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Penn State To Announce Soon What Form Summer Session Will Take

A person walks across an empty mall on Penn State main campus
Min Xian
Penn State will have a virtual commencement ceremony on May 9, as the university plans a possible physical event for graduating students later in the fall.

Penn State will announce within the next few days what format the summer session will take, university Provost Nick Jones said in a town hall Thursday.

Jones said the university will consider challenges and lessons from the spring semester, when the university decided to cancel in-person classes in March.

“I anticipate what you will see emerge in the summer is a combination of synchronous and asynchronous delivery, designed to really support our students in the best way possible,” Jones said.

Penn State ended in-person classes in March, switching entirely to remote learning. It also essentially shut down campuses, ending virtually all on-campus housing and dining services as part of social distancing efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Jones again said that Penn State is planning an in-person ceremony in the fall for graduating students, who will have a virtual commencement in May because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In addition to the virtual ceremonies on May 9, we’re planning also in the fall to find a way that we can invite graduates back to campus, should they be able to attend, for a more intimate, physical celebration,” Jones said. “Those plans are still being developed.”

He added the focus right now is to make the virtual commencement “as meaningful as we can possibly make it.”

The university said the virtual commencement ceremony will feature remarks and music performances, and students will have their degrees conferred. 

Dean of the Graduate School Regina Vasilatos-Younken reassured students who are on assistantships that their stipends will not be impacted for the spring semester. She said while work for the summer is likely to proceed, plans for the fall are less certain.

“This situation is driven by the coronavirus pandemic. And every day, the information about that changes,” Vasilatos-Younken said. “There are so many things that are impacting what can happen a week from now or a month from now that we really would be premature in trying to speculate in any way what might be happening for the fall.”

In a March town hall, Jones said there will be no pay raises for university employees this year. The university also said it would not lay off employees at least through the end of April. And, it is asking departments to hold off on filling new or open faculty or staff positions unless they’re critical.

He added that although the university is still taking time to plan for the fall semester, interest in applying for and enrolling in Penn State remains high.

“One of the important things that we are focused on doing is making sure that those students who have accepted the invitation to attend Penn State are stuck to us and that we don't lose them,” he said.

As of Thursday, there are 59 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Centre County. Penn State Vice President Damon Sims had asked students not to return to campus in an open letter. 

All of Pennsylvania is under a stay-at-home order until at least April 30 and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has directed all K-12 schools to close for the remaining school year.

Min Xian reported at WPSU from 2016-2022.
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