When Ohlone College made the decision to move to online classes in the spring of 2020 in response to the pandemic, they could not foresee the future impact the virus would have on instruction. But, as the weeks passed and turned into months, the reality of the new normal sunk in—there was no going back on campus, at least not until there was a safe path with guidance from county health orders easing restrictions to ensure public safety.
But, the College rolled with the punches. College administration, faculty, and staff joined together to unite in adjusting to the online class format and made the decision to continue putting the safety of the campus community first with another semester of classes and all student services accessible online for the fall. For those students who did not have access to a computer, like many colleges, Ohlone provided Chromebooks and also extended financial support through grants from the Ohlone College Foundation and state and federal funds disbursed through the financial aid office.
One thing, however, became clear from the summer term—there were still some students who were left needing a little more attention; who needed someone to speak with face-to-face; who had to turn in documents and wanted questions answered in person or who needed hands-on help to fill out forms.
“We knew, as a community college, that we needed to put the needs of our students first and to be one step ahead in serving them as the fall semester moved closer,” says Dr. Eric Bishop, Superintendent/President of the Ohlone Community College District. “That’s why we made the decision to offer limited in-person student services on campus.”
After weeks of planning to ensure all COVID-19 safety measures were in place, the College began its limited in-person student services on August 3 on its Fremont Campus at the Student Services Building on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Staff from admissions and records, counseling, financial aid, and the Career Center are now on-site during the limited hours to help students with their questions and needs. The College also has a cashier on site for those who need to manage billing and payments.
“When Dr. Bishop supported the idea, our Return to Work Committee joined together to iron out the details, with strategic planning and logistics to ensure we could pull this together in as safe a way possible for both our employees and our students,” says Shairon Zingsheim, Vice President of Human Resources. “There were so many details to consider but it has all come together and we are pleased to be able to provide this for our students.”
In order to protect the health of students and campus community, all individuals working or visiting campus must wear a face mask and are subject to a health screening with temperature checks upon entry. The College also enforces social distancing guidelines of six-feet or more with hand sanitizing stations at every entry point where services take place.
“The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Dr. Andree Thomas, Dean of Counseling, Student Support and Success. “We are on campus to support students with various needs so they can begin, or continue, their journey at Ohlone successfully and we consistently look for ways to connect students to the support they may need to continue with their academic goals.”
Based on the success of this first phase of limited-in-person student service offerings, the College has decided to expand operations to the Newark Center making the same services available on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. More plans are under way to provide more support to students who may be negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and who may have very limited access to the internet. Plans are in place to open up student study centers with social distancing on both campuses.
Technology support has also been expanded to provide devices to those students who have situations where they do not have access or the means to a laptop. Thanks to the support of the Ohlone College Foundation, additional Google Chromebooks are available to be given to students in need. To be eligible, students must fill out an Emergency Technology Equipment Request Form. Once the request is reviewed, the College contacts students to notify them of next steps. Due to limited supply, the Chromebooks are being distributed to those with the highest need and those who are disproportionately impacted. Additionally, with the support of the Foundation, the College has expanded its availability of hotspots for students with little, no, or unstable WiFi.
“It is our responsibility as educators to give students the tools that they need to succeed,” adds Dr. Bishop. “And, as a community college, we are here to serve and to ensure that our students not only survive this time but thrive.”