Fall semester will start early at Iowa State

AMES, Iowa – In an effort to complete classes on campus, Iowa State University’s fall semester will start a week early and wrap up the day before Thanksgiving.

“We are making every effort to maximize in-person learning and the student learning experiences that are a defining characteristic of an Iowa State education,” said President Wendy Wintersteen. “Adjusting the calendar will allow us to complete the semester before Thanksgiving and minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 due to holiday travel.”

In a letter today to the campus community, Wintersteen announced several initiatives recommended by Iowa State’s Executive Committee on Fall Planning. This includes changes to the academic calendar as well as plans for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, class size and delivery and occupancy rates for the residence halls to limit the spread of illness on campus.

Fall classes will begin on Aug. 17. The semester, including final exams, will end Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. Classes will be held on Labor Day. John Lawrence, vice president for ISU Extension and Outreach and chair of the fall planning committee, says the group has met daily since early May to develop a plan to safely reinstate teaching and research programs.

“We’ve made several important decisions, but our work is ongoing,” Lawrence said. “What we know about COVID-19 will change between now and when classes start in August. We are working through a variety of issues to make sure the university is prepared.”

Class sizes and delivery modes

Iowa State is implementing changes that balance the university’s academic mission with the need to keep students, faculty and staff safe and healthy. These include:

  • Reducing the number of students in a classroom
  • Expecting students and professors to wear face coverings
  • Modifying time between classes to avoid congestion in campus buildings, walkways, buses, etc.

Many classes will be offered in multiple delivery options (in-person, online, hybrid) to meet the varied needs of students and faculty, including the need for individuals to self-isolate if they are exposed to the virus. Lawrence says the committee is also looking beyond the classroom at the whole student experience. 

“While campus will be different, we are making every effort to prioritize experiential learning opportunities,” Lawrence said. “We know that clubs and other activities are also important, so we have a group dedicated to the student experience.”   

Residence halls and ISU Dining

Iowa State will offer single and double occupancy in its residence halls, supplemented by additional cleaning practices and other measures that prioritize the safety of students and staff. Some spaces will be reserved for students living in the residence halls who may need to self-isolate or quarantine during the semester.

ISU Dining will modify operations to reduce capacities, eliminate self-service options in dining halls and expand take-out options, among other measures.

Testing, tracing and reducing spread

ISU’s Thielen Student Health Center is working to develop plans for comprehensive COVID-19 testing for students, faculty and staff. This will include contact tracing to identify those who may have been exposed in offices, classrooms, residence halls and other facilities. These efforts will be done in collaboration with county and state public health partners.

Keeping campus safe

All students, faculty, staff and visitors who are able are expected to wear a face covering or face shield while in the presence of others, and where other strategies such as physical distancing are not available. This same guidance is already in place for faculty and staff returning to campus this summer.