Dispatches from a Pandemic

In 1959, on the occasion of its seventy-fifth anniversary, American International College became the first school in New England to offer a commercially televised course for college credit. The English course was, in effect, the College’s first virtual class.

A contemporaneous Ford Foundation report, Teaching by Television, touted the “unique advantages” of the then-novel instructional medium—which “vastly extend[s] the reach of the nation’s best teachers”—while relaying early critiques of television as “essentially a one-way medium of communication,” the use of which “for instruction would deprive the student of valuable contact with the teacher.”

AIC’s rapid transition in March 2020 to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic shows just how much six decades of technological advancement can improve—if not perfect—the virtual experience.

Remote Possibilities

BEGINNING IN THE SUMMER OF 2020, faculty underwent technology training to acquire the resources and guidance to teach remote, synchronous courses and, if needed, conduct safe face-to-face modules. The training placed acute emphasis on the effective use of BlackBoard’s virtual learning environment; methods of delivering content, boosting student engagement, and facilitating faculty-student communication; and the design and implementation of assessment strategies appropriate for each instructional approach, including the use of online proctoring software.

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While Summer Summit Days were entirely remote, fall New Student Orientation (NSO) consisted of a mixture of virtual and in-person sessions. “Students living on campus were grouped by their residence hall floors,” explains Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Matthew Scott, “and they participated in physically distanced events, such as an outdoor movie night and mask decorating.”

“Students living on campus were grouped by their residence hall floors, and they participated in physically distanced events, such as an outdoor movie night and mask decorating.”
Matthew Scott, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students

Meanwhile, remote NSO programming, according to Associate Dean of Student Life Alexander Cross, “saw more than two hundred unique attendees throughout the weekend, allowing us to introduce important learning topics virtually.”

Save for certain hybridized Health Sciences courses with necessarily in-person elements (e.g., labs, clinicals, practica, fieldwork), fall semester courses were otherwise taught remotely. No classes will be held on campus after November 20, 2020.

Beyond didactic instruction, all student resources have also become virtual. Counseling Services now practices telemental health and hosts remote workshops, which, according to Scott, “allow students to get together in a virtual space and process various topics such as grief and loss, anxiety, and mindfulness.” Counseling appointments can be made securely through the patient portal.

Career Development hosted a virtual student employment fair in addition to its regularly available remote individual appointments, made through AIC|Connect. And open houses for both undergraduate and graduate programs—perennially the largest admissions events of the fall semester—moved to a multi-day, virtual format.

Re: Opening

Students covid screening

ON JULY 16, 2020, the College announced plans to safely reopen for the fall with, in President Vince Maniaci’s words, “a focus on the future of the institution and furthering its vision of providing access and opportunity to a diverse community of students.”

Opening up the campus even partially called for sweeping procedural changes to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.

All members of the AIC community have been required to wear face coverings inside campus buildings, with the exceptions of residence hall rooms and bathrooms and offices occupied by one person. Desks in classrooms have been spaced six feet apart. Plexiglass dividers have been installed in reception and office areas. Arrows on hallway floors shift traffic flow to better eliminate congestion. Complimentary hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are abundantly available throughout campus.

The facilities management team has enforced a rigorous campus-wide sanitization and disinfection regimen. All hightouch surfaces are cleaned throughout the day with CDC-approved disinfectants.

Both the Dining Commons and Hive are open—with new distancing measures in place. Self-service has been suspended, and beverage options have been reduced to single servings. Students have the option to eat individually packaged meals either in the limited-capacity dining areas or, via to-go containers, elsewhere on campus, including a large tent erected next to the DC.

No Yellow Jacket Left Behind

Students conversing

IN HIS 1960 A History of American International College, Admiral John F. Hines Jr., the College’s eighth president, noted that students in the first freshman class at AIC (then the French American College), in 1894, had at least one commonality:

“they did not have enough money to continue their [prior] education. For the most part, these boys were from families who could not afford to have their sons educated or were ill-educated themselves and saw no reason for their children to be educated. … The College charged each student what he was able to pay.”

This fall, AIC maintained this tradition of easing students’ financial burdens by providing aid to those suffering the economic repercussions of the pandemic.

All eligible students received CARES Act Emergency Student Aid funding. Grants—commensurate with Expected Family Contribution, as calculated by FAFSA—were distributed automatically in the form of direct payments to undergraduate students. Two appeals phases followed, allowing graduate students and undergraduates with additional need to request unclaimed funds.

Two additional funds, the Student Emergency Fund (SEF) and the Student Auxiliary Aid Fund (SAAF), offer relief to AIC students facing financial headwinds exacerbated by the technological costs of transitioning to remote learning. SEF grants are designated for students dealing with an emergency situation or unanticipated and compelling circumstances that jeopardize their ability to successfully continue in school. The SAAF provides one-time emergency grants to students who cannot otherwise afford to remain enrolled.

Forging Forth

AIC student during 2020 Graduation

ON OCTOBER 8, 2020, the College announced that these remote learning measures would continue into the spring semester.

“By making this decision sooner rather than later, it will allow everyone to better plan for and best succeed in the coming semester.”
Vince Maniaci President

Residence halls will remain open. Academic deans and faculty will refer to student feedback in optimizing remote and synchronous instruction to best keep students connected to the curriculum, their professors, and each other. Faculty and staff also aim to provide students more in-person experiences where possible and allow guests on campus when appropriate.

Undergraduate classes will begin on January 19, 2021, and end on April 26, 2021. To prevent students from moving in and out of their primary locations, there will be no Spring Break in 2021. Commencement is scheduled for May 8, 2021; its format will be determined by the trend of the virus in the interim.

President Maniaci called the continuation of limited-opening precautions a “preemptive measure,” adding that, “if circumstances improve such that the threat of the virus significantly decreases,” the College “will consider the possibility of a broader reopening.”