SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - Considering the recent spike in COVID-19 cases island-wide, the University of St. Martin (USM) has decided that it will continue to operate mostly online for the first semester of the 2020-2021 academic year, and that access to the campus will be limited.
“We have been monitoring the situation and the best option right now is to limit face-to-face contact between our students and instructors. It does not look like the island will be placed on lock down, so it is up to us to take measures that will contribute to the safety and security of the population”, said USM President Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez.
While blended learning, that is the combination of employing digital resources and physical in-class sessions, remains the preferred method of academic programming, face-to-face contact with social distancing will be reduced to science labs, field work, physical education and courses in the fine arts.
USM quickly transitioned to online learning back in March, when the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus to be a pandemic and Sint Maarten came under lockdown. Students followed lectures and completed their course work on such digital platforms as Zoom and Canvas, while instructors were speedily trained to manage courses and exams remotely.
“Our faculty and staff have worked very hard to ensure that our academic programming continue in the best way possible, and our student body still demonstrates its strong will and determination. We are more than resilient, we are proactive and USM is setting the standard for the rest of the country”, said Carmona Báez.
Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Rolinda Carter noted that USM will ensure that all instructors receive further training in online instruction and that students with limited to no internet access at home are accommodated.
“This was not an easy decision as we know that many of our instructors and students were looking forward to returning to face-to-face instruction in August. Our academic staff will be meeting this week to fine-tune plans in light of this change.
“Among other goals, we want to make sure, to the greatest extent possible, that all students have equal access to lectures and learning resources. As such, we will be looking into ways to schedule those students who do not have stable internet connection at home to follow classes on campus according to COVID-19 safety protocols.”
USM also announced that this coming semester over 15 general skills and accredited courses will be available to the general public. These include Math, Science, Languages, and courses in Business Management, Human Resources and Hospitality. In collaboration with the Eco Sint Maarten Agriculture Research and Development Center, the university is offering a course in Agroecology as it did last year, where students will be able to conduct field work directly.
Additionally, USM also hopes to initiate its Social Work program in January. “Education cannot stop with a pandemic. On the contrary, now more than ever, St. Martin needs to invest in on-island higher learning and research. Through higher education we can prepare our population for the challenges our society faces,” Carmona concluded.
USM extends its Fall application deadline to the general public for any of the individual courses as well as the non-degree courses such as English as a second language, GED, and Pre-USM Courses to August 3rd, 2020.