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Board approves line of credit; hears about reopening, Inclusion Task Force

Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Board of Directors on Thursday approved the lone action item on its agenda: a line of credit to enhance liquidity in the uncertain times associated with COVID-19.

A $10 million revolving line of credit was authorized with First National Bank, headquartered in Hermitage.

The board heard presentations on fully reopening the college for Fall 2020, by Anthony J. Pace, dean of academic operations; the establishment of an Inclusion Task Force and other measures addressing inclusion and diversity on campus, by Allison A. Grove, director of student engagement; and an overview of Summer Experience, by Olivia C. Ferki, a student development assistant for College Relations and a senior in the plastics and polymer engineering technology major.

Board summary

Pace told the board the reopening plan focuses on prevention, testing and mitigation; academic instruction; campus life; consistent communication; and commitment.

His presentation noted there will be social-distancing requirements, daily self-screenings for all students and employees, face mask requirements, and regular cleaning of personal and shared spaces. Visitors to campus will be limited, he added.

Additionally, students are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days prior to their return to campus. Partnering with UPMC Susquehanna, College Health Services is facilitating COVID-19 testing and contact tracing for the college community. Quarantine and isolation procedures are in place for affected students.

There are no changes to the academic calendar for fall and, where possible, classroom and lab capacities have been reduced to maximize social distancing, Pace said. Masking is required in classrooms/labs where social-distancing requirements cannot be followed. Global Experiences are suspended for the full academic year, and field trips and off-campus travel will be limited.

Administrative and support services remain available to students. On-campus housing and dining options are available with modified operations to promote social distancing and safety. There will be no fall sports, but providing engaging and enriching experiences to students remains a priority.

Communication is enhanced with a COVID-19 website and “dashboard” documenting coronavirus testing and recovery data and featuring regular updates and appropriate governmental and health agency resources.

Directional signage, social-distancing floor markers, and health and safety reminders are posted throughout campus, and additional PPE, beyond face masks, has been secured to provide needed medical accommodations. Campuswide cleaning protocols have been intensified, and cleaning supplies have been placed across campus.

Answering a board member’s question about turnaround times for testing conducted in conjunction with UPMC Susquehanna, Pace noted results have typically been reported within 24-48 hours.

“We’re happy to have that,” he said.

Grove spoke to the board about a number of annual celebrations on campus that reflect the college’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion such as the Multicultural Lawn Party, Hispanic Heritage Month, National Coming Out Day, Transgender Day of Remembrance, Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Week, Black History Month, Women’s History Month and Pride Week.

She also addressed new initiatives that will bolster efforts to ensure everyone feels welcomed on campus, including an Inclusion Task Force, a Bias Education and Support Team, and an implicit bias professional development activity to be offered to employees before the start of the fall semester.

Ferki spoke of initially visiting 21 colleges before choosing Penn College. Her summer internship was canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she worked instead at the college’s Plastics Innovation & Resource Center, including teaching a session for the online extrusion workshop. The previous summer, Ferki interned with SEKISUI. She hopes to pursue a master’s degree in polymer science, and would like to combine her interest in the medical field with plastics to satisfy her ultimate career goal.

In her comments to the board, President Davie Jane Gilmour noted that the 15 in-person, rain-or-shine Spring and Summer 2020 commencement ceremonies being held Friday through Sunday include more than 1,200 graduate petitioners, more than 700 of which have expressed a desire to march.

More than 700 new students have availed themselves of virtual Connections (new student orientation) sessions thus far, she told the board.

Gilmour said there have been 585 students on campus since May to complete Spring 2020 coursework, and another 85 to 90 are expected back next week for voluntary skills-refresher opportunities.

During that period, the college has had only one on-campus positive test for COVID-19, and that was an employee. The president called it “nothing short of a miracle,” as well as “a good test for how we’re going to manage the (reopening) process.”

“We are fully prepared for what is coming,” she said, adding, “The general feeling for our students is they can’t wait to get back to campus.”

The next Penn College Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for Oct. 1.

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