UMPI, UMFK moving toward ‘near normalcy’ for fall semester
PRESQUE ISLE and FORT KENT, Maine — Students returning to the University of Maine at Presque Isle and University of Maine at Fort Kent this fall will likely experience a semester closer to pre-pandemic times than the past year, according to college officials.
On Wednesday the University of Maine System announced that all seven universities and the Maine School of Law are planning for a more traditional semester that will include in-person classes as the major mode of instruction and possibly fewer restrictions on classroom size and public gatherings.
Maine CDC guidelines will determine in the coming months exactly how many students will be allowed in classrooms and dorm rooms, when universities can reopen athletic facilities and other public buildings and what role physical distancing and masks will play in these spaces.
UMPI President Ray Rice said that faculty and staff are already planning for a fall schedule with at least 60 to 70 percent of classes being held in person as opposed to having that same percentage in distance or hybrid classes.
Though UMPI will not know until summer exactly how many students will be allowed to stay in the residence halls or what mode of instruction some will choose, many students are already expressing a strong interest in fully in-person class schedules.
“We’ve been keeping in touch with students throughout the semester through surveys and the majority of students have said that they want to return to face-to-face classes,” Rice said.
UMFK President Deborah Heeden noted that Maine’s northernmost campus is in a similar situation to UMPI. Currently only 30 percent of UMFK’s classes are being held in person while 70 percent are online. This fall she hopes that Maine’s pandemic situation allows UMFK to flip that statistic back toward a majority of classes being in person.
“We’re planning on a semester where most of the online classes are those directly connected to an already online program,” Heeden said. “Our students are very excited to be going back to seeing their instructors one on one again.”
The campuses are not requiring employees and students to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at this time, but are encouraging them to receive one, UMaine Chancellor Dannel Malloy said during the press briefing on Zoom.
Due to the ages of many System faculty and staff, he expects that the majority will become eligible under Maine’s age-based distribution by late spring.
“Twenty-five percent of our employees are currently eligible and 75 percent will become eligible in May,” Malloy said.
For UMPI and UMFK students who are approaching the end of their college lives, the upcoming fall is already looking to be a more typical senior year.
Cassie Demers, a junior social work major at UMPI who volunteers for Aroostook County Action Program, has seen firsthand how the pandemic has caused immense mental health struggles for people. Students, many of whom have relied on Zoom and FaceTime to connect with family and friends far away, have also dealt with the struggles of remote learning.
But Demers, who is from Winslow, said that the constant outreach from UMPI faculty members have allowed her and her classmates to persevere under the most difficult circumstances. She said that the return to near normalcy this fall will be a welcome change for students and a benefit to everyone’s social well-being.
“I’m really excited by the thought of having fewer restrictions, especially for our athletes. It’s not the same for them when you don’t have people in the stands cheering you on,” Demers said.
Rajay Maragh, a UMFK student who began his senior year this spring, is also looking forward to when in-person gatherings become the norm.
Prior to the pandemic Maragh, who is from Jamaica, and other international students held cultural events that taught campus and community members about the cultures of their home countries. Recently they have shifted those events online and have done more outdoor activities in the community such as skiing and snowshoeing.
As the fall semester approaches, Maragh said he’ll look forward to the day when he and friends can put on events or just hang out on campus without worrying about the pandemic disrupting plans.
“Fort Kent is a great community where everybody knows everybody, but when you’re wearing a mask you don’t know who someone is,” Maragh said. “We’re all looking forward to returning to normal and having the full Fort Kent experience.”