According to the COVID-19 dashboard, 96% of UCI students and 94% of staff and faculty are fully vaccinated as of Oct. 10. There have been 47 cumulative positive cases since Sept. 5.
In alignment with the University of California vaccination policy regarding medical exemptions or religious and disability accommodations, all UCI students, staff and faculty were required to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before coming to campus with few exceptions.
In-person instruction began at UCI after a year of virtual learning on Sept. 23. The return to physical instruction hinged on a large percentage of vaccinated students.
“Once it became clear from a public health perspective that in-person courses, at capacity, [were] allowed, we planned for a quarter that essentially followed the ‘normal rules’ with one critical change,” UCI Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and Dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education Michael Dennin said in an email to the New University. “Normally, the mode of a course (in-person, online or hybrid) is approved at the Academic Senate level, and if a course is approved for more than one mode, the individual faculty is generally free to determine the mode that best meets the learning goals of the course. Occasionally, because of department level learning goals, the department will determine if the course is online, hybrid or in-person.”
However, UCI has made an adjustment to that process in response to COVID-19.
“For this fall, as the pandemic is still a factor, the one modification of the process was that [the] Academic Senate waived the requirement for Senate approval for remote instruction,” Dennin said. “Therefore, the decisions regarding remote/online delivery were left to the School or Department, again based on the strategic goals and learning outcomes at the unit level.”
According to Dennin, courses that count for credit are about 71% in-person and 28% online. Hybrid courses — defined as classes that have online aspects for all students as well as in-person aspects for all students — comprise about 1% of courses. These numbers are not official, and statistics regarding course status will be finalized after Week 3.
UCI students and professors alike were eager to be on campus, including Humanities Core Director Nasrin Rahimieh.
“I am elated to be teaching in-person,” Rahimieh said. “In the course of the period of teaching [online], I noticed how much the students themselves were suffering from Zoom fatigue … I felt a little bit at sea because I would sometimes be looking at just one or two people and seeing their faces and reactions.”
Rahimieh has noticed a change in her students since returning to campus.
“What I’m picking up on is the energy. It’s amazing,” Rahimieh said. “I think we are, if I may generalize like that, all of us relieved to have the social sense of community. I realize that, in some sectors, they say you could just as easily work from home, but teaching and learning and research are so collaborative and so much about interaction and the ways in which we conduct dialogue and get to learn from one another.”
Rahimieh has begun teaching in-person classes after a year of virtual instruction.
“The fact that we’ve gotten to a point where — [thanks to] vaccination, masking, hygiene and so on — we can carry on in-person is just wonderful,” Rahimieh said. “To me, it feels like an enormous gift.”
The university is taking additional precautions to keep its members safe throughout the year. According to the Campus Executive Directive for Student and Employee Testing that Chancellor Howard Gillman issued on Sept. 23, undergraduate students living in Student Housing and American Campus Communities are required to partake in monthly asymptomatic testing. Faculty and staff who are fully vaccinated will also be required to participate in randomized asymptomatic testing.
First year film and media studies major Autumn Norwood shared her thoughts on campus safety measures.
“[COVID-19] hasn’t really affected my experience too much,” Norwood said. “The lines for check-in at the dining halls have gotten longer because there’s an extra step now. We have to do the daily symptom check-ins. That would be the only downside.”
Norwood has noticed a difference between this year’s in-person classes and last year’s online classes.
“In class, when you get to be around people and you actually have to hold conversations, I think it makes it easier to learn that way and makes it more engaging,” Norwood said. “Rather than just sitting behind your computer, where you can get easily distracted.”
A second year, who would like to be kept anonymous, is taking necessary precautions during their first year on campus.
“I think [COVID-19] made this year a little more nerve-wracking because you don’t know how seriously people take COVID-19,” they said. “It does make it a little harder to concentrate when I am in those in-person classes.”
They are adjusting to campus life after having spent a year taking online classes.
“I think [there are] 400 students in one of my classes. On Zoom, you wouldn’t even think [there] was that many people,” they said. “Seeing it in-person, that was like: ‘woah.’”
Third year economics major Ann Noh has likewise transitioned back to in-person classes.
“It feels great to be back on campus after a year of virtual school,” Noh said. “Don’t get me wrong; I really enjoyed having classes online and I still do, but the environment of the campus was something I really missed.”
Noh commented on the energy she noticed among her peers on campus.
“I don’t think I have noticed a difference in campus life before and after COVID-19,” Noh said. “I see students hanging out, club booths out on Ring Road, students engaging in class, etc. I think everyone, including myself, [is] relieved to be back on campus and see our friends again. Even though we are still fighting against this pandemic, it’s nice to see that no one is allowing it to ruin their lives and doing it in a safe manner. I’m really excited to slowly get back to normal on campus. I hope that everyone stays safe and achieves their goals this year.”
Third year biological sciences major Meena Chandrasekaran shared her thoughts on the return to campus.
“Coming back from online, I think I’m able to see how lively the campus is,” Chandrasekaran said. “It’s amazing to see the people — it’s amazing to see real people. It’s amazing to see how many people share interests with you … I’ve been truly amazed by how well we have been able to cope with the situation and how well we’ve been able to come back and enjoy UCI.”
Chandrasekaran has not noticed a difference in campus life before and after COVID-19.
“I think it feels exactly the same,” Chandrasekaran said. “One day, my friends and I went to have lunch at Brandywine, just for old times’ sake, and when I went in, it was exactly the same. The only difference is that everyone’s wearing a mask right now. Nothing has changed too much [on] campus. It’s exactly the same to me.”
Chrissy Park is a Campus News Contributing Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.