Local campuses prepare for virtual semester as students head back

Universities and colleges are preparing for a very different start to the fall semester this year, with many students learning online rather than in-class.

Frosh week and orientation moves online, while residences reduce number of students

Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Waterloo, University of Guelph and Conestoga College welcome back returning and first-year students to a non-traditional year. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Universities and colleges are preparing for a very different start to the fall semester this year, with many students learning online rather than in-class.

Traditional activities, such as orientation week have also gone virtual. 

But not everyone will be off-campus, and the post-secondary institutions are planning for hundreds or even thousands of students who will live in residences on campus. 

Reduced dorms 

Trisha Weigel-Green is the associate vice president of student affairs at Conestoga College.

She said campuses had in-class and online trial runs in the spring and summer and that has prepared them for the fall.

"Students will be in what we would call a hybrid delivery where some of their programming is remote and some of their programming may need to come to campuses," said Weigel-Green.

"We did some test cases with some online orientation and that went really well. So we're tweaking a lot of that for the fall but making some additions as well." 

Weigel-Green estimates about only 1,000 students will be on campus throughout the Doon, Cambridge, Waterloo, Guelph and Brantford campuses.

A posting from March 2020 on the college website said about 23,000 full-time students were enrolled with 30,000 more students enrolled as part-time.

Campus life 

Despite a majority of students learning online, some must live on campus for a variety of reasons, including not having internet access at home, or in some cases, international students who have been left stranded in Canada due to the pandemic. 

At the University of Guelph, about 500 students were accepted to live in residences. The University of Guelph normally sees up to 5,000 students on campus. 

At Conestoga's Doon campus, only 250 spaces have been offered from the 500 rooms available. The University of Waterloo will only see 2,000 students including first-year, returning students, graduate housing and family graduate housing. 

At Wilfrid Laurier campuses in Waterloo and Brantford, a combined 1,400 students will be living in residence compared to about 3,700 students they would have seen in previous years.

"Students will have access to food and really a lot of the similar experiences that they had in residence around our learning communities and our academic learning clusters," said Adam Lawrence, the dean of students at Wilfrid Laurier University.

"Our students will still have access to our leadership certificate program, which will allow students to participate in house councils and be engaged in activities in residence."

Frosh week

Orientation week or "frosh week" is normally when freshman get to know people in their programs and get acquainted with campus.

This year, it's all online. 

At Laurier, Adam Lawrence said they're focused on a longer orientation week that will include more of a focus on mental health as well as presentations on gendered violence and anti-racism.

Conestoga will offer a virtual, smaller orientation.

"We're hiring student ambassadors and they'll be on all of our campuses that are open, to welcome students to help them feel comfortable," said Weigel-Green.

"We're going to have some welcome booths so that we've got music and swag and some of the other things that we hope will help kind of bring back that Conestoga vibe that we've always been really proud of."


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