In The News | Three Rivers Community College opens differently for fall semester

Norwich, CT (The Day, August 26. 2020) — Three Rivers Community College student Grace Carlos of Montville started the fall semester Wednesday with optimism, feeling everyone is better prepared for online lessons and ready to work together.

“I’m still confident going into this semester, because I feel like my professors have my back,” said Carlos, who hopes to graduate next spring and transfer to a four-year state college. “They’re really helping me out.”

The 20-year-old started an internship in the office of Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz on Tuesday, handling constituent services, answering emails and doing social media postings.

Three Rivers students were thrust into remote classes suddenly in March, when the coronavirus pandemic arrived here. Carlos said some students familiar with online learning ended up teaching their teachers how to do it.

The fall semester started Wednesday at Three Rivers, 574 New London Turnpike, Norwich. Labs and a few other classes are in person, but most classes will be online, some with lessons students can log into at any time. Some are LRON — Live Remote Online — classes, with students watching live as a professor teaches either in front of students or in an empty classroom.

LRON was developed by Three Rivers as a pilot program before COVID-19 hit and now is being used at all Connecticut community colleges, said Kem Barfield, interim dean of academics and student affairs.

Lobby of TRCC

Security guard Susan Cocco, left, helps students check in as they return to the Three Rivers Community College campus Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020 in Norwich. Classes with a lab component are meeting in-person on campus to start the year, while other classes are held online. (Sean D. Elliott/The Day)

Students trickled onto campus Wednesday morning, stopping at the security desk at the entrance to check in and pick up the updated student handbook.

For contact tracing, anyone in the building must check out when they leave. Faculty picked up a packet of five masks and a pack of sanitizing wipes. Foot-pump sanitizing stations are located throughout the building.

The library is open by appointment only, Three Rivers President Mary Ellen Jukoski said. There is a book drop-off at the main entrance.

The cafeteria is closed, except for vending machines, and water drinking fountains have been replaced with water bottle filling stations. The campus store is open and can take online orders for curbside pickup.

Over the summer, hundreds of community college faculty across the state participated in online workshops on online learning platforms, Jukoski said. Faculty and staff also participated in “water cooler” sessions to discuss numerous issues and to help one another with problems, Barfield said.

A crisis response team with faculty, staff, administrators, technology experts, Three Rivers Foundation members and students meets remotely every week to discuss issues and how to support students, Barfield said. “That’s just been an incredible team,” he said.

“We recognize that people really needed some additional help,” Jukoski said, “because we had to pivot so fast in spring, and some had not taught online before. Over the summer, there were over 432 people who participated in workshops.”

Jukoski said she was surprised that Three Rivers enrollment, at about 3,200 students, is down by an estimated 12% at the start of this semester. Normally with widespread layoffs, community college enrollment increases as people consider career changes and job training, she said, including the popular manufacturing pipeline classes at Ella T. Grasso Technical High School in Groton.

Students are continuing to enroll, Jukoski said, and final enrollment might not be known for several weeks. Three Rivers has not had to cancel classes yet, college spokeswoman Alexa Shelton said.

Student Lorenzo Enderle, 24, of Groton has had a busy summer helping the entire college get ready for the fall semester. An environmental engineering technology major, he is president of the student government and is on several college clubs and committees, including the crisis response team.

Enderle has one chemistry lab class on campus and the rest of his classes are online. He said students and staff have the same concerns: health and safety. He said the crisis response team has been focusing on how to open campus safely, and he said he’ll try to make sure students are kept informed of changing protocols.

“I think they’ve been handling it very well,” Enderle said of campus administrators. “I serve on a couple of reopening committees. This is something no one has faced before. They really have focused on making sure every student is looked out for.”

Adjunct professor Ron Picoli said he volunteered to host one of the few in-person lecture classes. His intermediate algebra class has an optional one-credit computer lab component, as well.

“I am old-school,” Picoli said before class started Wednesday morning. “I think the best way to educate kids is in person. Online is a great thing, but there’s nothing better than in person.”

Picoli, 70, a retired engineer who worked for 36 years at Electric Boat, has been teaching math at Three Rivers for 22 years.

About 10 students entered his lecture hall Wednesday morning. More than half of the 30 theater-style seats were taped off to keep students apart.

Picoli brought a Stop & Shop canvas grocery bag and the weekly Shop Rite flier to class. He said he prefers practical examples to drive math lessons home. With in-person classes, he can see if students are getting the point or if he has to backtrack.

“It’s all part of life’s experiences,” he said of his approach to math teaching. “And the other half of college is learning to be with people. Social interactions.”


— By Claire Bessette, Day staff writer

The original article can be found here: “Three Rivers Community College opens differently for fall semester.”



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