It may seem from an outside perspective that not much is going on at Washington Adventist University. The campus is in a usual summer quiet, and the hallways are gleaming from the wax polish unblemished by the rush of students’ steps. Externally, the stillness is not representative of the busy, driven work that is going on in our offices, on our phones, and the extensive Zoom calls. Washington Adventist University is buzzing under the surface, preparing for the new semester and the cohort of students we intend to welcome onto this blessed campus at the end of August.
Planning around COVID-19 has hit a fevered pace as the COVID-19 Taskforce, led by EVP and CFO Patrick Farley, has been intentionally looking at each aspect of the campus experience in this new reality. If you enter campus today, you’ll see a group of staff with masks on, observing social distancing, and working diligently toward a ready university. “We will leave no stone unturned in preparation for the new semester,” says Patrick Farley.
One aspect of the plan includes in-person classes. WAU’s Taskforce has measured each classroom to identify the number of students and faculty that will be allowed, ala (vis-à-vis) social distancing, in each space. Other spaces on campus will be converted into classroom space to allow more significant occupancy. Mask wearing will be mandatory, in addition to wellness checks, temperature checks, and requests for consistent handwashing as per CDC guidelines. Residence hall rooms will be single occupancy, and a strict cleaning schedule will be enforced across campus.
The university intends to send the student body home at Thanksgiving break, and instruction will be virtual for the remainder of the semester. Provost Cheryl Kisunzu comments, “We intend to allow every student to succeed in safety and the knowledge that WAU is doing everything necessary to allow our students to thrive in this difficult time. We want to be proactive in the realities of this global pandemic and what it means for higher education.”
As an aspect of enhancing the student experience, Dr. Ralph Johnson has been elevated to the position of VP for the Center for Student Life. This new position merges the Office of Ministry with Student Life to create a greater synergy for the student experience. Dr. Johnson has a passion for student life as he has been Dean of the Betty Howard Center for Student Success for several years and has a long record of student affairs work at a variety of universities. “His intentionality towards the best results for our WAU students, and a steadfast drive towards elevating the student experience has led to this new leadership role. We believe God will bless WAU through Dr. Johnson’s love for our student body,” says President Weymouth Spence.
Dr. Johnson will take on oversight of Student Life and Ministry and a strengthened partnership with Sligo Church and its pastoral staff to bring new energy to the office. Each aspect of student life is being assessed and reassessed to offer the WAU student the best experience possible in this time of COVID-19. Dr. Johnson says, “The opportunities we have for student enrichment and growth outweigh the challenges that we face from the pandemic. Through sheer grit, we will consider all the possibilities and, with God’s guidance, choose the path He will set before us. Every student is valuable, and we are blessed to have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.”