Fall semester kicks off with new residence hall, learning modes

As the University of Houston-Victoria started the 2020-21 school year on Monday with a limited number of students living on campus, including in the new Don & Mona Smith Hall, campus officials are taking safety measures to help ensure the year goes smoothly.

Chance Glenn

“At UHV, we have taken steps to make sure we are all taking care of each other,” said Chance Glenn, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We are trying to create the highest quality educational experience for our campus community as best we can under the current situation and environment.” 

A new approach was taken this year as students moved into the residence halls Wednesday through Saturday. They were assigned a specific time to move in to limit congestion in public areas inside the residence halls. The three-story, 82,000-square-foot Don & Mona Smith Hall officially opened on Wednesday after the university broke ground on the building in June 2018. 

The $22.8 million building has amenities such as large classrooms and reception area. Each floor has a common kitchen area and laundry room for students, as well as a study room with a computer lab. The residence hall houses upperclassmen and was named after the university’s provost emeritus and his wife.

Because UHV is in Phase 3 of its reopening plan, the 272-bed residence hall is not full this fall, with 110 students living there this semester. Students living in residence halls this semester will not be assigned roommates, and no more than two students will be assigned to any residence hall suite. Students are required to wear a face covering when they aren’t in their rooms, and social distancing also is required in all public areas.

Brandon Lee

“We are excited to welcome students back to our residence halls,” said Brandon Lee, director of UHV Residence Life. “Of course, there has been a natural anxiety surrounding the current circumstances, but we implemented social distancing measures to help keep our students, parents and staff safe. The excitement is still there, and the process has been smooth.”

Earl Felix de Jesus, a UHV senior studying psychology, is a senior resident assistant in Smith Hall and is optimistic about the school year. The Houston resident has been a UHV resident assistant for three years and is looking forward to meeting new students in a virtual format this fall. 

Earl Felix de Jesus

“Smith Hall opening this fall is wonderful because it is something both new and returning students can be excited about with so much going on in the world right now,” de Jesus said. “This new residence hall is another step toward UHV becoming a destination university. We’re ready to help our UHV community get through this time together.”

In addition to Don & Mona Smith Hall, the Chick-fil-A and Jaguar Java coffee bar on campus opened Wednesday. Both Chick-fil-A and Jaguar Java are located in the first-floor food court area of UHV University Commons, 3006 N. Ben Wilson St., and are open to the public. UHV’s Chick-fil-A offers favorites such as sandwiches, nuggets, waffle fries, fruit, grilled options, fountain drinks and lemonade. Jaguar Java serves both hot and cold Starbucks beverages, including expresso drinks, teas and smoothies. Snacks, bottled beverages and lunch items such as sandwiches, salads and wraps also are available to purchase at Jaguar Java. 

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, classes this fall are being offered in three modes that still offer students an engaging educational experience. Hybrid classes will have at least one face-to-face class a week and be streamed through Microsoft Teams so that students who aren’t in class on campus that day can join during the scheduled meeting time. Real-time online classes meet online at the date and time listed in the course schedule and offer real-time interaction with students and the faculty member. Traditional online courses will be conducted through Blackboard and have no regularly scheduled face-to-face component. 

Faculty members conducting face-to-face classes will wear a face shield provided by the university, and students are required to wear face masks. There also is a limit to how many students can be in a classroom at one time. Students who do not have a face mask will be provided one, Glenn said. 

There are hand sanitizer stations in each university building, and temperature check stations in Jaguar Hall, University Commons, University Center, University North and University West to help students, faculty, staff and visitors check their temperatures when entering a building. Each UHV building has information about the reopening phase that UHV is in, as well as information about Masks on JAXNATION, the university’s campaign to remind the campus community about the importance of wearing face coverings. UHV requires face coverings in all public indoor spaces. 

The UHV COVID-19 Operations Center provides support to students, staff and faculty by advising, communicating and educating the campus community about COVID-19 in Victoria and at UHV Katy. The center conducts contact tracing at UHV and assists with contact tracing at UHV Katy to help prevent further spread of the coronavirus and keep the UHV community safe and healthy. 

“There are three things that will allow us to get through this time, and that is cooperation, communication and flexibility,” Glenn said. “If we practice all of those, whether on campus or from our home or room, we will be successful in keeping each other healthy during this time.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Amber Aldaco