TOME — Valencia County’s branch college will begin classes next month with more than 80 percent of instruction offered completely online.
“There will be some hybrid courses where students will do both online and face-to-face instruction,” said Dr. Alice Letteney, The University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus chancellor. “They will mostly be our nursing and allied health courses, some lab courses, career technical education — the ones that out of necessity are dealing with hands-on procedures.”
The campus will take advantage of having fewer students and staff on site when classes begin on Aug. 17 by working on paving projects in the parking lots.
Access points onto campus will be limited, and those entering will be screened using touchless thermometers and a list of questions to detect possible COVID-19 exposure.
Letteney said UNM Main campus has funded a part-time contact tracer for each of its branch campuses, including one for UNM-Valencia.
“UNM is doing this with the Department of Health so we will have a person we can go to immediately, should anybody test positive,” she said. “We are very thankful UNM set that up.”
Plexiglass barriers will be set up in areas where students and staff interact, Letteney said, such as the financial aid office, student services, registration and course and program advisors.
“We’ve had a few of them here for over a month that students can see by appointment,” the chancellor said. “Students like to see them in person; I think it’s reassuring. They are here every day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., so people can call and make an appointment.”
The campus library is also open by appointment only, Letteney said, adding it’s important to have the library accessible, especially for students who don’t have reliable internet access.
“The library will be set up so students can either work in the library itself or across the hall,” she said. “We’ve also bought a lot of laptops that students can check out at the library if they need. We know they like to be on campus, so we have thermometers at every location open to students.”
While online summer classes and limited campus access have been going reasonably well, Letteney said the next semester, which begins in January, is still an unknown.
“I think we have to wait and see, to be realistic,” she said. “There have been some (vaccine) trials with very good results, however I don’t see a vaccine available until late spring, if we’re lucky. We may have to do the same thing for the spring semester.”
Letteney said the staff on campus were well prepared for the transition to online classes, thanks to the groundwork laid by former dean of instruction Reynaldo Garcia.
“He pushed us toward online and a lot of video work that’s paying off for us,” she said. “We have a lot of people on campus who are experts; we know this is hard for our students but it is doable.”
Like most other higher education institutes, UNM-Valencia made the move to online classes as the year came to an end a few months ago due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Jon Lechel, public relations specialist for UNM-Valencia, said the semester ended with all classes moving to online and summer courses offered in the same way.
“We all transitioned into virtual work and doing things via email and Zoom,” Lechel said. “The library is still open, just not in person. There’s a virtual reference desk. Our writing center and STEM tutors are working online; all of our services are still available. You just can’t go to campus.”
In the time the campus has offered online classes, its offerings have expanded, Lechel said, giving students more options for online classes and learning.
UNM-Valencia offers three class formats that use online learning — web-enhanced, in which the majority of classes are done face to face; hybrid, which combines online and in class lessons in various proportions and online, where 95 percent of the class is taught online.
The campus currently has four associate degree plans that can be done completely online — liberal arts, integrative studies, criminology and secondary education.
Lechel said UNM-Valencia students who lack access to equipment and internet connectivity, can check out a laptop as well as a hotspot from the school to continue their work.
“They can always come to campus and access our WiFi from the parking lot using their laptops,” he said. “We have also been promoting Comcast’s program that allows some students to get two to three months of free service and letting them know where the Comcast hotspots are they can use for free.”
The campus has a large number of local high school students who take duel credit courses and that will remain the same in the fall semester, Lechel said.
“They will still be able to do their college course work as they do their high school work,” he said. “We are working with schools to coordinate for the fall.”
More information about the branch campus can be found at valencia.unm.edu, or by calling 925-8500.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.