The Star-Herald

NMCC classes transition to online, campus limits number of staff members onsite

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Northern Maine Community College is transitioning much of its coursework to online learning due to increased efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Currently students and instructors are on an extended spring break that will end on Monday, April 6. By that date, instructors will have begun teaching the majority of classes online, with most staff members working from home.

“We’ve taught online classes for a number of years now, so many of our students have had experience with that type of learning,” said college president Tim Crowley on Wednesday. “Transitioning our more hands-on programs has been the biggest challenge.”

Students who are enrolled in nursing, emergency medical services or other healthcare programs that require simulation classes will still have access to the college’s nursing simulation center, but will gather in small groups of fewer than 10 people to minimize the potential spread of illness. 

Nursing students in their final semester of study will continue their clinical experiences at area hospitals.

Crowley and instructors from the trade and technical programs are discussing how to best transition lab coursework to virtual labs, which will allow students to complete their courses remotely. But some programs, such as welding, still require students to come to campus to complete work in a limited, small-group setting.

Even now the campus has had to become “very restrictive” on who can visit faculty and staff offices. The college’s Smith Wellness Center and Edmunds Library are closed and all tutoring services have been moved online. Many staff members are working from home. 

When April 6 comes, the campus will have a “skeleton crew” consisting only of faculty and staff who need to be on campus to assist students.

Crowley recommends that members of the public call the campus at 207-768-2700 before deciding whether to visit. If an in-person visit is necessary, people should schedule an appointment with the person they would like to speak with and go directly to that office to minimize contact with other staff members.

“Most of our students have been reaching out through email or phone calls,” Crowley said. “Probably 50 percent of our employees are working from home now and we expect that number to grow after the break.”

Thus far the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Aroostook County, though 155 cases were confirmed throughout 11 Maine counties as of Thursday morning. But Crowley said that Northern Maine Community College has been communicating with the Maine Emergency Management Agency and is ready to assist local healthcare workers if an outbreak occurs.

Only eight residential students remain on campus and all have moved into Andrews Hall. In the event that local hospitals become overwhelmed, the college has offered the use of its empty residence halls — Snow Hall, Penobscot Hall and Washington Hall — to MEMA and healthcare professionals.

“We have ample room on campus and we have personal protective equipment available for healthcare professionals if needed,” Crowley said.

As of this time, the college has kept its commencement ceremony scheduled for Saturday, May 2, at The Forum. But Crowley noted that it is “unlikely” that commencement will occur in the traditional way due to increased cancellations of large-scale events throughout  Aroostook County and the state. The college will announce specific plans at a later date.

Though the past month has resulted in many fast-paced changes for students, faculty and staff members, Crowley said that the recent decisions have been for the health and safety of campus and community members. 

“In the 32 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anything like this happen, but our staff and faculty have really stepped up to meet the needs of our students,” Crowley said. “It has been heartwarming to see how everyone has responded.”

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