By Samuel Clark
Georgia Southern University has seen lots of changes in the past year due to COVID-19, causing a complete culture shock at the university.
COVID-19 pushing courses online means that campus has been left far emptier than before. Many students have not been on campus a single time since the pandemic began due to the university converting to online learning for a majority of the courses offered.
Caleb Farmer is a senior mechanical engineering major who still has most of his classes in person.
“Before the pandemic began, you would often see the campus walkways completely filled with students between classes,” said Farmer. “Now, it is rare to see more than 20 students walking around at any given time.”
With the added precautions on campus, GS also made sure to inform the student population of the dangers of COVID-19 and how to help stop the spread with the catchphrases: “Spread Your Wings”, and “Eagles Do Right” to encourage students to follow social distancing and public health guidelines.
“It was wild how much COVID-related stuff was all around campus all of the sudden,” said Farmer. “It feels like you practically can’t look anywhere without seeing some sort of banner or poster that mentions COVID.”
One of the primary changes at GS, along with most universities around the country, is the amount of funding that has now gone towards COVID-19 research, support and safety. In light of this pandemic, the CARES Act was introduced in order to provide emergency financial support for those that have been harshly affected by it.
CARES stands for COVID-19 Answers, Resources, Evaluation and Self-Reporting. This outreach includes emergency funding for housing, food, childcare, technology for continuation of online education and any other emergency fund a student may need help with.
In addition to the CARES Act, to help provide an additional resource for students, faculty, and staff in regard to COVID-19 safety and support, GS launched the CARES Center.
The CARES team consists of university leaders from human resources, student affairs, academic affairs and other prominent departments and serve to spring into action to help stop the spread of the virus whenever someone goes through the self-reporting process.
Regarding the CARES Center, GS President Kyle Marrero expressed that this team is one of the most important things in helping to mitigate the spread of the virus at GS.
“Providing our students, faculty, and staff with this robust center, which is an invaluable addition to the long list of precautions and preventive measures we are taking to keep our university community safe, is critically important to ensuring our community is supported during this pandemic,” said Marrero in a press release.
Other departments at GS have also had to go through drastic changes due to COVID-19, such as Campus Recreation and Intramurals and the RAC. CRI had to transform their normal intramural schedule to accommodate for COVID regulations, meaning participants needed to wear masks and practice social distancing for all intramurals and services at the RAC.
Intramurals in particular had to get very creative with the sports they offer since they could not go through with their normal large-scale sports, such as flag football, basketball, softball and soccer.
Throughout the last two semesters, intramurals has introduced over 20 new sports in the intramural program. Spikeball, pickleball and wiffleball were among the most popular sports offered.
“We were always going to have less participation based on the nature of the pandemic, so we needed to get really creative in what we offered,” said Logan Lewis, an intramural graduate student. “I’m just happy we were still able to hold intramural sports at all, and we have had a pretty good turnout, all things considered.”
Intramurals recently started to integrate their popular sports back into the program, such as flag football and softball, and plan to be back to normal programming next semester.
Another major department on campus is Dining Services, which also had to go through some drastic changes due to the pandemic. The dining commons in previous years had been a hub for students to not only eat great food, but also hang out and do schoolwork.
According to the Georgia Southern Fall 2020 Program Changes, the dining commons seating capacity was reduced by 75-percent, and social distancing is strongly encouraged. Along with the new safety precautions, the dining commons has been offering to-go containers and delivery for those that do not feel comfortable with leaving their homes.
Overall, GS has seen a lot of change within the last two semesters, sparking multiple program changes and new programs at the university. These changes may not last much longer though, with the COVID vaccine being administered in large quantities over the last month or so.
GS is actually coordinating with the Georgia Department of Public Health to distribute the vaccine, meaning the university could be returning to normal operations sooner than later.