pandemic, the College will offer both in-person and online courses across the curriculum. The semester system that Earlham traditionally followed will be altered, with both fall and spring semesters now divided into two seven-week terms. Using the shorter terms will give the administration of Earlham more flexibility in case pandemic conditions worsen.
In order to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus, new cleaning regimens and rules for masks and sharing public spaces are in place. Students, faculty and staff have all returned to campus after being tested for the virus with a negative result. Ongoing health checks will be made throughout the campus community, and plans are in place to isolate anyone who comes down with the virus during the school year.
“I’m not really sure what going to college is going to be like during a pandemic, but I do think that Earlham has taken a lot of good in steps in trying to prevent sickness and protecting the health and safety of the campus community,” said Liesl Nunemacher, a first-year student from Nederland, Colorado, who plans to study music education.
“There are a lot of reasons I chose Earlham, but I think the main reason was the community and small school size,” she said. “My high school was also very small. I love being able to get to know the people in my community, so I felt more comfortable at Earlham.”
The goal of move-in weekend at Earlham and every college is to get students off to a good start. This year that comes with mask-wearing and social distancing protocols in place.
“How do we welcome new students to this community when we’re wearing masks?” asked Bonita Washington-Lacey, Earlham’s vice president of Student Life and dean of students. “How do we welcome returning students back to an environment that they have to live in differently from when they last left? I’ve been challenging our team to think about that.
“We’re all starting together in this process of how to engage with each other in new ways,” she said. “We plan to be mindful of how we use our eyes and our hands, because students can’t see if we’re smiling. We have to really practice letting our eyes show that we’re smiling. We want students to know that behind that mask there’s a person who cares about me, who is interested in me, who is invested in me. Our goal is let our students know that we’re invested in their success and their growth at the College.”
Outdoor movies, social gatherings with social distancing in place, virtual networking events and walks to downtown Richmond to vote in the 2020 U.S. presidential election are being planned as alternatives for the traditional campus activities usually planned during the academic year. Major events, like convocations, homecoming and parent’s weekend are canceled for the upcoming semester.
Student responses to a survey about events were instrumental in helping revamp student event programming, according to Shane Peters, associate vice president of Student Life and director of residence life. Health concerns were carefully considered by everyone involved.
“We are going to work to engage both those who are in the campus community in healthy, social distanced ways as well as trying to make connection points for those who are having to participate via online technologies,” Peters said. “The circumstances are far from those in the traditional residential experience we try to foster, but we all trust this semester will be full of learning and has the potential for real positive impact at a time when we are navigating life as a community that can’t always be physically together.”
This won’t be an easy year, but students are ready to return, said Jonathan Todd, a Public Policy major from Washington, D.C., who is a co-liaison for Earlham Student Government with the Student Life Division and the President’s Office.
“We’ve been meeting every other week all summer to have significant conversations,” Todd said. “We’ve brought students’ concerns to the administration.”
“It’s going to be really important to do events outside, with space,” he notes. “A block party on College Avenue or on The Heart would be really cool. There’s a lot of room for connecting with alumni right now, too. We can’t have convocations this year, but we can pull alumni to campus virtually. Seeing the wonderful things alumni are doing will be an energizing reminder that though times are hard now, in the long run our time at Earlham will prepare us for the work we are passionate about.”
Students are weighing many factors in their decision to return to campus, Todd said.
“A lot of us are worried about safety, housing, mental well-being among other concerns. The virus is forcing us to critically analyze a return to campus that we normally take for granted,” he said. “While most of us will be returning, all students are faced with a drastically different education. Social distancing, masks, and virtual learning present challenges that we will have to overcome as a community. Fortunately, we are at Earlham and building community is one of our greatest strengths.”
New majors, graduate programs
Earlham will offer new majors, minors and graduate degree programs during the 2020-21 academic year.
New majors include data science, media and communications, exercise science, and social work. Minors in equestrian management and quality science are also available for the first time.
“These new programs prepare students for emerging societal needs in fast-growing industries that will make them sought-after upon graduation,” Houtman said. “Our faculty have worked hard to expand our curriculum and maximize opportunities for career discernment and intellectual discovery.”
The Earlham School of Religion is also launching a new Master of Arts in Peace and Social Transformation. The one-year residential program offers academic training for students pursuing ministries of social change. The program is being offered tuition free to a cohort of nine students, including two recent graduates from Earlham’s undergraduate college.
Virtual internships now an option
Even with necessary restrictions for college-sponsored travel still in place, students will be able to participate in important career-discerning experiences and stay on track for their postgraduate goals.
“We have spent the last few months working on expanding opportunities to ensure students can still benefit from internships, off-campus study, research, and field experiences,” said Roger Adkins, Earlham’s executive director of the Center for Global and Career Education. “We are working to build partnerships with third-party internship providers to help place students in virtual internships with organizations around the world.”
With changes in the traditional academic schedule, internships won’t have to be restricted to the summer months, Adkins notes. Micro-internships and virtual field experiences are also expected to be common in the break between the fall and spring semesters, which is extended by a month.
Students prepared for career discernment and resilience
Career education will be enhanced in part by a new grant. The College is the recipient of a four-year NetVUE Vocation Across the Academy Grant to guide students in cultivating the habit of vocational discernment through reflection, dialogue, and real-world experiences.
“The grant is intended to help us find activities to embed career and vocational discernment throughout the Earlham student experience, from the summer before the first year, to commencement and beyond,” Adkins said.
The grant will further Earlham’s efforts to provide a liberal arts education designed for the career choices students now face. These efforts are backed by significant support, with the College providing funding for every student to engage in at least one research or internship before graduation. To prepare students for this, Earlham requires students to take a course to help them make the most of their experiences.
“In most cases, this is a student’s first professional experience and employer expectations can change company by company, city by city and country by country,” said Jeffry Neuhouser, Earlham’s assistant director of career education. “We work with them to maximize the experience and build a relationship with the organization long before they are on site. We talk a lot about company culture, professionalism, how to deal with employer expectations, budget for the experience and prepare for challenges like overbearing bosses or even sexual discrimination. We work with students to challenge a lot of the assumptions they have going in.”
Long-term career planning is an important element of the course. It’s becoming more common for students to take on career roles that don’t match precisely with their major. It’s entirely normal, said Neuhouser, for students to “shift gears” into roles that they hadn’t imagined or didn’t even exist when they were in college. In response to this trend, Neuhouser and colleagues also help students to be flexible. “We’re preparing students to plan early. Today’s student needs two or three internships, or even one every summer, to be marketable at graduation. We’re making adjustments to meet that need.”
Brian Zimmerman, director of media relations