Letters From the Dean for Return to Campus: Continuing Graduate Students

Update on Return to Campus for Columbia Engineering Graduate Students

Jul 07 2020

Dear Columbia Engineering Graduate Students,

I hope you have each been keeping well over these past few months during this unprecedented time in our world. I also hope that you have stayed connected with one another and with our school, and have found time to stay engaged in some of the virtual programming we have launched here at SEAS this summer. These offerings were developed to keep our community connected, including our new students, while remote. Please note that a next round of Design Challenges will begin soon with three new challenges, so please check these out.

I know how challenging this time has been and how the nature of the upcoming academic year imposes additional uncertainties. Please be assured that you are each very much on our minds, in our hearts, and a focus of our planning and priorities as we prepare for the upcoming academic year, monitor public health conditions, and manage the appropriate ramping up of on-campus activities. I appreciate your patience during this period of uncertainty.

President Bollinger recently outlined further details regarding the University plans and protocols for the new academic year in this time of COVID-19. Across SEAS, we have been in very active planning and preparation mode to ready and relaunch our on-campus research and educational efforts. Here, I provide further updates regarding the academic year, including the phased-in ramp-up of our research labs this summer, the academic calendar for the coming year, the curriculum, the opportunities for on-campus and remote learning, as well as protocols we are following to ensure your health and safety.

Research Ramp-Up

The ramping back up of laboratory research activities began on June 22 in accordance with University guidelines. Any research that can be accomplished remotely must continue to be done remotely as this helps reduce the density of people on campus as we gradually and collectively work to phase in on-campus activities. Prior to the start of the first stage of ramp up, PIs whose research could not be done remotely submitted ramp up plans (accommodating reduced density, social distancing and accommodation of mandated public health guidelines) for an approval process. Once approved, any faculty, doctoral students, researchers and staff coming back onto campus were and continue to be subject to mandatory public health guidelines. The labs are operating at approximately 1/3 capacity during this first stage. The stage 1 ramp up has gone very smoothly and we anticipate entering the second stage of lab-based research ramp up shortly. Guidance for the second stage expansion will be provided in the coming days.

Academic Calendar and Curriculum Structure

As announced earlier this summer, our graduate degree programs are being adapted to take advantage of the announced three-term format: Fall and Fall B/Spring/Summer (A and B) to offer new flexibility in your individual schedules.

*Each SEAS department will be offering courses across Fall, Fall B, Spring, and Summer A to enable flexibility for all degree programs. Summer B will also offer a selection of SEAS courses of broad interest.

*Continuing international students must remain registered full-time during each semester of study, including the fall term starting September 8, 2020.

*Students will be notified of course registration dates later in July.

Calendar Dates:

  • Fall: September 8 – December 23
  • Fall B: October 26 -December 23 for select upper level and graduate courses
  • Spring: January 11 – April 26
  • Summer A: May 3 – June 14
  • Summer B: June 28 – August 16

In-Person and Online Classes and Labs

For students on campus, with mandatory public health protocols in place, we are pleased that the classroom capacity will provide opportunities for most class gatherings of 50 persons or fewer to be in person. Physical spaces are being reconfigured and adapted to abide by important public health social distancing mandates and other requirements (including traffic flow in surrounding areas). Note that all SEAS courses will be able to accommodate students in a fully remote mode, even courses that can meet in person.

Courses will have the opportunity to be taught in a “HyFlex” format to take advantage of in-person instruction with the expectation that some proportion of students will be learning off-campus and some will be remote online. The HyFlex model allows for smaller groups of students to rotate joining class in person, while other classmates join remotely. Classrooms are being further enhanced with HyFlex technology that incorporates new video and audio technologies to enable simultaneous in-person and remote attendance and engagement. In addition to this synchronous remote mode, we will also offer asynchronous attendance of lectures to accommodate students in different time zones or other challenges. While large lectures will necessarily be in remote or HyFlex mode, recitations and office hours will provide opportunities for in-person engagements.

Degree programs with laboratory-based classes and projects require additional attention. We are preparing to offer laboratory classes in person where possible—adapting the teaching labs to meet social distancing and other public health mandates—and offering multiple sections for some lab courses if needed. We are also developing ways to accommodate students in remote mode, including development and deployment of experiment kits for some classes.

Co-curricular research and innovation projects are signature elements of the Columbia Experience. In addition to the Professional Development and Leadership (PDL) workshops and events, we will also be offering a set of Design Challenges, as well as small projects and research experiences that focus on the intersection of engineering and applied science with the pressing issues of our time—from Pandemics to Climate Change to Social Justice. Our Summer Design Challenges offered a preliminary set of such grand challenges and have had the active engagement of hundreds of students together with faculty, reflecting our School spirit of Engineering for Humanity.

Public Health Requirements

The university has established and is mandating a set of public health protocols that all faculty, students, and staff must follow in the interest of the health and safety of the entire community (see the full set of University guidelines) covering:

  • SARS-CoV-2 Diagnostic Testing
  • On-Line Return to Campus Training Module
  • Daily Symptom Checking
  • Subsequent Sample Testing
  • Face Coverings
  • Physical Distancing
  • Hand Washing and Sanitizers
  • Expanded Cleaning Services and Practices in all spaces

These protocols are mandatory and will be updated regularly following any new updates in conditions and best practices. The University will also introduce the Columbia Community Health Compact, a compact for all Columbians to agree to abide by the public health protocols as part of our culture and in the interest of the health and safety of everyone.

We appreciate your understanding and patience during this uncertain time as we try to best meet the needs and interests of all students while having your health and safety as a priority.

We share in your excitement and eagerness to be here on campus at Columbia and must temper this with the need for health and safety. We recognize that our protocols for the upcoming year will result in a different campus experience for all, yet one that also shapes us all. Despite these challenges, I continue to be inspired by the resilient, adaptive, positive and innovative intellectual community that is Columbia—the dedication and persistence of our faculty and staff in planning and preparing for the upcoming academic year has been remarkable.

We look forward to coming together again as a community—both in-person and remotely—and to offering all of you a robust and exciting set of courses and programming in the fall.

Please look out for additional information in the coming weeks and months.

Mary C. Boyce
Dean of Engineering
Morris A. and Alma Schapiro Professor