HOUGHTON – Despite indoor mask requirements and traffic jams, Michigan Technological University’s vision for the start of the year is to preserve as much of the traditional college experience as possible.
“I want to regain the community spirit that the pandemic stole from us for the past year and a half or so.” said Wallace Southerland III, Tech’s new vice president, student affairs and dean of studies. “I think that’s what families and students can expect. You can expect the husky friendliness too, they can also expect the same dedication to make students from all over the country who come from abroad feel really welcome and have a sense of belonging to a university. “
More than 80 events are planned for this year’s orientation. Another 30 will be added to the Welcome Week, which runs from August 28 to September 4.
Students can also build professional skills and connections in 25 career-focused workshops throughout September that culminate in the Virtual Career Services Fair.
While students can take part in many events virtually, the focus will be on face-to-face events, Southerland said. Thursday night he attended the student government’s annual softball game and picnic.
“There was an overwhelming feeling of joy, camaraderie and excitement and just plain good humor.” he said. “… When the students come back they will reconnect with their friends, they will reconnect with the clubs and organizations they were involved in before the pandemic, and we will encourage them to start new clubs and organizations.”
Southerland and other university staff also did volunteer shifts while Tech moved in. Like last year, the move will be split into two days to reduce the potential spread of COVID. The university also provides masks for students; Like many universities across the state, tech requires masks indoors earlier in the year to assess the Delta variant threat. Students are also notified of health and safety protocols when they move in.
“We have a phenomenal team of housing staff, campus police, facility staff, student affairs and others who really work together to ensure a smooth and safe process.” Southland said.
When the students arrived on campus on Friday, Southerland was already helping with move-in problems, for example a student who needed his campus ID. Southerland, a newcomer to the area who is still looking for permanent residence, said he could identify with the incoming students.
“When my graduates and international students tell me they are having trouble finding an apartment, when new employees we hire tell me that they are having trouble finding an apartment, I understand and care Care for.” he said.
As the number of students continues to grow, public-private partnerships could provide an opportunity to create more housing. The idea will be on the table while the university develops its master plan, Southerland said.
“I come from a public body that had public-private partnerships”, he said. “I think tech will also look into that to see what works best for our environment. I think we all agree that we are at a pivotal moment in tech history where we need to look at some additional living scenarios. “
Aside from ensuring students arrive safely on campus, Southerland’s top priority for the year is developing a solid plan to ensure students are engaged and their needs are being met. That includes everyone from Greek organizations to distance students, he said.
It also means providing the staff with adequate resources and technology and partnering with the admissions office to diversify the student population and reaching out to the community to ensure that the tech staff are doing their part as good citizens.
“If students decide to come here, my priority is to make sure they stay here, that they graduate from this university.” he said. “But the really big thing I want … is when students leave tech and we get to them in 5, 10, 15 years in the future, I want them to look back and say, ‘Because of my experience in tech, and because of my experience in student affairs makes me feel prepared for the challenges of life. I feel prepared for the job I have. ‘”
Southerland said one of the reasons he came to tech was because of his commitment to improving access to STEM for women and underrepresented minorities. He was previously the vice president of student affairs at Salisbury University, Maryland.
Preliminary fall enrollment numbers show an increased proportion of women and underrepresented minorities in the university while maintaining the university’s high GPA for incoming students, Southerland said.
“We’ve been in a pandemic for the past year and a half, we have the Delta variant sneaking in on us and the students are saying, ‘We’re ready to go back, we want to be at the tech. We want to take advantage of the outdoor activities we have on the Upper Peninsula. ‘” he said. “And I think that speaks for the university’s reputation. I think that speaks to the strength of the institution’s values. “
Get the latest news and more in your inbox