DCC officials work to stay on top of COVID-19 updates

Brendan Heidner Ranger-review Staff Writer
Sunday, March 22, 2020

Dawson Community College officials continue to work tirelessly each day to keep up with the minute-by-minute updates about COVID-19 around the world and continue to keep faculty, staff, students and the community as safe as possible from the virus’ spread.

A special board meeting was called by the DCC Board of Trustees Thursday to discuss the current state of the COVID-19 situation in the area.

The Montana Commissioner of Higher Education Clay Christian provided guidance to all institutions in the state as to possible changes in operations.

The changes included completely closing campuses and having all students move off campus if they were not already and have students stay home if they were already away.

Although other institutions are following that guidance, DCC President Scott Mickelsen noted Christian understands each college is unique and he does not believe DCC needs to go to that extreme at this time.

Most of the services and facilities are closed to the public as Mickelsen encourages anyone with questions to email or call as well as limit their traffic on-campus.

Despite that, the walking track in the Toepke Center is still available for public use with updated hours at this time.

The updated hours are Monday-Friday, 7 am-7 P.M. and Saturday 10 am-6 P.M.

“We want to keep that open, we know there are still quite a few people that are using that and so we want to keep that open especially with the snow storms that keep hitting us,” Mickelsen said.

Associate Dean of Student Success Jon Langlois added to Mickelsen’s report on the state of services and facilities to keep meeting the needs of the students by explaining the status of on-campus housing.

“We do have some advantages in that we are in Eastern Montana, Glendive is a smaller community and also that our housing is set up as two-bedroom apartments and not as traditional style residents halls which share ventilation systems and have much closer quarters than what we have here,” Associate Dean of Student Success Jon Langlois said.

With that particular set up, each apartment is it’s own self-contained unit where students have direct outdoor access from their doors rather than into a shared hallway where more germs are likely to linger and infect anyone consistently going in or out.

However, as DCC works to deliver all suitable courses remotely, students have communicated questions as to whether or not they would have to return to campus once spring break ended.

“We have told them, ‘no that they wouldn’t have to,” Mickelsen said. “Their stuff is still in the dorms and they have communicated that they’ll just come back and get it sometime between now and the move (out) date of May 15.”

As of right now, approximately 15-20 students reside in the residents halls with a possible total of 32-36 students as some plan to move back to campus after spring break. Langlois noted that number is likely to change as students change decide whether they will stay or move out.

Faculty are preparing their new online delivery of the courses to still meet the objectives for effective learning.

“All the student learning outcomes for the courses are being addressed even in the online format,” Mickelsen said.

Because the change from traditional classes to all online classes can create some technological difficulty, DCC plans to have people available to answer any questions and assist anyone looking for guidance with the new format.

“We don’t know what those questions are going to be, we don’t know how big that’s going to be, but we’re going to do everything we can do to be prepared to troubleshoot and to help those learners and the faculty move through whatever those issues are that come up,” Mickelsen said.

Mickelsen added he and the “response team” are not solely working to meet students’ needs, but faculty and staff needs as well.

They are working to implement a “teleworking” plan that would allow employees to do business from their homes where they can be with and take care of their families in the event cases for COVID-19 arise in the region. No decision has yet been made to move forward with those operations.

Conversations are still taking place as to who is deemed “essential staff” and “non-essential staff” in the event DCC needs to limit the number of people on campus at one time.

Trustee Rich Rowe raised some concern with graduation only a couple months away, wondering if sophomores at DCC would still receive a diploma.

“The only thing that would still affect that is if they didn’t pass a class or they didn’t have enough credits,” Mickelsen said. “COVID-19 should not affect whether they get a diploma or not.”

Commencement is still scheduled to take place on May 14 and Mickelsen and his team are working on hosting it virtually if plans change. No official decision on the matter has been made at this point.

As for extracurricular events on campus, all planned spring semester events have been cancelled.

The Buccaneer Bash was moved to be held in the fall on Oct. 10

According to Dawson College Foundation Director Dennis Harp, donors and participants of the event are not backing out and still planning to be part of it despite the change of date.

In the midst of everything going on, Rowe extended his praise to all the faculty and staff who continue to work hard to navigate DCC through the bizarre state of the world right now.

“I would just like to let everyone know how incredibly proud I am of their work and everything that they have been doing over the last couple of days,” trustee Rich Rowe said. “It’s been a fantastic, hectic mess and (everyone) has persevered.”

The DCC Board of Trustees will hold their next meeting Monday March, 30 at 5:30 P.M. Following the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to not hold large gatherings, it will take place digitally. More information on how to join the meeting will be posted soon.

Reach Brendan Heidner at news@rangerreview.com.

“We don’t know what those questions are going to be, we don’t know how big that’s going to be, but we’re going to do everything we can do to be prepared to troubleshoot and to help those learners and the faculty move through whatever those issues are that come up,”

DCC President Scott Mickelsen