At Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), new Campus Manager April Konitzer is stepping into uncharted territory as she takes over for the recently retired Cheryl Tieman.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the educational world into a state of uncertainty, with parents and students weighing education, finances and health in ways they’ve never had to before. Many are bristling at the idea of investing tens of thousands of dollars for a college experience that’s likely to be far different from the one they applied for. Schools such as NWTC are grappling with similar safety concerns from students, but it may also benefit from the climate of financial uncertainty.
“We’re getting some inquiries from university students thinking about taking classes here this fall rather than returning to their school,” she said. “Wisconsin has a great system for allowing students to transition from one system to another.”
NWTC has announced that its campuses will be open this fall, with classes beginning Aug. 7, and room is still available in many courses. To help ease financial concerns for prospective students, the school is offering a no-risk enrollment program: Students may register for classes, and if they decide not to continue at any point during the first week of classes, they can get a 100 percent reimbursement of their fees.
Konitzer is confident the school can provide a safe environment.
“We’re investing in a substantial cleaning practice to take care of rooms and spaces before and after [they’re used],” Konitzer said. “And we’re requiring masks on campus.”
She said the school is fortunate to have staff members with backgrounds in HVAC systems, which have come under greater scrutiny as scientists have come to believe that airborne transmission of the COVID-19 virus could be driving large outbreaks.
“We’ve spent the summer analyzing our HVAC system,” Konitzer said. “One of the benefits of being hands on [is that] we have to have different HVAC systems for students to work on.”
Konitzer said staff members will be rotated through the facilities on different schedules so the entire staff is not on campus at one time; Plexiglas barriers have been installed where needed; and class sizes will be limited to help ensure student and faculty safety.
“Many of our programs – like gas, diesel and welding – lend themselves to social distancing already,” Konitzer said.