A Year Like No Other

After nearly six months away, students are back on campus and ready to make the fall semester a successful one.

The weather in Syracuse was beautiful on Aug. 21 as Newhouse School faculty and staff welcomed incoming first-year students to campus. Wearing masks and socially distancing, students gathered on the Newhouse Plaza, where they were greeted by the dean, department chairs and staff members from the Office of Student Success, and picked up goodie bags and samples from local donut shop Glazed and Confused.

Inside the three Newhouse buildings, new signs blanketed the doors, hallways and classrooms, outlining safety protocols. Hand sanitizer stations had been installed at entrances and Food.com, the café located in Newhouse 3, had been reconfigured to allow for social distancing. Things looked different, but the bustle and excitement of a new academic year was the same as in previous years.  

Amy Falkner welcomes first-year Newhouse students
Associate Dean Amy Falkner welcomes incoming first-year students to Newhouse

The first day of classes came three days later, and the Fall 2020 semester was finally underway following nearly six months of remote instruction. “We had a remarkable, strong start to the semester, despite all the challenges we faced,” says Newhouse dean Mark J. Lodato.

Planning for this semester began nearly as soon as the spring semester ended. Led by Lodato, a COVID planning team consisting of several school administrators oversaw the effort, examining everything from classroom technology to bathroom capacity.

The team had to rethink both social and classroom spaces to accommodate maximum capacity under the social distancing guidelines dictated by New York State and the Centers for Disease Control. To support remote teaching and learning, over 22 conference cameras—which can move easily from point to point—were added to Newhouse classrooms. In addition, omnidirectional microphones were installed to provide remote learners with clear audio not only of the professor, but also of students in the room, in order to facilitate full class discussions. The school’s large event spaces like the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium were converted to classrooms, with accompanying technology upgrades.

The school’s photo, audio and production studios were also redesigned. Clear dividers were installed to provide a layer of protection while still allowing students and faculty to see each other and work together. The studios were also outfitted with height-adjustable mobile carts equipped with three onboard cameras and omnidirectional microphones, which allow professors to showcase gear and specialty equipment in detail to students in the class, whether in-person or online. 

All students enrolled in a Newhouse course were given access to Adobe Creative Cloud for the 2020-21 academic year, and Zoom and Kaltura were added to the library of software, allowing students and faculty to work together regardless of location or time of day.

Simomn Perez teaching under a tent
Associate professor Simon Perez teaches a broadcast and digital journalism class under a tent outside the school

In addition to classrooms outfitted with technology for remote instruction, tents were erected on the courtyard outside Newhouse to allow for classes to meet outside. So far, more than 100 professors have taken advantage of this setting. Tents will remain in place until Oct. 2.

Syracuse University implemented a hybrid instruction model, while also allowing for fully online or, if numbers allow, fully in-person classes. At Newhouse, more than 78 percent of courses are either in-person or online.

All students, faculty and staff are required to wear masks and socially distance while on campus. For the first few weeks of classes, 29 students assigned as Public Health Envoys were stationed around the Newhouse complex, helping to model good behavior by serving as visual reminders of what to do. A video produced by Newhouse’s digital post-production specialist, RC Concepcion, also outlined new safety guidelines at the school.

“Our students are doing a great job,” says Lodato. “I spend a lot of time walking the halls and seeing how people are doing. There is good reduced density, and students are wearing masks at all times.”

Newhouse public health envoys
Students serving as Public Health Envoys distribute face masks in Food.com

Students continue to benefit from all the opportunities of a Newhouse education—albeit with some adjustments, such as remote internships or the wearing of masks and face shields while on assignment off campus. Student services continue uninterrupted; faculty office hours and meetings with academic advisers are handled via Zoom, though in-person meetings can be scheduled as needed. The Career Development Center continues to offer a wide range of seminars and workshops in virtual format.

Overall, Syracuse University has been successful in keeping the number of COVID cases down through thorough planning, vigilance and innovative approaches such as the wastewater surveillance program. Cooperation from students and the entire campus community has been key.

“Our students want to be here,” says Lodato. “They’re aware of what’s going on around the country [at universities that have seen a spike in cases] and they’re grateful to be able to be on campus.”