The campus of Eastern Kentucky University was bustling with activity on Monday as students returned to classes with COVID-19 protocols in place.

EKU President David McFaddin said that leading up to the first day of classes, the incoming freshmen were able to have some fun during Big E Welcome festivities. According to the president, EKU welcomed 2,600 freshmen to campus last week. McFaddin said that this year’s freshman class is bigger than the previous year for the first time in six years.

“I think that the freshman class of on-campus students is up for the first time in six years is an indication that students are hungry for a residential experience,” McFaddin said.

McFaddin helped students move into their dorms and said students seemed excited to be back on campus.

COVID-19

With the return to campus life and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, EKU hopes to keep everyone safe and healthy.

 “No one wanted to be back in this situation where we were mandating masks, but it’s the right thing to do in order to have the most successful semester,” McFaddin said.

McFaddin also mentioned that he hopes that the university can reach a high vaccination percentage so on-campus COVID-19 protocols can be relaxed.

According to McFaddin, the sooner vaccination rates increase on campus, the quicker the university will return to normal operations and less COVID-19 guidelines.

With assistance from the Madison County Health Department and the National Guard, EKU offered on-campus vaccine clinics during move-in, and McFaddin stated that more vaccination opportunities will be offered through the fall semester.

McFaddin stated that the university will be offering Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines at the on campus vaccination clinics.

“We are seeing a big uptick in vaccinations, and, for us, we are gathering that data in both the student population and the employee population, and we will have some data,” McFaddin said. “We will have a better snapshot of where we’re at hopefully by the end of the week.”

With the experience from the last 18 months dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, McFaddin is confident that the university will have a favorable experience.

“We know that the vaccines are effective so we are going to continue to encourage vaccinations. We are going to use masks as long as it is proven and appropriate to use masks and I think it’s the socially responsible thing to do. We’re going to hopefully practice good hygiene, and if you’re sick, don’t come to class or work,” McFaddin said.

Aramark will continue to sanitize class spaces and provide hand sanitizer stations around campus. Aramark will also provide disinfecting wipes in classrooms and common areas.

In the case that someone tests positive for COVID-19 or needs to quarantine, EKU will continue providing quarantine spaces and support services for students.

“The key is going to be everyone making good decisions along the way,” McFaddin said.

Athletics

As students return to the classroom, EKU athletics continues to gear up for the upcoming football season and other athletics seasons. The athletics department announced over the summer that Roy Kidd Stadium will return to 100 percent capacity for the 2021 season, something McFaddin is not worried about.

“Outdoors venues, I think the science has shown us, the spread of COVID-19 is not nearly as spreadable as what we see in an indoor environment…. We’ll obviously work with the conference, the ASUN, the NCAA, and we’ll work with local and state officials as well as we move into that process,” McFaddin said.

During EKU football media day, head coach Walt Wells estimated that 90 percent of the team was vaccinated, and McFaddin estimated that some athletic teams are at 100 percent vaccination rate.

“I’m glad we’re seeing those athletic programs. Some of our student organizations are really starting to promote and push vaccination as a means to get back to normal quickly,” McFaddin said.

The EKU football team is set to play its home opener on Sept. 18 against Indiana State.

BookSmart

The BookSmart program launched this semester with the mission of providing free textbooks to all undergraduate students for the 2021-22 academic year. McFaddin stated that EKU was looking to send out 10,000 boxes last week, both face to face and in the mail.

According to McFaddin, books were being shipped as far west as Washington and as close as towns in central and eastern Kentucky. Many students used the opportunity to pick their textbooks up in person either at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore over the last couple of weeks or during the Big E Welcome events.

“This is a differentiator in the marketplace. When we say ‘School of Opportunity’ and people say ‘What does that mean?’ It means that we are investing in your success, and so that’s what BookSmart is about. We are proud to be known for that and glad to be the only (public) institution in Kentucky to be doing this,” McFaddin said.

According to McFaddin, the faculty textbook adoption rate was 96 percent this semester which means that 96 percent of faculty informed the EKU Bookstore of the textbook/course materials they are using in their courses. The four percent represents faculty who never responded and who most likely are not using textbooks/course materials in their courses. According to Kristi Middleton, chief external affairs officer, to the university’s knowledge, all faculty are participating in the EKU BookSmart program if they have required textbooks/course materials for their courses.

EKU is still offering Open Source Textbooks, an initiative from the EKU library. Open Source Textbooks are created for students free of charge on campus.

“Faculty have really received this well and are excited that they are not having to worry about on day one who has their books and who doesn't,” McFaddin said.

As the semester moves on, McFaddin hopes that students remain healthy while also enjoying the college experience and finding ways to get involved on campus.

“We’re going to focus on this being a healthy and safe semester, that is the first and foremost thing that I want every student, every parent, everyone to know, that’s what we focus on first, but we want you to make memories and make friends and get an amazing education that’s going to make you work ready,” McFaddin said.

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