Letter From the Dean for Return to Campus: All Undergraduates

Update on Return to Campus for Columbia Engineering Undergraduates

Jul 07 2020

Dear SEAS Undergraduates,

I hope you have each been keeping well over these past few months during this unprecedented time in our world. Whether you are a returning student or a new student, I also hope that you have had the opportunity to connect with Columbia and be 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 calendar, the curriculum, the opportunities for on-campus and remote living and learning, as well as protocols we are following to ensure your health and safety.

Academic Calendar and Curriculum Structure

As announced earlier this summer, the undergraduate degree programs are being adapted to take advantage of the announced three-term format: Fall/Spring/Summer (A and B) to offer new flexibility in individual schedules. Please note that you may enroll in a full course schedule during the fall and spring; the expanded calendar offers additional flexibility to spread your courses over the three terms and/or take additional courses over the arc of three terms.

*Each SEAS department will be offering courses across Fall/Spring/Summer A to enable flexibility for all majors to take advantage of the expanded academic calendar. Indeed, every major will add classes to Summer A while also providing course offerings during Fall and Spring. Furthermore, Summer B will offer a selection of SEAS courses of broad interest.

*Students who reside on campus are required to take a full course load. Whether on campus or remote, we expect that all students will take a minimum of 12 credits in the Fall and 12 credits in the Spring (satisfying full-time status requirements) which will enable you to stay on track for completion of your degree requirements.

*As indicated earlier, we will be offering a rich set of offerings in Summer A for every major and we encourage students to consider taking two immersive seven-week courses in the Summer A period—whether on campus or remote. Hence, the three-term alternative offers the advantage of spreading courses out over three terms.

*Students may choose to complete normal schedules over the Fall and Spring, and either leave the Summer free for other opportunities or use the Summer to expand their course portfolio.

*If interested, students may choose to enroll in as many as 40 credits over Fall/Spring/Summer (A and B), perhaps using the expanded academic calendar to consider pursuing a minor or other interest.

*We do anticipate that many seniors will desire to complete their degree requirements by the end of Spring term and course offerings will be provided to enable that possibility.

*We note that many students will be considering summer internships, research or field work. For this reason, Summer A completes by June 18 which enables a full July and August summer internship, field, or research opportunity.

*Students will be notified of course registration periods 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 18
  • 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 classes will be able to accommodate students in a fully remote mode, even classes 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.

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.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Students who enroll for the academic year must enroll in a minimum of 12 credits in the Fall and in the Spring. This constitutes full-time status and will also ensure successful progression towards completion of your degree requirements. Fall and Spring will have the normal tuition structure. Furthermore, for those undergraduate students enrolled full time in both Fall and Spring, your Summer (A and B) courses will not incur tuition—students may enroll in up to 40 credits over the Fall/Spring/Summer (A and B) terms. Student financial aid packages will accommodate enrollment in courses over this expanded three term calendar. This expanded three-term structure then gives students flexibility to either spread their full set of courses over three terms and/or to pursue additional courses towards a minor and explore wider interests across the academic year.

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.

Undergraduates and On-Campus Residence

As President Bollinger has indicated, there are many intricate aspects surrounding undergraduate students in residence to be accounted for while meeting public health measures for the safety of our students and overall community. Please note that the University guidelines for public health and the Columbia Community Health Compact apply to residential life in addition to applying to academic life. These conditions, of course, impact many aspects of undergraduate life and many co-curricular activities.

We are heartened that Columbia is able to accommodate 60% of SEAS and College students in on-campus housing with single occupancy rooms for this coming Fall term, provided New York guidance and conditions permit such residence. We understand that 60% occupancy necessarily means that we will not be able to welcome all students to be in residence for the entire year.

  • The Fall term partial capacity will welcome first-year students and sophomores as well as those new to campus, including entering 3-2 students and transfer students who elected on-campus housing.
  • For Fall term, we will also consider students with special circumstances for on-campus housing including:
  • Students who lack safe and necessary conditions for learning in their home environment.
  • Students who are pursuing advanced academic projects that require access to materials and spaces found only on campus.
  • International students who have visa and travel concerns.
  • Students with an existing accommodation with Columbia Health and/or students who have discussed personal circumstances with a provider in Columbia Health.
  • Spring term will welcome juniors and seniors to be in residence. We hope to provide full occupancy for Spring term, but we acknowledge this great uncertainty. Therefore, a rotation of students may be needed to enable juniors and seniors to be on campus in the Spring.
  • Furthermore, we are excited by the potential to offer a significant undergraduate residence experience during Summer 2021 with an expanded set of curriculum offerings and time on campus during the summer (whether for Summer A or both Summer A&B).
  • Based on guidance from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, we will welcome all international students during both the Fall and Spring terms.
  • A housing questionnaire will follow in the next day for all new and continuing students to complete to confirm or update your interest in living on campus.

Student Life

Programs, activities, and services across undergraduate student life will continue, however, they will look different than in previous years. Opportunities will be offered to connect virtually, whether you are on or off-campus, with creative new programs under development. In person programs, activities and services will be adjusted for physical distancing and adjusted room capacities. For our new students, you will soon be receiving information about the virtual offering of our New Student Orientation Program (NSOP) as we begin to welcome you to Columbia!

Co-curricular research and innovation projects are signature elements of the Columbia Experience. We will continue to provide research experiences for undergraduates; many students have been engaged in virtual experiences this summer and we anticipate enabling in-person experiences as we come back to campus. 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. We are also excited to have the Office of Undergraduate Global Engagement introduce the Columbia Global Collaboratory to further engage undergraduates across Columbia in complex global issues.

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.

In Closing

We share in your excitement and eagerness to be back 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 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. In the meantime, our newest Summer Design Challenges are ramping up this week and we are planning a series of online short courses for later this summer!

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