Merced County Times Newspaper
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Merced College reopens to summer students

Merced College is open and ready to serve the community, with some classes and operations returning to campus for the Summer 2021 term that began this week.

Most classes and many support services remain online, but more and more are being offered in person, and employees are beginning to return to campus.

Activities on campus are a welcome sight, as the college continues to bounce back from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person commencement ceremonies were held in May for the Classes of 2020 and 2021, and the campus will return to its familiar vibrancy more and more each day throughout the summer.

For campus leadership, it’s a time to balance the excitement of reopening, the realities of an ever-evolving landscape of public health guidance, and the diverse needs of students and employees alike.

“The worst of the pandemic appears to be behind us, and we are moving forward with care,” Merced College President Chris Vitelli said. “We believe strongly in the value of face-to-face learning, but we are also embracing newly robust online modalities.

“What’s most important is that our students have the best possible educational experience, and that they have all the support they need to be successful both here and in the next chapters of their lives.”

More than $12 million in COVID-19 relief funds have been allocated by the Merced Community College District Board of Trustees for a slew of projects that include expanded wifi and classroom technology; socially distanced space both indoors and outdoors; a new welcome center, diversity support center and instructional innovation center; and other technology and facility improvements at both the Merced and Los Banos campuses.

This summer, courses are being offered both online and face-to-face. Many campus operations are resuming in person as well, as the college prepares for an active and robust Fall 2021 semester. This fall and beyond, course offerings will remain flexible—about 40 percent of classes will be fully or partially face-to-face and 60 percent will be online, according to Karissa Morehouse, Assistant Superintendent and Vice President of Instruction.

Flexibility continues to be key for instructors and employees, as well. While the state of California officially “reopened” last week, Merced College opted to push back the return-to-work date for employees to July 12. Rather than being overly strict in applying health and safety measures, the college is opting for common-sense practices—for example: “If space is available, then distance to the degree you are able to.” Everyone who comes to campus is encouraged, but not required, to be vaccinated. Per state regulations, the college says unvaccinated individuals should continue wearing masks, but proof of vaccination will not be required and will operate on the “honor” system.

Meanwhile, faculty and students continue to adjust to new modes of teaching and learning. Steve Pierce, an adjunct faculty member who also works as a mental health clinician for Merced County, said the pandemic has provided opportunities to reevaluate past practices, and to focus on the support that people need to feel when living and working through uncertainty.

“The administration and the faculty, from what I’ve seen, have been very compassionate and sympathetic,” Pierce said. “Our true character most evident in a crisis, and I think it speaks well of us.”

Student Johanna Hibma, who began at Merced College and enjoyed one “normal” semester in Fall 2019 before the pandemic changed everything, agreed that the faculty have been compassionate and understanding with students during the pandemic.

Hibma, a Merced County native, takes over as president of the Associated Students of Merced College in August. An agriculture business student who plans to transfer to CSU Stanislaus after graduating next year, Hibma said her first foray into student government was based on “the principles of positivity and being there to help”—principles she will look to for guidance in her new role.

“My goal as president is to be open and find out what students want, get their opinions and perspectives, and be a positive, uplifting light as we come back to campus,” Hibma said. “I want to do more outreach, be more inclusive, and get people on campus for events.

“I miss those days of having people in the quad. I’m very much looking forward to that, and to the campus continuing to slowly reopen while following all guidelines.”

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