A new academic year looks different during a pandemic — but Rice Business students are taking it in stride.
One of the hardest things about adapting to the coronavirus pandemic is that you can never stop adapting. Guidelines change daily as new information emerges, new hotspots appear and expert advice evolves. As the new school year gets underway at Rice Business, we’ve been taking it day by day. But as part of this new normal, we’ve all become more adaptable — and we’ve come up with creative ways to achieve our educational goals.
After aligning with Rice University on timelines and guidelines, we submitted a reopening plan to the Crisis Management Team, and the approval included permission to run a few programs before the official Aug. 24 reopening date. In early August, new and returning students and professors sent us their preferences for in-person or remote learning, and we were able to accommodate 99.7% of students with some rotations. The degree program teams then hosted eight virtual student town halls to share safety protocols and answer questions. Finally it was go time.
On Aug. 24, to keep everyone physically distant, we began our dual-delivery fall courses, using new classroom technology that allows those streaming in from home and from a secondary classroom to be as much a part of the discussion as the students actually in the classroom with the professor.
Safety is our first priority. Everyone who comes to campus — including students, staff, faculty and visitors — is required to wear a face covering and expected to stay at least six feet from other people, indoors and outdoors. There are no more than 25 students in any classroom (see above for the dual delivery and second classroom set up) at any time, and larger gatherings are limited to no more than 50 people.
We’ve been lucky so far to avoid outbreaks like those that have hampered the return to campus at other schools. Part of the reason for that has been rigorous testing. Everyone who came to campus this fall was tested first, and Rice continues administer 1,000 PCR tests per day. Also known as molecular tests, these are the FDA gold-standard tests with the highest sensitivity (true positive rate) and specificity (true negative rate) for detecting an active coronavirus infection. As of mid-September, Rice had conducted nearly 19,000 tests with only 16 positive results — a positivity rate of less than 0.1 percent. (Testing results are updated regularly at coronavirus.rice.edu.)
Adjusting to the new normal has required some sacrifices, of course. In keeping with the CDC’s recommendation to avoid nonessential travel and Rice’s guidance against domestic and international travel, Rice Business made the tough decision to cancel all school-sponsored travel, such as career treks (Week on Wall Street, Seattle, Silicon Valley) and the travel component of global courses through the end of 2020. This included canceling the travel portion of the Global Field Experiences and Global Offsite Electives, although those courses are continuing as scheduled through a virtual platform. The semester exchange program was not canceled for students who had already received nominations.
All of these changes were the result of careful consideration (shout out to the Reopening Committee) and based on public health expertise with the goal of keeping everyone in our community healthy while preserving a rich and rewarding educational experience for students. In the big picture of this pandemic, they are the small sacrifices we can make to keep each other safe.
“This year has presented profound, serious and unique challenges to the way we work and to our health and safety. Our faculty, staff and students have wrestled with too many challenges and yet have shown impressive and unflagging resolve to best them,” says Dean Peter Rodriguez. “Remember that we’re in this together. The resilience and commitments I have seen from our community over the last few months makes me confident that together we will see it through and advance our school to new heights.”