Penn State to expand student engagement, activities this spring

From joining a club to volunteering, there will be a variety of activities to help Penn State students become engaged outside the classroom this spring. Guided by health and safety, the University has developed a phased plan to restore in-person student experiences and steadily expand organized activities across its campuses as circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic allow.

As the semester progresses, Penn State will incrementally increase the scope and nature of in-person activities based on demonstrated student compliance with health and safety requirements, successful virus mitigation, and federal and state guidelines for gatherings. Virtual and hybrid programming options will continue to be offered for students who are studying remotely or who may not feel comfortable attending activities.

Connectedness, attachment and a sense of belonging are critical to student success and well-being — and often are found in experiences outside the classroom, according to Damon Sims, vice president for Student Affairs.

“Our students want to return to abundant out-of-classroom activities, and we’re encouraging them to get involved, make friends and have the experiences that make Penn State so special. Nothing is more important to us than supporting their personal development in this way,” Sims said. “Our goal is to give students the resources they need while setting clear expectations so they can initiate and participate in activities in as safe a way as possible. Through ongoing monitoring, we will be able to take a step back or move forward into the next phase of the plan given the state of the virus.”

In the fall, the University provided a wide range of virtual activities along with limited in-person events, including outdoor activities and group exercise classes where students practiced physical distancing and were masked, resulting in no known transmissions of COVID-19.

This spring, the four-phased plan will encompass a range of co-curricular areas, including student organization meetings and activities; community service; music and performing arts organizations; leadership and career development programs; and educational, cultural, artistic and civic events.

Phased plan
Consistent with public health guidance, the plan begins with allowing limited in-person experiences outside the classroom and more substantial hybrid and remote offerings, while incrementally expanding opportunities through the semester and beyond, as the virus and federal and state restrictions allow.

Beginning in February, student organizations are encouraged to host in-person activities with prior approval and that are overseen by Student Affairs staff. Penn State and the University Park Allocation Committee will provide financial support to help student organizations reserve event spaces for their activities and to rent audio-visual equipment to enable remote participation.

As the semester progresses, each phase of the plan will introduce new milestones, as appropriate given pandemic conditions, including:

Reopening Campus Recreation facilities with reduced occupancy. (Phase 1)
Expanding small-group programming in the residence halls. (Phase 1)
Permitting student organizations to reserve indoor tables in certain locations with appropriate restrictions. (Phase 2)
Allowing performing arts groups to practice within prescribed limits. (Phase 2)
Expanding facilities available to student organizations and seeking additional spaces for these purposes at the campuses. (Phase 2)
Placing tents at key locations to encourage outdoor activities as the weather improves. (Phase 3)
Increasing opportunities for modified student retreats on campus. (Phase 3)
Taking advantage of improving weather for expanded outdoor activities. (Phase 4)
Throughout the semester, Student Affairs will collaborate with student leaders to supplement student-initiated activities with University-sponsored events, including outdoor activities as the weather warms.

At the campuses, the phased plan will serve as a road map to gradually expand activities based on local virus conditions. Student Affairs will offer support and guidance to campuses as they examine programming and develop plans.

Guidelines for students
Based on student feedback and lessons learned from the fall, the phased plan lays the foundation for increased in-person opportunities in exchange for responsible student behavior and virus mitigation.

“While the dynamics of the virus and health and safety regulations will serve as the foundation for decision-making and programming, our students’ behavior also will determine whether we will be able to move forward with in-person activities,” Sims said. “The overwhelming majority of students are doing the right thing, particularly when provided the necessary guidance and support. However, we will hold students accountable and will not be able to proceed forward if they do not behave responsibly and honor the basic public expectations.”

To host an in-person meeting or activity, student organization leaders and advisers must meet the following criteria:

Complete a request form to host a meeting or activity.
Get approval to host a meeting or activity.
Reserve a space through 25Live.
Follow attendee and occupancy limits.
Follow time limits.
Track attendance of all participants.
Allow University monitors to check in during activities.
All attendees must wear face masks and practice physical distancing.
Getting involved
Students are encouraged to follow and check these resources to find out about organizations to join and upcoming activities and events this semester:

Student Affairs events calendar
Student organizations at your campus
OrgCentral database of recognized student organizations at University Park
Student organizations events calendar
Student Affairs (@studentlifepsu) Instagram
Penn State Student Activities (@pennstatestudentactivities) Instagram
Penn State (@pennstate) Instagram (event round-up every Monday on Stories)
Stall Stories
Campus Recreation

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