The runways are closed to fixed-wing aviation, although they are used for a variety of drone testing. The Army has landed helicopters there and there have been discussions of reactivating one of the runways, however that has not been acted upon to date.
All of our faculty, and in fact all of our employees, are carefully and thoroughly interviewed before they are hired and criminal background checks are done on each one. They are the best in their fields and add significantly to the research, teaching, and service missions of the university. Texas A&M employs over 4,000 faculty members on our campus and they represent an even wider breadth of diverse opinions and thought than is found on many university campuses. We believe this provides a very positive experience overall for our students. Our faculty are clearly informed what sorts of activities and topics are permissible in the classroom depending upon the curriculum of the courses they teach. However, we have processes and procedures in place for those rare instances where a faculty member violates a university or system policy.
We continue to find ways to connect and engage students during this time. Many of our signature programs moved forward in a virtual format including Fish Camp, Howdy Week, ExCEL, Vet Camp, IDEAAL, and Latin Logradores. Additionally, the Corps of Cadets held Freshman Orientation Week. With a large percentage of our students living on campus, freshmen are starting to find community in their residences halls and can be seen congregating in small groups in outside courtyards and courts. Record engagement with our virtual open house has indicated that students are wanting connection with other students. For our Freshman Leadership Organizations (FLO), we had 2,000 students apply to join organizations. We are also seeing an increase in sophomore student engagement perhaps due to a F2F spring semester being cut short. Over 90% of freshman are also registered for a Hullabaloo U course which has been a wonderful way to keep new students connected to each other, a peer mentor, and a faculty/staff mentor. Student organizations and facilities around campus continue to add activities and events for students to participate in across campus. Aggie traditions continue in a modified format to ensure student safety and engagement with the Aggie Family.
Effective September 19th, the 30-day moratorium on student organizations reserving outdoor space was lifted and we are beginning to see an uptick in the scheduling of on-campus events, both indoor and outdoor. We continue to operate a robust student recreation program that now includes COVID appropriate intramural leagues that kicked off this week, including kickball rather than flag football. We’ve also dispatched staff from Rec Sports to instruct students as to proper safety protocols on campus volleyball and basketball courts as well as how to safely play games such as soccer, ultimate frisbee, and other field games.
In the residence halls, floors and buildings have sponsored a variety of game nights to engage students in the residence halls while maintaining safe protocols.
During this period of COVID-19, Texas A&M University students have full access to services through telehealth at the Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS). The number of students seeking services remains consistent with years past. The presenting concerns continue to be anxiety followed by depression, which is similar to previous years. However, people report that COVID and finances are the primary reasons for their anxiety. CAPS is also providing more outreaches (e.g., classroom presentations, conversations with student organizations, formal education programs) than in previous years due to the ease of entering zoom meetings and the increased number of requests for mental health information. Additionally, CAPS is sharing its website resources and averages approximately 4,000 hits per week.
For our on-campus residents, the Department of Residence Life has various protocols and programs for engaging students with one another and for checking in on students. Resident Advisors, Graduate Hall Directors, and Community Directors all play important roles in supporting students’ lives who live on campus.
We know that our student population is highly engaged in the more than 1,100 student organizations that Texas A&M boasts. These organizations are another touchpoint for students to engage with others but also serve as an opportunity for peers or organization advisors to address/report/seek assistance for any concerns of a member’s mental health.
Student Assistance Services (SAS) is a unit within the Offices of the Dean of Student Life that seeks to connect Texas A&M University students with the appropriate guidance, resources, and support to address a variety of personal and academic matters, including mental health concerns. The SAS staff possess an extensive network of contacts and resources across the University and in the community by which students are often referred and to which students can often receive the needed assistance.
Finally, students are observed in a variety of settings along with their academic classes. The Tell Somebody website (https://tellsomebody.tamu.edu/) is a site where one can report the behavior of a student that is concerning by using the online report form or by contacting one of the Special Situations Team members during business hours. The Special Situations Team is comprised of university faculty and staff charged with helping students, faculty and staff who are exhibiting concerning behavior. These are experienced staff who will coordinate a response that will provide the needed assistance for a student.
Presently, Texas still operates under several executive orders from the Governor and guidance from the Texas Department of State Health Services regarding COVID-19, including direction and guidance regarding face coverings. TAMU’s face covering policy is predicated on additional guidance from the CDC and we would expect to continue the current policy until guidance from the CDC, Governor, and DSHS is amended or rescinded. Lastly, we remain in close contact with the TAMU System regarding guidance associated with risk mitigation on all TAMU System campuses.
This remains a critical component of our risk mitigation as evidenced by the policy, but also the prevention measures taken with respects to physical distancing, occupancy limits for indoor and outdoor gathering locations (including Kyle Field), building filtration, and sanitation measures. These efforts would be further compounded if face coverings were not presently required in all indoor spaces as well as outdoor if six feet of physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Two-thirds of course sections are offered in-person for students which represents almost half of the semester credit hours. All in-person classes do have a remote option, so students can elect to attend virtually at any given time. While 28% of students planned to only attend remotely, many students are taking advantage of the remote option. The university does not record attendance of students in classes, but faculty report anywhere from no students attending in-person to upwards of 80% in- person. The university is actively working to encourage students to attend in-person in the coming weeks. In addition, we will be making some changes for spring course delivery to have some course sections only available in-person.