And what a year it's been, 20-21 in review
With Spring Commencement completed just over a week ago, we pause just for a moment. While it’s safe to say most everyone is ready to move on from this most challenging year, it’s also important to look back and see how far we’ve come.
The fall semester of 2020 was uncertain. Many colleges and universities made the plan to remain in a remote teaching environment. Based on feedback from our students and the belief that we could pivot quickly in the case of an outbreak, TWU made the decision to begin the fall semester in-seat.
High-risk faculty and students were given the opportunity to teach or attend class remotely, and every faculty member was trained how to successfully incorporate those students into their classes. Each traditional class was offered via Microsoft Teams, allowing students to attend via video chat when sick or quarantined.
“Faculty rose to the challenge of teaching students in-seat and remotely using the Microsoft Teams platform,” said Dr. Grant Willhite, VP for Academic Affairs. “Student engagement remained high, and our measures of student success are, for the most part, on par with previous years. The TWU faculty exhibited flexibility and compassion for students in this very difficult environment for higher education.”
As the semester progressed, cases remained relatively low, as Student Life worked tirelessly to contact trace and protect our students. Athletics resumed, though certain fall sports had to complete their seasons in the spring, yet another case of forced flexibility.
In December and January, locally cases rose again, prompting the administration to perform COVID-19 tests for all on campus students and students working in clinical situations before returning to campus. We were encouraged to have just six cases among the hundreds tested, inspiring confidence in our ability to continue in-seat. The spring semester saw low cases throughout, and the entire year students who were able attended class in person, in seat, with their classmates and faculty together.
“We were able to keep our operations open throughout the pandemic, including dining and residential,” noted Dr. Scott Mashburn, VP for Student Life. “Campus community members, for the most part, understood the value of disclosing symptoms, getting tested, and following campus protocols. We celebrate record enrollment! No layoffs or furloughs! And we all survived mentally and emotionally as a family, despite the challenges.”
The campus enjoyed a pair of commencement ceremonies just more than a week ago, with Allied Health Professions honored April 30, and Athens campus students on May 1. The ceremonies, split to allow for more attendees, were enjoyed on the beautiful Colloms Lawn. Spring and Winter 2020 Commencements were more of a moving target.
Spring 2020 was postponed until August, where a limited crowd was invited for both the Spring and Summer graduates to be recognized. In December, as local cases rose, the difficult decision was made to have no outside guests, and for the ceremony to be moved to Townsend Auditorium. The event was streamed live to give families the opportunity to see their graduate cross the stage, despite not being able to attend in person.
Record Enrollment and Retention
Like most everything else, uncertainty surrounded University enrollments. Schools across the country struggled to recruit students without the ability to visit schools or events, and as students grappled with a challenging life decision in the midst of a pandemic.
However, despite the challenges, TWU celebrated record enrollment and record student retention in the Fall 2020 semester. 1,168 students set a new enrollment mark, with 81.4% of students returning across the board. 77% of fall 2019 freshmen returned, breaking the previous record of 70%.
TWU is optimistic about the future. As cases slowly decline, our hope is to return to the normal experience our students desire and deserve. The Fall 2021 semester will be in person. Students, Faculty, and Staff are being urged to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but the University is respecting the individual’s right to choose.
Tennessee Wesleyan is very proud of the care our campus community has taken to keep each other safe this year. We celebrate, though it has been a difficult year for many, that we were able to stay together as the TWU Family. We plan to continue following CDC guidance for our students, faculty and staff and will continue to approach this pandemic with flexibility and decision making based on what makes the most sense for our Bulldog family.
“From the beginning of the summer of 2020, we knew that the vast majority of students at TWU wanted to be in-seat,” added Dr. Willhite. “With careful planning, science-based decision making, and the hard work on the part of all TWU faculty and staff, we made it happen safely. I believe the students of TWU are grateful!”