YSU ‘Moving Heaven and Earth’ to Open Campus

By Amanda Tonoli
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Youngstown State University leaders are determined to bring students and faculty back to campus for the fall semester. “We are moving heaven and earth to prove to the state of Ohio that we can be back here (on campus) safely, face-to-face,” said YSU President Jim Tressel during a meeting Friday afternoon of the board of trustees.

The meeting was conducted virtually through Facebook.

YSU currently has students transitioned to remote instruction. Tressel said it is the university’s “every intention” to bring everyone back, but to do it in a safe manner.

“We’re unique, but [we] have to follow the same state rules and mandates,” he explained.

The situation is fluid as more is learned about how Ohio is handling the pandemic, but Tressel said the No. 1 concern is the university’s most valuable resource — its people.

The focus of every decision is not only on the students’ safety and futures, but also on the people who work for YSU, he emphasized.

“People are looking for answers,” Tressel said. “They’re looking for ideas and what the future looks like for all of us.”

To help get these answers, YSU has formed five “Take Charge of Our Future” focus groups to address the university’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“These focus groups will engage in rigorous planning and help guide us through the decisions and activities needed to ensure the continued effective and safe delivery of instruction and the continued success of our students,” Tressel said.

The groups, consisting of more than 50 university administrators, staff, faculty and students, are as follows:

  • Calendar Scenarios for a Safe YSU, convened by Eddie Howard, vice president for student affairs;
  • Financial Realities, convened by Neal McNally, vice president for finance and business operations;
  • Creative Course Delivery for a Safe YSU, convened by Brien Smith, provost and vice president for academic affairs;
  • Enrollment Initiatives, convened by Mike Sherman, vice president for institutional effectiveness; and
  • Ongoing Communications, convened by Shannon Tirone, associate vice president for university relations.

Each of these groups will meet throughout the next three Mondays.

“These are our five focused areas at this moment [and their groups] will be working diligently this May through the summer making decisions on things that seem to change everyday,” Tressel said. “We need to have a wide range of discussion, communication, decision making and so forth … It’s important we continue to communicate efficiently and often.”

The groups are expected to make recommendations to be presented to the board in June.

Many of the groups’ discussions revolved around how to get students and staff back to campus.

Howard said the Calendar Scenarios for a Safe YSU group has met three times and is discussing their “responsibility to students’ safety and stability” and “a safe return to campus” by implementing proper distancing and protection for those at risk in face-to-face communication such as when dealing with financial aid services.

Smith said the Creative Course Delivery for a Safe YSU group is discussing how the university might be able to move students around in a way to make them safe by “taking students off and on campus and rotating them around.”

Other topics have bloomed surrounding the use artificial intelligence and holograms, trustees learned.

The Enrollment Initiatives group is focusing on “creating opportunities for students to continue their degree programs who are currently enrolled and there is a need to focus on new, first-time students coming out of high school,” Sherman said.

In addition the group is also considering how to attract students who have joined another institution and might consider YSU for the remainder of their higher education.

Sherman said the group is focusing on registration efforts for continuing students, potentially moving orientation online for new students and focusing “on reaching out and figuring out how we might offer quality educational experience that YSU provides at the value it offers to individuals who might now be rethinking their higher education experience.”

It is the group’s hope to create relationships with students and build a sense of belonging at YSU.

“We want everybody to know we are here for you,” Sherman said.

Tressel said enrollment is affected by students feeling safe, believing they’re going to get quality and the ability to afford it.

“We need to prove to people who want to invest and be here with us we are going to be safe, we are going to be creative and we are going to give them quality,” he said.

Tressel added another aspect impacting enrollment is financial implications.

McNally said the Financial Realities group is trying to navigate the financial challenges of both before and during the pandemic.

“There was collective recognition by the group that swift pragmatic actions are necessary given the circumstances we are presented with here,” McNally said.

Some actions being discussed for recommendation include across the board spending reductions and suspending building maintenance projects and the computer replacement initiative for one year.

“YSU is committed to doing all that we must to get to the other side of this horrible health crisis,” Tressel said. “And when we get there, while we are likely to be changed, we also will be stronger than ever.”

At the conclusion of the discussion, the board went into executive session to discuss personnel.

Pictured at top: YSU President Jim Tressel speaks to members of the board of trustees during their virtual meeting Friday afternoon.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.