WILLMAR, Minn. — Ridgewater College, with locations in Willmar and Hutchinson, Minn., begins classes on Monday, Aug. 24. The semester starts with uncertainty from students about classes and hopes from Ridgewater staff to reach students in their unique situations right now.
With classes beginning, most students have some, if not all components of their classes online. “Fifty-six percent of our classes are fully online, 38% are blended or hybrid, and 6% are fully in person for the programs that need that hands-on component like cosmetology,” said Laura Kuvaas, marketing director.
The college is limiting the number of students and faculty they will have on campus in classes and elsewhere. Ridgewater's campuses are open with limitations, though online options for student services like the bookstore are encouraged.
Whether the class has in-person components or not depends on the subject of the course.
Madelyn Keaton is in the nursing program at Ridgewater finishing up her last semester. She will attend in-person laboratory sections and clinicals, and attend online for the remainder of her lectures.
“I am a hands-on learner so having limited time in-person does intimidate me but I know that professors are doing a good job working around it,” Keaton said.
Keaton and other students studying for trades or majors that require heavy hands-on components face the question of if they will be as prepared for their profession as if they were receiving more in-person training. “I am graduating from the nursing program this semester and I want to be prepared to pass my end exam to get my license,” Keaton said.
Online classes are one of the preventative measures that Ridgewater College installed to combat the pandemic and limit students on campus. Other measures include requirements for masks on campus and self-screening when entering a building. Sanitized technological devices are available for self-screening for those without their own device.
“We will have cleaning materials in all areas that students will be in,” said Mike Kutzke, vice president of student success. “The expectation is that people will clean surfaces they use and maintenance staff will be cleaning too.”
Kuvaas said that Ridgewater prioritizes students and their goals, especially through the pandemic as their goals may have changed.
“We want to be the right fit for students at that moment. We’re not about the hard sell. We’re going to help connect you to other institutions,” she said.
Kutzke said, “We have the range to reach people despite their life circumstances. During COVID-19, there are students who want the college experience but can’t get it so they can have their needs met from Ridgewater until they can have these experiences.”
For many returning students, this is not their first time with online classes because of the closures during the spring semester. They voiced their expectations and concerns for the semester based on these experiences.
“I am a little nervous because I’m better with hands-on learning and being there to ask questions,” student Leah Thompson said. “But professors are pretty good at answering emails so I’m not worried about connecting with them.”
Connecting with peers will be more difficult without in-person opportunities. Student engagement hubs like libraries will remain open on both campuses with limited hours. Student activities all must be conducted virtually.
“I am a part of Phi Theta Kappa and the ambassador program here,” Keaton said. “They do online meetings now and are figuring out how to connect with students and get as personal as they can online.”
Other students are embracing the online option. “It might be easier to connect with students more because you have more time and space away from classes with all-online options,” said Reese Schuenke.