Caltech: Students Begin Return to Campus as COVID Restrictions Ease

More than 380 students began arriving on campus on June 14 to participate in summer research and education programs as well as to begin training for fall-term athletic seasons and competition. Their return is part of Caltech’s phased plan to repopulate the campus, under which all undergraduates will return to residence and classroom instruction for fall term.

“Returning to campus feels like coming home,” says Hayward Melton, a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) program participant and a rising senior studying electrical engineering, who moved into Fleming House this week. “It’s been a long, difficult year, but I am excited to learn and grow this summer as a researcher and return to classes in the fall.”

Kevin Gilmartin, vice president for student affairs, has valued collaborative work with faculty colleagues and staff to sustain research and teaching through the pandemic. “I have been struck by how often I have heard the sentiment that campus is just not the same without our undergraduate students. And while students have appreciated our efforts to deliver a Caltech education remotely, they also regularly express a sense of missing one another and being part of the campus community. While we still look forward to the full return this fall, there is a palpable sense now, with undergraduates returning for summer research, that we are becoming whole again.”

The first students returning to campus living include those participating in the SURF program, the Freshman Summer Research Institute (FSRI), and the WAVE Fellows program, a 10-week summer program in which undergraduates from historically minoritized communities conduct research with a Caltech faculty member while also receiving support and guidance from current graduate students.

The group also included pre-season student-athletes, who traditionally arrive before the start of the fall term for training exercises and competitions. Undergraduates enrolled in two engineering lab courses offered this summer—EE 85: Analog and RF Circuits Laboratory and ME13/113: Mechanical Prototyping—have also been invited to live on campus.

Katie Ann Huy, a rising senior biology major from Whittier College participating in the WAVE Fellows program, says she is thrilled to move into Bechtel Residence this summer. “Finally getting to be on campus here has been so exciting and enriching,” she says. “Being able to interact with my research in a hands-on way and participate in the community here at Caltech has really jump-started my enthusiasm for research and confidence in my work.”

Beginning this week, students arrived in stages aligned with the start date and requirements of their summer programs, and they will remain on campus through the duration of their in-person activity. Students living in undergraduate on-campus residences are fully vaccinated, and are required to participate in the Institute’s twice-weekly surveillance testing program. They must also complete a daily health attestation and record their on-campus activities and interactions.

In a recent message to the campus community, President Thomas F. Rosenbaum outlined that Caltech’s plan to bring students back to campus this summer is proceeding with the expectation of full resumption of Institute activities by fall term.

Melton says, “Being surrounded by like-minded students and professors again reminds me of why I came to Caltech, and I can’t wait until we’re all back!”