PCC Holds Town Hall for Students Regarding Fall Semester Preparations

Front of Vernon White Building on a sunny morning.

WINTERVILLE—Pitt Community College officials held a virtual town hall for students on Tuesday to provide them with the latest information on the school’s fall semester plans.

Due to the ongoing health threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic, PCC President Lawrence Rouse said Pitt would continue offering a vast majority of its educational programming through distance learning when classes begin Aug. 17. The college’s top priority, he said, remains the safety of its students and employees.  

“We know this pandemic has affected all of us in many ways,” Rouse said. “It’s affected us in our homes, in our careers and on our educational journeys. PCC’s main goal is to make sure that as fall semester goes along, that we keep (students) safe and address their educational needs.”  

Rouse said the college organized a taskforce to keep track of the latest pandemic developments and safety recommendations from public health officials. The group is also examining each area of campus and making recommendations to college administrators on minimizing health risks in classrooms, labs and other meeting spaces.  

“It’s never easy making decisions that have such a profound effect on more than 8,000 people, but our President’s Leadership Team has done a good job,” Rouse said. “In fact, I believe Pitt Community College has been a leader in the N.C. Community College System when it comes to responding to this pandemic.”  

Though PCC’s original fall semester plans included a considerable amount of in-person instruction, COVID-19’s continued spread forced the college to change them.  

“We had some traditional classes, and by that I mean in-person lectures, scheduled, but the situation with the pandemic just didn’t allow us to offer them,” said Tom Gould, PCC Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Services. “We decided to leverage our technology assets to deliver services and keep folks safe.”  

Gould explained to students participating in the town hall how PCC had significantly enhanced its online programming since spring semester, when the coronavirus outbreak led the college to quickly transition courses from the traditional classroom setting to the internet. The biggest improvement, he said, is the addition of virtual synchronous classes, which offer more structure than other online courses and operate very much like the traditional in-person classes they are replacing. 

“It’s a virtual classroom,” Gould said. “Classes meet at a particular time on particular days, and students have to attend class just as they would if they were taking it in person.  

“The beauty of virtual classrooms,” he continued, “is that students who really want the face-to-face interaction they get in a traditional classroom will have that interaction. Classes will take place in real time. Students can ask questions and get answers in real time.”  

Gould said one of the keys to virtual learning success is orientation, explaining that it is crucial for students to learn on the first day of class how the course will be run and the instructor’s expectations. Once the class is underway, he said, communication becomes the central focus. 

“Stay engaged with your classes and instructors,” Gould told students. “Pitt Community College is in a great position to leverage the technology it has to make sure you are successful. This [pandemic] is brand new for all of us, so be as engaged, patient and flexible as possible and we will get through this together.”  

For classes that necessitate face-to face interaction – many in the areas of health sciences and construction and industrial technology – PCC Vice President of Administrative Services Rick Owens says Pitt has implemented processes to enhance safety, including frequent cleaning of ‘high-touch surfaces’ throughout the day and thorough sanitizing by nighttime cleaning crews. He said the college is also requiring facial masks to be worn at all times in shared spaces and is following social distancing guidelines.  

“We’ve been assessing all of the classrooms and labs that will be used for instruction this fall,” Owens said. “Each one is unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all plan, but we’ve removed chairs from classrooms when necessary and increased spacing between desks to make sure the social distancing standard of six feet is in practice.”  

Owens said doorways to campus buildings have been designated as either exits or entrances to reduce incidental interaction and keep them from becoming places for people to congregate and socialize. Entrances, he said, will feature hand sanitizing stations, and students are encouraged to use them as soon as they enter. 

Gould said college administrators are anticipating a busy fall semester and noted that campus will see considerable activity in the first couple of weeks, as students attend orientation sessions, purchase textbooks, and check out laptops and mobile hotspots. He assured students the college would make sure they have access to the resources they need for academic success. 

“A lot of on-campus resources will be open to students, but we’ll be making them available in a manner that ensures students’ health safety,” Gould said. “Many resources will be available online as well, so we’re definitely not closing off resources to students.” 

The PCC Bookstore, which has been closed to customers this summer due to the coronavirus, will reopen Monday morning for students to pick up textbooks. It is scheduled to remain open to students through Aug. 27.