By Jon Roberts – Lincoln, Nebraska … In the month of August, students and professors will return to the campus of Union College. However, they will be resuming their academic year under a new normal for colleges. Several students from the Rocky Mountain Conference territory are currently packing to make the 500-mile drive to Lincoln, Nebraska.

For the administration at Union, the decision to move the rest of spring semester to remote learning was a decision that was difficult, but necessary in March 2020 under a developing pandemic.

Likewise, the choice to resume normal operations, as much as possible, was a hard choice to make, while also ensuring that students, parents, and faculty are safe to resume the educational program.

Nebraska has been somewhat spared the brutal destruction of the virus; however, with students attending from across the United States, the chance of a student bringing an unwelcome visitor to Nebraska is high.

“Although my three young adults are returning to school in an area where the COVID-19 impact is fairly low, I still have some concerns. Union College is a small school, but there are students returning from everywhere within the United States. There is that possibility of a student bringing the coronavirus on campus,” Chanelle Watson, parent of three juniors from Denver, Colorado explained.

“I am confident knowing that the school has protocols in place to protect its student as best as it can. Having faith in the school minimizes my concern,” she added.

“I am not worried about my daughter’s health because she is perfectly capable of social-distancing, wearing masks, and sanitizing as needed,” Kelly Waller, parent stated.

But she is “worried that we will get her moved and settled and she will have to unexpectedly return home, which will be heartbreaking to her.”

Jefferson Gibson from Denver is a junior at Union. “I will not be overly concerned when all the students return to campus, but I will be cautious and continue to practice social distancing and wearing my mask when necessary as I do now,” he commented.

The decision to resume close to normal operations came as students were looking for socialization to restart.

“I am excited to return to Union. I will be a junior theology major this coming semester and I miss the traditional in-class learning. I miss leading out in the small Bible study groups. I also miss interacting with my friends and look forward to catching up with them…safely,” Gibson added.

Union has implemented some safety measures to ensure safety from the deadly virus.

Addressing the current situation with the college’s new academic year under pandemic, Vinita Sauder, president of Union College commented on the college’s webpage, “We are committed to holding in-person classes this semester and making sure our students and employees stay safe.”

“Keeping everyone safe and healthy requires that we all work together. We have a plan in place that gives us all a role to play in staying well and making sure Union has a successful semester on campus,” Sauder said.

Union has released several protocols for students and faculty that can be found here.

The disruption of normal classes has been difficult on students. “I did not anticipate the drastic change caused by COVID-19 until students were asked not to return to Union College, causing the Spring semester to be transferred to online learning. The change forced me to learn differently. It took some adjusting, but I would prefer in-class learning than online learning. I personally believe that Union professors add a special touch to learning,” Gibson said.

Union has moved the end of the semester to before Thanksgiving and returning for second semester in January.  This will help with any travel restrictions that state governors may impose.

“The travel restrictions and mandatory 14-day quarantine has caused me to rethink travel plans. For example, COVID-19 impacted my summer plans of traveling with the Literature Evangelism program. Due to Union College making the semester shorter, it is anticipated that not much traveling will be done throughout the semester. Until things ‘settle down’ I do not plan to travel much,” Gibson concluded.

With an ever-changing landscape on COVID-19, parents are taking the situation day-by-day.

“I am not even thinking about semester breaks because everything will change multiple times before November 24, 2020. We have no real plan if she does have to return home; we will take it as it comes. Not my usual style of handling things, but planning more than a week in advance right now is pointless,” Waller stated.

The college experience is one that many young adults look forward to and experiencing this during a pandemic is something that the students will remember, and they will be better equipped to face the uncertainties of this world.

“I don’t really have an emergency plan in place. If my children have to return home due to COVID-19, that is fine. If I have to pick them up from Union, I am prepared to do so. If Union goes back to online studies, the children are prepared,” Watson commented.

–Jon Roberts is communication/media assistant for RMC; photos by Rajmund Dabrowski and Ryan Lindbeck – Altitude Motion Media.