aerial campus view of Galen stone tower

Wellesley College Plans for Students’ Return in the Fall

July 1, 2020

Since the College shifted to remote instruction in March, and amid the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic, Wellesley has been hard at work developing plans for the coming fall semester and the safe return of students.

To help organize the effort and plan for a gradual return to campus, the College convened teams led by Senior Leadership to address three crucial areas: protecting the health and safety of our people, preparing spaces for an extended period of physical distancing, and mapping out different scenarios for our academic and residential programs.

One team was an ad hoc student advisory group that shared thoughts and feedback and represented their fellow students during the planning process. Tatiana Ivy Moise ’21, College Government president and a member of the group, said she found the process of working with faculty and staff very enlightening.

“I was able to learn so much about Wellesley from a behind-the-scenes sort of perspective, as well as represent some student perspectives about fall ideas that were presented to us,” Moise wrote in an email. “My job as CG president requires that I represent all students, but it affords me the privilege of advocating for and supporting all students as well, and to show that I am willing to figure all of this out right alongside them.”

A key part of the process was the College’s Facilities Management department’s review of residential housing, classrooms, and labs to calculate how many students could safely receive in-person instruction and live in residence halls while maintaining physical distancing. Also crucial was the College’s collaboration with Partners HealthCare, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and the Broad Institute to work out plans for testing systems and protocols as well as contact tracing.

“People from across the College have been working together to reimagine the Wellesley experience for our students both on campus and virtually. . . The generosity of spirit on display has been extraordinary and an emblem of the best of Wellesley, and I can’t wait to see students back on campus again.”

President Johnson

At every step, teams focused on health and safety, while also working to establish an excellent academic program that would give each student the opportunity to benefit from the College’s residential experience, said President Paula A. Johnson in a June 23 update to the community. Johnson served on Gov. Charlie Baker’s Higher Education Working Group with 14 other leaders from institutions across Massachusetts, and she led the task force responsible for developing evidence-based COVID-19 testing guidance for colleges and universities throughout the state.

“The planning we have done has really touched every aspect of College: academics, residential life, health and safety practices, dining, Health Services—everything. People from across the College have been working together to reimagine the Wellesley experience for our students both on campus and virtually” said Johnson. “I am so grateful to our faculty, staff, and students for their flexibility, ingenuity, and steadfast dedication to our mission as we strive to navigate this new normal and continue our vital work. The generosity of spirit on display has been extraordinary and an emblem of the best of Wellesley, and I can’t wait to see students back on campus again.”

Academics in the coming year
On June 30, Wellesley shared additional details of its fall plan, which includes the return of students to campus. In the fall, first-years and sophomores will come to campus for two seven-week terms that will conclude in December, while most juniors and seniors will take classes remotely. After a retooled Wintersession—with new offerings that will include innovative projects for each class year grounded in interconnected communities, leadership development, and reflection—juniors and seniors will return to campus for two seven-week terms beginning in February, and most first-years and sophomores will finish the academic year remotely.

“Our faculty have truly embraced this challenge,” said Provost Andrew Shennan. “They are showing their commitment to the unique value of face-to-face, highly personalized instruction by volunteering to teach courses in person even with masks and physical distancing. And together, we have transformed our academic program into a powerful mix of in-person and remote instruction, shifted our calendar to four terms, and begun collaborating with colleagues in Student Life and Career Education to introduce new elements like a January session that will offer rich experiential learning opportunities for each class. I am so proud of how faculty are bringing Wellesley’s liberal arts education to life in both novel and traditional ways.”

Faculty have spent time this summer developing augmented course offerings to fit the College’s altered term schedule, conceptualizing in-person, remote, and hybrid classes and coursework. Oscar Fernandez, associate professor of mathematics and faculty director of the Pforzheimer Learning and Teaching Center (PLTC), has been collaborating with Library and Technology Services and professors on resources and guides such as the Virtual Institute for Remote Teaching and Learning (VIRTL); the site will launch in the next week and includes “Teaching Nuggets,” a series of short descriptions of pedagogical strategies faculty used during remote instruction that students liked.

“Normally, the summer is a time for faculty to catch up on research and writing. But most faculty are busy reconfiguring their courses ahead of the fall terms to ensure that students will thrive in the new course formats,” Fernandez said. “This speaks to the dedication of our faculty to our students. We are all eager to return to the classroom, and despite the masks, the social distancing, and the new formats, we are looking forward to reconnecting with our students. We’re all here first and foremost because we care deeply about our students and want them to succeed, no matter the challenges they face.”

Fall in-person classes will be designed especially for first-years and sophomores, while spring in-person classes will focus on juniors and seniors. This plan, Shennan said, allows first-years to begin their Wellesley experience in the best possible way, while allowing seniors to finish their final spring at Wellesley on campus.

“We’re all here first and foremost because we care deeply about our students and want them to succeed, no matter the challenges they face.”

Oscar Fernandez, associate professor of mathematics and faculty director of the PLTC

Sustaining the Wellesley community
Being part of a close community is integral to the Wellesley experience, and since March, the community has shown its strength both on campus and beyond. Alumnae clubs established aid networks to assist students and people in need, Wellesley faculty and labs helped create frontline medical equipment, and students and alums established pen pal campaigns to reach out to alumnae across the country to help ease loneliness. Student leaders kept their organizations engaged and connected, and members of Physical Education, Recreation, and Athletics kept the College active through virtual workouts and wellness tips.

“More than ever before, we know that people want to connect and belong to something,” said Helen Wang, director of residential life. “We are focusing hard on inclusive excellence in how we live and build community together on campus and off—creating opportunities for students to experience and understand the value of engaging with others who hold different identities and perspectives, and helping students sustain relationships in this coming year.”

When most students left campus in the spring, Wang’s team was instrumental during the sudden move-out process. After that, the team created opportunities for students to stay connected from home through virtual programming like book clubs, teas, bingo, and baking sessions with their residence halls, while also encouraging in-person connection and community among those students who stayed on campus.

This year, programming that connects students, mitigates loneliness, and helps them practice meaningful dialogue in a virtual space will be important, Wang said. “Our goal is to help students broaden their self-awareness, their sense of belonging, and their capacity for openness, and to immerse students in an exuberant community that inspires the pursuit of wonder, interpersonal connections, and life-long learning,” she said.

While the coming year will certainly be unlike any other in College history, the entire community will face it together with the understanding, patience, and perseverance it has shown in ways large and small since the pandemic began.

“As a senior, I’m looking forward to just holding it all together, and making the most out of this unprecedented year,” Moise said. “None of us have ever been through something like this, so there are surprises and new worries at every turn—but that’s okay! We have to be able to bend without breaking (as our class of 2021 orientation theme sought to teach us) and adjust to new normals as they present themselves. However different and strange this year will certainly be, I'm ready to go through it with my Wellesley family. I genuinely couldn’t imagine going through this all at any other institution!”