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UAF Kuskokwim Campus Opening In-Person For Fall Semester With COVID-19 Mitigation

UAF Kuskokwim Campus in Bethel, Alaska.

Classes at the UAF Kuskokwim Campus in Bethel begin on Aug. 23. Classes will be held online and in-person with a host of COVID-19 safety measures. Here's a look at the coming semester.

Julie Carpenter is the UAF Kuskokwim Campus Interim Director, and she said that she “feels great” about the reopening.

“We were hoping for a more normal school year start, and because of the spike in the delta variant we’re having to scale back, but it’s still a lot better than it was last year,” Carpenter said.

Last year, at the beginning of the fall semester, enrollment was down, classes occurred online, and COVID-19 vaccines weren’t available. Enrollment is back up this year, to the tune of about 250 students. Classes will be a mix of in-person and online, and many people will be returning to campus vaccinated. Last year, all the campus faculty and staff got the shots voluntarily. This semester, all of the students living in the dorm will be required to get them as well. Carpenter said that they’re requesting students get at least the first vaccine dose before arriving on campus.

“Advisors are reaching out to all the students and helping any way that they can. And so far we haven’t come across any major hurdles, so hopefully it’ll go smoothly,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said that she doesn’t know of any dorm students refusing the vaccine. About a dozen students will be living in the dorm full-time. Another dozen will be traveling in from regional communities and will form monthly cohorts.

Bethel's Kuskokwim Campus dorm is the only student housing in the UAF system requiring vaccinations for residents. The frequent travel of students between villages and Bethel is one reason why the campus requested and received this exemption.

“The dorm is a small space, and with cases in the villages, the availability of beds at our hospital, and the need for medevac with those beds are filled, we just wanted to err on the side of safety and caution,” Carpenter said.

COVID-19 tests will be required for dorm students experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or after being exposed to someone who tests positive for the virus, and everyone will be required to follow COVID-19 safety measures.

“We’re screening everybody who comes on campus. We’ve got a log-in sheet. We’ve got the plexiglass around the high-traffic desks. There’s a mask mandate, of course. We’ve got good ventilation, and we’re just really, really pushing vaccination for anybody coming on campus. We’re just trying to be as safe as we can be,” Carpenter said.

The campus mask mandate applies to the public when accessing the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center to use the library, gift shop, or attend a community event.

The campus is also offering non-academic classes, including judo and a women’s exercise class, and is hoping to also offer art and sewing classes.

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