Students at UT Arlington are kicking off their fall semester on Wednesday.
Many students are doing in-person classes for the first time in a very long time.
"I’m ready for it to get started,” said Uma Ogans, who is finally jumping out of the virtual realm. “I’m extremely excited to be back on campus and interacting with new faces and students. But also I’m feeling a little bit anxious because we’ve been off for a year basically.”
Ogans is entering his final year at UTA studying for his business management and marketing degree. He’s also president of the Black Student Association and is ready for the interaction students have craved for so long.
“Over the summer, I’ve been talking to the incoming freshmen and transfer students who didn’t get a chance to experience what it was like being in person at UTA," he said. “Once you get involved on campus, it starts to make your college experience a lot more enjoyable. If you see someone on campus more than once, you have to say hello to them. Make a new friend and say hello.”
While students get back into the swing of in-person campus life again, the school is taking some unique steps to help control the spread of COVID-19.
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“We’ve heard it loud and clear from a lot of our students. They want to be back in class, they want to have that personal face-to-face interaction, and they want to be back on campus and be able to be around their friends, colleagues and classmates,” said Joe Carpenter, the chief communications officer for UTA. “That’s what we’re focused on, but to do so in the safest way we possibly can.”
Masks will not be required due to Gov. Greg Abbott's ongoing ban of mask mandates, which continues to see pushback from local governments and school districts.
But like many universities, UTA is taking action on the things it can control. The university will be implementing a safety plan this semester, which includes two unique protocols to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
For one, UTA is requiring everyone to submit COVID tests by Sept. 8. The tests are provided to students, faculty and staff free of charge.
“That’s so we can get a good snapshot of really the health of our students, faculty and staff,” said Carpenter. “We’re guided by the recommendations of the public health officials and CDC guidance. So we’re emphasizing those things that we ought to do.”
For the next two weeks, UTA is also temporarily reducing class sizes to 50% or less. Professors will coordinate with students on who switches out between virtual and in-person to keep the class sizes down and allow for easier social distancing.
After two weeks, the university will re-evaluate whether or not to continue that protocol.
“One of the things that I think we’ve learned and seen is – we take all the precautions that we can but we have to remain diligent. This virus is something we all have to take seriously,” Carpenter said. “While we have to be flexible, we find that there’s really a spirit of cooperation in that role of getting through this together.”
UTA is also hosting COVID-19 vaccine clinics and offering vaccine incentives in an effort many schools are making to get more students vaccinated.
Ogans said he feels confident about the safety protocols.
“I was nervous about coming back to campus because of the load of new people that are going to be there. But with UTA reducing classroom sizes to 50%, they’re doing a really good job of helping us keep with COVID safety guidelines,” he said.
There is a bright spot amid the uncertainty. UTA just achieved the prestigious "Texas Tier 1" designation, a significant milestone of excellence in academics and research that now allows it to access the state’s National Research University Fund (NRUF).
The university is now one of just four schools in the state to be named as a leading research university. It is also the first university to achieve Texas Tier One designation in more than three years.
UTA was able to achieve this status by reaching or exceeded rigorous benchmarks established by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for at least two consecutive years. Click here to learn more.
“This is a game changer for UTA that has been nearly 12 years in the making. Texas Tier One designation is a public invitation to take a fresh look at UTA’s academic and research excellence and the impact this special University is making on the region, the state of Texas and beyond,” said Teik C. Lim, UTA's interim president. “This designation is earned through demonstrated commitment to academic and research excellence, and it means that UTA is categorized in Texas as among a small grouping of the state’s highest-quality research universities.”
The Mavericks hope to keep this kind of momentum going to get their students through another school year amid the pandemic.
“We know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel here if we stick together and work together. We’re going get through this,” said Carpenter.
In the meantime, it’s important for students everywhere to stay up to date with their campus protocols, as the situation with COVID-19 remains fluid.
“Just take it one day at a time,” said Ogans. “Who knows what the future is going to bring.”