After a difficult year, Cal Lutheran works to deliver as fully as possible on its promise to offer students a highly personalized, vibrant, community-based learning experience.
By Lori E. Varlotta
Spring brings the promise of new life, and this year that promise seems more symbolic than ever before. As I started writing this, the Thousand Oaks campus had just concluded its first week of in-person spring semester classes. After the successful launch of four outdoor classrooms during fall semester, we expanded the number of these open-sided tents — outfitted with 360-degree cameras, screens, whiteboard readers and lights — to 10. We even added heaters to keep students and faculty members nice and warm during the somewhat cool days. With these 10 outdoor classrooms, we have the capacity to teach 100 of our traditional undergraduate classes in person. This gives more than 1,000 students the option to attend at least one of their classes on campus.
While our novel outdoor classrooms have received national media coverage, they are not being used quite yet to their fullest capacity. Given the virus outbreaks during the holidays, students and faculty alike have been extraordinarily cautious about returning to campus for socially distanced, mask-to-mask instruction. We expect comfort levels to increase soon, however. Thankfully, I was able to secure, in late February, 450 doses of the vaccine for Cal Lutheran employees. We were scheduled to receive our second doses on March 20 and 21 and had identified March 29 as the day the vast majority of us would return to campus.
Along with the outdoor classrooms, we are seeing other signs of campus life. We have about 630 students living in our residence halls, up from about 380 in fall, and our athletic teams have begun practicing together and competing again for the first time in 11 months. Hopefully, by the time you read this magazine, Ventura County and Alameda County (home to Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary) will have moved into the less-restrictive “Red Tier,” allowing us to offer some indoor instruction. When that occurs, we have plans to open some of our science and music labs and art studios to physically distanced mask-to-mask teaching and learning. Other classes will follow.
All of the above should tell you that we are making bold, not brash, decisions. Such decisions will enable us to deliver as fully as possible on our promise to offer students a highly personalized, vibrant, community-based learning experience. All the while, we are diligently following public health guidelines. As we geared up for the current semester, we increased our surveillance testing and we expanded the Cal Lutheran Compact that everyone must sign. The extensive COVID-19 protocol training completed by our large team of 11 contact tracers impressed even county public health officials.
I share this with you not to simply provide an update on how we continue to respond to the pandemic, but to signal that Cal Lutheran has responded in strong, bold and creative ways. Such a response has emerged as the exception in California higher education, not the norm. And that is what I want you to think about as you read this magazine: Cal Lutheran is an exception. As we continue to differentiate ourselves from the field, the leadership team and I may be calling on you to help us become an even stronger, healthier, more coherent version of ourselves.
No doubt, COVID-19 has been difficult. But it has allowed Cal Lutheran to show ourselves and others what we have and what we are made of: It’s good stuff!