THUNDER BAY - After being out of the classroom for more than four months, Confederation College student John Simons is happy to be back in the lab doing some hands-on learning.
“Everybody is relieved, I think,” he said. “It’s nice to get our hands on the equipment. The college was doing a great job online showing us, but it’s still a lot easier to learn.”
Confederation College recently reopened parts of its campus in a limited capacity to allow students to complete labs as part of the their programs.
The reopening is part of a pilot project announced by the Ministry of Colleges and Universities prior to the province entering stage three of reopening the economy, allowing post-secondary institutions to bring students back to campus.
“With this pilot project, we actually planned the programs,” said Confederation College president, Kathleen Lynch.
“Students were given notice and we got going. We have about 200 students back on campus taking programming in small groups of course. They wouldn’t be able to progress through their program without these essential labs they are taking, so it’s really important that we get them back.”
The programs primarily relate to technology, including aerospace manufacturing, electrical technology, and industrial manufacturing. Students in the aviation program were also permitted to return and get back up in the air to complete their flying hours.
Technology students are expected to complete their essential labs by the end of the summer. However, when it comes to the aviation program, due to the backlog of students still working to complete their hours, the college will not be accepting new students to the program this fall.
“We had to make some compromises and not do an intake of aviation students this fall so we can get all those students caught back up in terms of their flying hours,” Lynch said. “It’s a lot of time that they’ve missed.”
Other programs that will not be accepting new students this fall include the aerospace manufacturing engineering technician, embedded systems (international program), digital media production, and tourism, travel and eco-adventure.
But the reopening of labs now is also offering the college some important lessons on how the academic year might look in September.
“It’s great for us because we are learning a lot about this fall and when we bring students back for other labs and the kinds of scheduling and other issues we need to deal with to make sure everybody stays safe,” Lynch said.
It is still not completely clear what the academic year will look like, with a possible hybrid model being used where theory lessons are taught online and labs are on campus in a limited capacity.
“We expect we will have a lot more students on campus this fall so they can get the practical side of their education,” Lynch said.
For Simons, there was a growing concern that he would not be able to complete his program on time due to the pandemic, but now that he is back in the lab, those concerns are starting to subside.
“I decided to take this program because I lost my job at Bombardier during the layoffs,” he said. “I want to graduate as quickly as possible, so knowing we can keep on track is really important.”
Other services on campus are also reopening, including the Wellness Centre, with a limited number of people permitted inside the facility at a time, booking time required, and extra time between sessions to allow for additional cleaning.
Students and staff are also screened upon entering campus buildings and must follow all public health guidelines.
“There’s not really any concern about any germs,” Simons said. “We all go home smelling like hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol, but it does the trick.”
Lynch said the protocols are worth it just to see students back on campus in a safe and healthy environment.
"It's kind of sad to be an educational facility and not have anyone here to take advantage of this facility,” she said.