End of Fall Semester and Spring Semester Planning

November 17, 2020
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Professor of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy, Professor of Engineering Sciences

At the end of this week we will conclude the in-person instructional portion of our fall semester. I write today to provide a brief update on the end of the fall semester and planning for the spring semester.

COVID-19 Testing 

Every part of our community has contributed to both the successful reopening of our campus and the provision of remote education and support services. To their credit, our students, faculty, and staff have shown enormous responsibility and have diligently followed our comprehensive health and safety protocols, which are detailed in our Return to Campus-Based Operations Plan. Strict community adherence to these protocols has enabled us to aggressively mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 on the Rensselaer campus. Since August 1, we have conducted over 82,000 COVID-19 tests, and have had 18 positive test results. 

In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity to meet via Webex with a number of the extraordinary faculty and staff members who have made our successful fall semester possible. The list of staff, students, and faculty who have played a crucial role in this effort is long, and my thanks goes out to each and every one of you who have worked hard to deliver the best, and safest, possible education experience under the difficult circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

End of Fall Semester

As previously announced, the last day of in-person academic instruction for the fall semester will be this Friday, November 20, 2020. Classes for the remainder of the fall semester will be delivered remotely. Based on our ongoing T3SQ(I) protocol testing frequency, all students with access to campus should be tested within 72 hours prior to traveling away from campus. 

While there will be a reduced total number of overall tests conducted, due to fewer residential students, faculty, and staff requiring access to the campus, the frequency of testing will remain unchanged during the period of November 30, 2020 through December 23, 2020 and then again from January 4-11, 2021, although testing hours will be reduced. Graduate students who are part of an approved research plan (Stages 1, 2, or 3) will have continued access to their research labs and core facilities during these time periods.

Only faculty and staff who are designated as “Essential” by each portfolio owner will have access to the campus over the Thanksgiving holiday (November 26-29, 2020) and winter break (December 24, 2020 to January 3, 2021). Students who remain in our Residential Commons during the winter break will be tested for COVID-19 at least once during this period. 

Spring Semester Plans

The first day of spring semester remote classes is January 19, 2021, and in-person classes will begin on February 1, 2021. 

As indicated in our Return to Campus-Based Operations Plan, freshmen, sophomores, seniors, and graduate students will have access to the campus in the spring semester. The spring semester is the Arch away-semester for the junior class. We will maintain all access-to-campus protocols detailed in the plan.

Academic Instruction

Our current plan calls for a mix of in-person, hybrid, and remote instruction, with all classes recorded and posted to help students who are unable to travel to campus. For our senior class preparing for graduation, we will provide access to in-person instruction where pedagogy demands and where permissible under our social distancing protocols (e.g., laboratory courses, capstone design meetings, and studios). Most other senior-level courses will be taught in a remote mode. For freshmen and sophomores, there will be a mix of in-person, hybrid, or remote instruction. The modality of instruction will be influenced by the existing state of the pandemic and the incidence of infection within the campus community. 

Arrival Dates

Similar to the fall semester, working with our Arrival Ambassadors, students will be required to register for an arrival window ahead of time in order to de-densify the process. Registration for arrival testing, and move-in for the spring, will be shared in a future communication. 

Modified Universal Quarantine

To ensure compliance with New York State Executive Orders, and for the health and safety of our community, all students returning to campus will be required to participate in a two-week universal quarantine, similar to the one held during the fall semester. 


When the Institute reopens for the spring semester, we will host an increased number of students in residence. To accommodate first-year and sophomore students, who are required to live in the Residential Commons, there will be some increase in on-campus housing density. We will maintain the current density standards for off-campus housing, including the Greek Commons, which will continue to remain closed.  



Consistent with the fall semester, we will continue to implement the Testing, Tracing, Tracking, Surveillance, and Quarantine/Isolation - T3SQ(I) - protocol as detailed in our Return to Campus-Based Operations Plan


In a continued effort to protect the health and safety of the Rensselaer community, and to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections, there will be no winter sports competition, including men’s and women’s ice hockey, during the 2020/2021 academic year. Winter sports competition had already been canceled by the Liberty League Council of Presidents, as of November 9, 2020. 

Continued Vigilance

As COVID-19 cases surge across the country, we see the consequences of “COVID fatigue” and lack of vigilance. As we approach the end of in-person instruction for the fall semester, we have seen how our continued adherence to our comprehensive protocols is working, and we must maintain the protocols that we have adopted, including the wearing of masks, social distancing, not participating in gatherings with more than 10 people, and frequent surveillance testing. 

Let me close by thanking you again for the remarkable contributions from across our community. These efforts made our success this fall possible, and enabled us to continue carrying out our mission and to look ahead with optimism.


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