Term in review: Students reflect on semester like no other

Zoe Stratos | Staff Writer


The fall 2020 condensed semester amid the COVID-19 pandemic is coming to a close as Thanksgiving break and finals week approach for college students across the nation. As Duquesne students gear up for their departure from campus on Nov. 25, they’ve begun to reflect on this unprecedented time.

Starting back in the spring 2020 semester, students were sent home wondering how the next semester would play out. The university sent out a statement on June 24 announcing it would be reopening for fall 2020 — with a few changes to the average school year.

With the help of surveys sent out to faculty, staff, students and parents, the university came to decide they would implement a hybrid/blended model to accomodate students wanting to return to in-person classes and students wanting to take classes online. Moreover, Living Learning Centers were opened; however, they were de-densified and operated with new protocols that complied with CDC recommendations.

Along with this, on-campus clubs and organizations have been largely unable to meet in person besides those given permission from the university to meet in a de-densified form. Similarly, many professors chose to run classes completely online.

One of the most affected areas of study was Duquesne’s nursing program. In the nursing program, students must register a certain amount of clinical hours, allowing them to adequately prepare themselves for a nursing job in the future.

“Ever since the initial outbreak, and now the resurgence of COVID, the nursing school has been struggling to adequately substitute our clinical experience during online periods,” said junior nursing student Aidan Shields. “Even in the HyFlex model, our hospital rotations were halved. During our hardest semester, which focuses on the subspecialties of nursing, we were only allotted 16 in-person hours to our OB, pediatrics and psychiatric rotations.”

But with these cuts in their regular clinical hours, nursing students were presented with a new opportunity once Duquesne decided to implement randomized surveillance testing of approximately 800 employees, faculty and students. Starting Sept. 7, randomly selected individuals were able to pick a time slot for testing later that week. The testing was conducted by University Health Service and assisted by both volunteers from the School of Nursing and the Center for Pharmacy Care.

“I volunteered to be a COVID swabber as a part of my population health clinical,” Shields said. “It felt good to help give back to the university in these complicated times. Although it’s not perfect and ideal, the university has kept the cases under control for most of the semester.”

After this first round of randomized testing, 719 out of 719 tests were confirmed negative on Sept. 18 — along with four inconclusive results that were later resolved.

But the COVID-19-free campus did not last, as 13 confirmed cases in early October prompted the university to administer mandatory testing of all students living on campus. This testing, assisted by the nursing students, spanned a few weeks, ultimately resulting in more confirmed cases.

“I think Duquesne did the best they could to keep everything organized and cautiously thought out,” said junior nursing student Cassidy Scassa. “Nobody truly knew what the future would look like, and I believe Duquesne handled the situation well. Students need to educate themselves about the severity of COVID. They can promise each other not to party and go to large gatherings.”

After this testing concluded, an update on Oct. 2 revealed only 34 tests returned positive out of 2,719 total students tested. This has later increased on Duquesne’s daily report to up to 272 confirmed cases, as well as many more sent into quarantine due to contact tracing.

The latest update comes as the semester winds down and students prepare to depart from the university. On Nov. 4, 11 and 12, the university released information regarding move out, last-minute testing and final examinations.

Students are advised to limit contact for 14 days before picking up a highly recommended take-home COVID-19 test provided by Everlywell. Students living on campus also must register for a move out date to prevent overflow of people on campus.

As for the spring semester, the university plans to reopen on Jan. 21; however, more details are to come.

“Personally, I think after the holidays end, COVID cases will spread,” Scassa said. “I have a feeling the spring semester will be entirely online for the safety of students and their families.”