MISSOULA — A new semester has begun at the University of Montana and COVID-19 will undoubtedly be at the forefront of the college’s focus just as it was during the fall semester.
By now, they’ve become masters of mitigation, so they’re reevaluating the college experience, and finding a little time to focus on the “fun factor.”
“We were really feeling as if the time had come for us to say, look, let's continue on with our mitigation the way we have it, and see what we can add on top of that to give people an opportunity to engage with each other a little bit,” said Vice Provost for Student Success Sarah Swager.
As classes at UM once again gets underway, the same COVID-19 procedures will remain in place, but students can also look forward to a series of winter events. For starters, a temporary ice rink now occupies the oval.
“In addition to that, we have a number of new opportunities for students because we are lucky that we live in a place where winter is actually a really good time of year for us to spend time outdoors together,” said Swager.
Swagger said they’re grooming trails at the UM golf course to offer students cross country skiing, providing treats, live music, and portable fire pits on the oval, even partnering with the Roxy Theater for free movie nights.
“It's just a way to sort of break up the week a little bit, and it gives students a chance to come out and say hello to the others who might be gathered out on the oval."
Students won’t have the luxury of an all in-person semester, crowded events, or much of the excitement associated with the college experience. But the new activities will bring a little bit of normalcy to an unconventional school year.
“It's a positive addition to the academic environment,” said Swager, “It's a way for us to sort of get back to students and let them know that we really do care very deeply about their social health and their emotional health.”
Students living in the UM residence halls will be offered free asymptomatic COVID-19 tests the first two weeks of the semester. That's in addition to the symptomatic tests that are available for all students all semester long.