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University of South Florida St. Petersburg looks toward reopening

Megan Holmes

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The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights. Click the play arrow above to watch the full video.

On this episode, Martin Tadlock, Regional Chancellor of University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg (USFSP) campus and Sri Sundaram, Dean of the Kate Tiedemann College of Business (KTCOB) at USFSP join Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst.

As usual, Steinocher takes listeners through the Florida Chamber Scorecard for Pinellas County, which he says is continuing to improve despite slight increases in daily average cases, as reopening moves forward.

Tadlock and Sundaram discuss what it was like to close the USFSP campus and transition all of their classes online. The St. Petersburg campus serves 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students, but serves a total of 6,000 if workshops, conferences and continuing education non-degree learners are included. The campus also employs 360 faculty and staff.

The university was on spring break when the COVID-19 pandemic began, which provided what Tadlock called a one-week accelerated window by which to get the work done to transition traditional classes online.

According to Tadlock, 38 percent of courses were already online and another 30-40 percent were hybrid-blended delivery, some online and some face-to-face. With a long history of online learning, Tadlock says, the university was able to make a quick transition for the rest of its classes.

USFSP also has a number of nationally accredited online courses. It ranks no. 2 in Florida for nationally accredited online courses and no. 13 nationally. Such accreditations, Tadlock says, indicate that the online courses are highly rigorous and interactive.

Emergency preparedness plans already in place in the event of a hurricane were particularly helpful to transitioning the university during COVID-19, Tadlock says, because the university prepares to go online if a hurricane threatens its campus on the very edge of Tampa Bay.

Sundaram explains that the KTCOB has had a nationally ranked (top 50) online MBA program for several years. Those flexible programs, he says, come out of USFSP’s origination as a commuter school, which tailored its curriculum to part-time commuter learners.

During the school’s closure, its construction projects, including the remodeling of Davis Hall and building the new residential building, known as The Osprey, have continued. So too has planning for every scenario for the coming fall semester, whether in-person, online or a blended approach.

The draft plan, which Tadlock says is underway now, is 125 pages long and has been worked on by nine different teams throughout the USF system, including Tampa, Sarasota and St. Petersburg. The plan must be compliant with CDC guidelines, governmental orders, public health best practices, and much more, Tadlock explains.

The plan is expected to go before the USF Board of Trustees June 9. The plan is then expected to go to the State University System Board of Governors June 23. If approved, Tadlock says the implementation of the plan will start in July, with students expected to return for the first day of classes Aug. 24. All of that planning relies on the health of the community, the infection rate in the state and region and other public health concerns.

Tadlock says that the trajectory of reopening also may not be linear, as COVID-19 cases could rise upon return of students, causing the campus to close once more.

Numerous considerations will be in place, assure both Tadlock and Sundaram, for faculty and staff who are unable to return to campus. As the result of social distancing guidelines, classrooms will have the capacity to hold less than half of the students in-person than previous semesters. The university expects to provide synchronous streaming opportunities so students can participate online, or split classes part-time with alternating schedules.

USFSP has transitioned tutoring online through Knack and is planning to move events virtually, including the KTCOB’s Sunny Side Up speaker series, and is asking business owners to accommodate students through the Innovation Scholars Program, internships and other opportunities.

 

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