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The University of Kentucky Has a Tech-Forward Reopening Plan

The University of Kentucky Has a Tech-Forward Reopening Plan

The University of Kentucky is one of many colleges that will welcome students back to campus this fall. In this article, Ari Bendersky explains how the school is using technology to safely and smartly navigate the pandemic.

Last spring, COVID-19 forced millions of college students to immediately leave campus. Ever since, school administrators have been working to adopt virtual learning while determining when and how to resume activities on campus. After months of preparation, the University of Kentucky, a public research university with over 50,000 students, faculty, and staff, has developed a comprehensive plan to safely and effectively bring students and faculty back to its Lexington campus this fall.

Under the leadership of president Dr. Eli Capilouto, a cross-departmental team comprising 500 faculty, staff, and students spent three months creating a broad return-to-campus plan. Crucially, in partnership with Salesforce, the university will assess the health and wellness of its campus community on a daily basis and enable contact tracers to manage the interactions of students, faculty, and staff.

Capilouto doesn’t just see the plan as a solution to get through COVID-19, but also as an investment that will make the university even stronger than it was before the pandemic. He believes the plan will serve as a springboard for creating a healthier community, supporting student mental health and well-being, reviewing and reworking social issues around diversity and inclusion, and preparing the university for future crises.

The university’s “Playbook for Reinvented Operations”—which covers housing, IT, healthcare, and dining, among other areas— meticulously outlines how to safely reopen the sprawling campus. The plan relies heavily on many Salesforce tools, including Education Cloud, Health Cloud, Lightning Platform Starter, and Command Center. It also includes surveys and digital engagement designed to keep everyone on campus connected and informed about the latest university actions. Capilouto plans to send a twice-weekly campus-wide message to offer updates and keep spirits up around campus during a time that is likely to be difficult for many.

While staff and faculty started returning to campus in July, students began the semester on August 17. All students received a kit with pertinent information, instructions, and personal protective equipment, including face masks and hand sanitizer. In addition, the school provided all students with initial viral testing by the first week after their return. The intent is to reduce the asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 around campus.

Going forward, everyone on campus will be required to use an app development with Salesforce to self-assess and record daily symptoms based on the most current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. All students, faculty and staff will be required to use the app daily to screen themselves for symptoms. They will be nudged via text to complete the screening. The results will be sent to the university’s health corps team. Students, faculty or staff demonstrating a high number of symptoms will be contacted for follow-up consultation and testing.

One of the main reasons the university wants to bring students back to campus is to retain the culture of college life. Incoming freshmen have already been stripped of a typical high school graduation ceremony. School administrators want to do everything possible to prevent a similarly disappointing entry into college life.

College life will, of course, look different for students this year. To alleviate too-close quarters, all students will get their own bedrooms. Only two people will be allowed to use the residence hall bathroom at any given time. Everyone will be required to wear masks at all times when not alone in a room, eating, drinking, or exercising.

Residential dining will operate at reduced capacity and move from self service to served stations. Social distancing measures will be recommended and required in certain situations. Classrooms will be limited to 25 percent occupancy and learning situations that require in-person attendance, like laboratory sciences, may have extended hours to accommodate all students safely in shifts.

The school will break at Thanksgiving and conduct finals online. This will ensure the campus population won’t leave for a short period, connect with people who are not in the school ecosystem, and then return to possibly infect others. An extended winter break will ensure safety for everyone. The team focusing on restarting university life for this fall will continue working on this issue through the end of the year, using lessons learned while bringing everyone back together, so they can pivot accordingly.

University of Kentucky was already using Salesforce.org Education Cloud for constituent relationship management, and communications for prospects, students, and alumni. That made working with the company on the back-to-campus plan easier.

“We are taking a platform we’re comfortable with and applying it to a need we have right now,” says Brian Nichols, the university’s chief information officer. “We have the ability to do all the things through the customer relationship management tools that we can use in screening and deploy messaging depending on the outcome. The fact that Health Cloud is compliant [in securing patient data to meet HIPAA standards] is huge. It offers us comfort. We have a partner that can ensure that important data is kept secure.”

One reason the university was able to quickly create a plan of action was because the team was able to think more like a corporation.

“You can involve a lot of people in the process but still be nimble,” says Jay Blanton, the university’s chief communications officer. “It’s principle-driven. What are the business objectives we need to achieve? You start there and design the process around that. We’re about people and ideas and you can involve a lot of that, but still be nimble and pivot.”

While university officials have taken every possible precaution to ensure the safety of its campus population, they realize nothing is guaranteed. The playbook task force created a contingency plan in the event school needs to once again shut down and shift to online learning. School officials will watch the virus closely and continually consult with state officials while monitoring state and federal guidance. The university’s chief concern is the health, safety, and well-being of the campus community.

If the university needs to pivot quickly, tools and technology for offsite learning are already in place to make that happen. Ninety percent of the university’s centrally assigned classes already have technology in place to provide online learning. In addition, in recent years, the school developed approximately six million square feet of new space, which is adaptable to different learning environments. In the last two years, incoming first-year students were all given iPads. And when the school shifted to online learning last spring due to the coronavirus shutdown, the university’s IT team shipped hundreds of mobile hotspots to students in need of WiFi to access courses.

The University of Kentucky is one of eight institutions in the country that has all of its programs under one contiguous campus, including health and testing, which allows for easier ability to contact trace and quarantine. It can use its plan as a model or incubator lab to help the greater Kentucky population. The University of Kentucky’s back-to-campus team and its research alliance continue to meet to specifically work on clinical trials and other interventions in this space. The team is also in the early stages of evaluating what scaling up testing, tracing, and screening for communities and industry might look like. The school maintains close conversations with the Commonwealth of Kentucky about potential data integrations, lessons learned, and best practices.

“We don’t want to just get through this—we want to get through it and be smarter, better and more nimble,” says Julie Balog, the university’s chief marketing officer. “It’s important to solve the problem with COVID in screening, testing and tracing, but we also want to be a better university.”

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