by Evan Nikas

Q: Since Cape Cod Community College’s (4Cs) closure earlier this year, a lot has changed since then. How has the college been coping with the changes due to COVID-19?

A: It’s important to remember Cape Cod Community College did not close. As an agile learning community, very alert to what was transpiring across the globe and listening to the recommendations from the CDC and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) to enhance our community’s health and safety, we aligned ourselves with the ever-evolving recommendations and adapted to the virtual learning platforms to continue to serve our students. Our faculty and staff rose to the occasion, many with a background and familiarity in online learning. Through collaboration and the work of our Teaching and Learning Center, we continued to build upon our capabilities to better serve our students in terms of virtual learning classrooms, student support services, and on-going communications.

Our Facilities Team reviewed and updated their capabilities for enhanced cleaning and sanitization. We brought in outside professional consultants to test and validate our level of sanitization practice.

We maintained tuition and fees at their 2019 levels considering the pandemic brought upon financial setbacks amongst many of our students. We worked with many students through the transition to the virtual classroom, recognizing the issues with familiarity of software, such as Moodle, and the technology challenges many students had with access from home. Our IT Department expanded our laptop loaner program, added secure Wi-Fi access available in parking lot 11, and reminded people of Comcast’s Essentials service for low cost internet access. Our Library staff has enabled use of the computer lab, by appointment, for a quiet, healthy, and safe place to learn and study.

 Over the Summer term, we began to offer a few face-to-face courses, particularly for those programs requiring the hands-on lab experience, such as Dental Hygiene, EMT, and Aviation Maintenance. This Fall we added a few more courses to the mix as we continue to follow the CDC and MDPH guidelines. We ask everyone coming to campus to complete a self-attestation prior to arrival and require a mask and temperature check as everyone enters. The College has a very extensive set of protocols that are followed to ensure health and safety for all. These protocols continue to be modified per the directives from the CDC and the Commonwealth as we learn more about COVID-19.

Q: How would you say the first full semester of remote learning has gone for students, as well as faculty?

A:We are about halfway through the Fall semester. Students are progressing well, flexible and adapting with the encouragement and commitment of our faculty and staff. Early on when the world found itself in the quagmire of the pandemic and we had to shift to virtual education, I spoke with many students. They were considering withdrawing from College and waiting out the pandemic. Like my colleagues, we coached students to stay on and continue to progress in their education, rather than take a gap year for time never to be recouped later. Let’s all work together to make this transition successful as we develop a comfort level. We know there are few options, and we are confident that when students continue to progress in their education, they will be more prepared for a world when COVID-19 is fully managed.

This has been a stressful time for many people. There were many uncertainties we had to work through as we collaborated with public health officials from the Federal and State governments. Our priority has always been to enable higher education to continue in a healthy and safe manner, minimizing COVID-19 risks. For many families, it was particularly problematic witnessing other colleges and universities delay their Fall start decisions and later modifying those decisions as institutions witnessed their limitations in managing COVID-19.

The uncertainty and delay of K12 resuming this Fall added more pressure in households in addition to the economic consequence of the recession. Honestly, at this moment in history we see the greatest threat to prosperity and well-being we’ve encountered since the Great Depression. Think about it, since March, 60 million unemployment claims have been filed. While many have found work, last week we had almost 900,000 more people file for unemployment. These are our family members, friends, and people in our community. Fortunately, the Federal government assisted in offsetting the initial impact with relief funding. Many of our students directly benefited from the CARES Act. This move likely helped us avoid a Depression, but as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the globe there continues to be further need.

 With the recession, we know people not working spend less, which impacts other businesses. A full recovery can take years. The Congressional Budget Office projects a total of $7.6 trillion in lost output during the next decade. We want to make sure our students and future graduates are positioned well as the recovery ramps up. We want students to continue their education. We will get beyond the pandemic and recession, and our students will be positioned for success.

To your original question on how it’s going for students and faculty, I understand the stress and anxiety many are facing. The concern over loss of life among relatives and neighbors, the fear of contracting the virus, the economic uncertainty, and the prolonged effects of isolation and loneliness continue to erode the mental health across our community.

According to the CDC, nearly 40% of US adults report symptoms of depression, compared to 11% a year ago! Visualize the data, 80 million more individuals with these mental health conditions related to COVID-19. We are always looking to enhance our existing wellness services. Clearly, there is a need for further Federal economic support to mitigate the economic damage and increase testing. This would help offset some mental health concerns.

Q: With the decision to go fully remote again for the upcoming Spring semester, will there be any changes to remote learning to make it easier for students?

A:  We will continue to support student wellness, both virtually and limited face-to-face, academic support services and student engagement. We are increasing the number of laptops available in the loaner program and are looking for options to include a laptop as a part of the instructional materials for students. Faculty and staff continue to collaborate through the Teaching and Learning Center, increasing virtual learning capabilities in support of your education. There are several clubs to join, often initiated by the students themselves, and events to partake in to enhance student involvement and engagement.

Q: For programs such as WKKL and their radio station on campus, are there plans in the future to allow students involved back on campus to use these facilities again? Such as in a limited capacity?

A: We are continuing to review options for increased face-to-face instruction in the future, within State and Federal guidelines. In addition, we are looking at future virtual course options focused on building content and production to be used by WKKL and the MainSheet that would be made available via the airwaves, internet broadcasting, and digital publishing

Q: 4Cs became one of the first testing centers to open once COVID-19’s presence was felt here on Cape Cod. What influenced the college to open its campus to a testing site at first, and how has it helped the since then?

A: To be clear, 4Cs volunteered to be one of the first locations for a drive-thru testing center for COVID-19. Our Facilities Team rose to the occasion to enable the logistics to come together quickly working with our lead partners, Cape Cod Healthcare and Barnstable County Emergency Management. Given our mission, our commitment to the community and public health, and our partnership, we wanted to help. We applaud the front-line health care providers of Cape Cod Healthcare and Barnstable County who were responsible for the testing of the people in need.

Q:  How have you been doing personally the past few months?

A: I am truly grateful. Cape Cod Community College is fortunate to have faculty and staff with a strong foundation in virtual teaching and learning. This enabled the transition to virtual learning to move forward more successfully than many other institutions and created the ability for faculty and staff to work with each other in continuing to refine and expand virtual instructional capabilities. I am truly grateful for the staff, supportive of student needs, particularly in the wellness and academic support areas. I am truly grateful for our Facility Maintainers, serving the front line, keeping our buildings clean and sanitized.

 I am grateful for our virtual Student Forums. As a community, we continue to build a comfort level with virtual education. While I understand it may not be everyone’s preference for learning, at this moment in history we are all expanding our capabilities, doing things successfully we never envisioned a year ago. We will be stronger, a bit more self-directed and creative, and wiser for the experience.

 I’m doing well. On a few occasions I’ve been out in my yacht, the nearly three-decade old kayak, watching birds lift off, counting jellyfish, contemplating the How-To Manual for Pandemics. I tried managing my haircut at home, after practicing on the dog. Who would have ever imagined?