REDDING, Calif.—Simpson University welcomed new and returning students to campus over Labor Day weekend, marking the start of an unprecedented school year inside and outside the classroom.
“It’s a new normal,” President Norm Hall told news reporters who covered the university’s reopening. “Everyone has been very patient, and our students are saying they are thrilled to be here.”
New Student Orientation on Sept. 4-6 included staggered arrival and move-in times for residential students, who were limited to two guests each, as well as outdoor dining and events to allow for physical distancing. Hand-sanitizing stations and plexiglass shields are found throughout campus. Red signs on lawns and walkways remind students to wear face coverings and maintain distance.
Indicative of the “new normal” for this fall, the first day of classes Sept. 7 also included free COVID-19 testing in the gymnasium. All students were required to provide negative test results within 30 days prior to arrival, and periodic testing of the campus population will be part of the protocol this semester.
“We’re going to constantly monitor the situation, and we need you to be doing that, too,” Dr. Dale Simmons, provost, told parents during a weekend session. “We want to be able to give your students face-to-face education as long as possible.”
The university is utilizing a HyFlex learning format, with in-person classes that are livestreamed and recorded to allow for adequate physical distancing in classrooms and uninterrupted learning in the event of quarantine or isolation.
“Our distinctive learning environment is high interaction with our faculty,” Dr. Hall said.
Despite the weekend’s triple-digit heat, smoky air from wildfires to the south, and strict safety protocols, students expressed excitement and gratitude to be back on campus.
“I’m so thankful that we’re on campus, that I get to build those relationships with both teachers and students and be able to have that college experience rather than being at home and just doing it from my bedroom, the way we ended senior year,” freshman Kaitlin Hergbert said. “I’m just thankful we get to be here and have that true experience freshman year.”
Senior Zack Caples said putting up with the inconveniences of wearing face coverings and abiding by other safety protocols is worth it to be on campus. “I’m really excited to be back,” he said. “It’s been a long summer.”
The weekend included outdoor activities such as kayaking and relaxing by the pond, a cornhole competition, picnic on the lawn, and a worship service led by pastors from local Christian & Missionary Alliance churches. On Friday evening, President Hall led a family covenant communion service near the cross at the center of campus, sharing the biblical story of Esther – “a powerful reminder that God can bring about new life, redemption and freedom even when it seems impossible,” he said.
On Saturday morning, Dr. Simmons encouraged students to actively participate in their learning, to ask for help when needed and to reach out to their professors. He urged them to be persons of integrity. “Exercising your mind in the service of God is a way of loving God,” he said. “Your studies can be an act of worship.”
In a richly symbolic service exercise Saturday, students gathered in small groups to plant trees around campus, marking them with brass plaques naming numerous individuals who have contributed in some way to the nearly 100-year-old history of Simpson University. The trees line the university’s Pathways of Remembrance, which commemorate the three locations in Simpson’s history: Seattle (1921-1955), San Francisco (1955-1989), and Redding (1989-present).
“These plaques represent people who came before us, who lived and served on campus,” Dr. Hall said. “As we lean into a new century, it seemed appropriate to connect them with you in a tangible way.”
He asked the students to stop and pray for each family represented by the plaques they installed next to the trees.
“When you come back for homecoming, you will inevitably return to the tree you planted,” he said. “You’ll remember when you became part of the legacy of Simpson University.”
On Sunday morning, new and returning students gathered for an outdoor church service led by staff and faculty that culminated in prayer for the year ahead.
“Remain in this posture of faith and hope as we head into the semester,” Jose Palos, director of Spiritual Formation,” told the Simpson community via email Sunday night. “We are off to a great start, but there is still much work to be done.”
He shared the exhortation found in I Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Related media coverage:
9.07.20 – Students back on campus at Simpson University for the first time in months
ActionNewsNow interviewed President Norm Hall and two students for a story and “live” shots on the first day of classes.
9.07.20 – Simpson University students began class on Monday
KRCR-TV returned to campus for the first day of classes, filming nursing students and interviewing the provost for this story.
9.04.20 – Students return to Simpson University
KRCR-TV visited campus as new students moved in to do a story featuring some of the new COVID-19 protocols in place.
Simpson University, a Christian university founded in 1921, moved to Redding 31 years ago and will celebrate its centennial in 2021. In addition to offering 20 majors in its traditional undergraduate program, the university has graduated more than 4,000 North State adults from its ASPIRE degree-completion program, and nearly 3,000 from its School of Education. It has a No. 7-ranked School of Nursing, a seminary, and master’s programs in counseling psychology and organizational leadership. Simpson University is recognized nationally as one of U.S. News and World Report’s Top 100 Regional Universities West. The university is launching new programs in digital media, computer information systems, and engineering, and recently added athletics programs in track and field, swimming and diving, women’s wrestling, and men’s volleyball, as well as a bass fishing team ranked No. 1 in California. The university has a highly ranked Veterans Success Center and partnership with the Army National Guard. Simpson University contributes an estimated $50 million annually to Redding’s economy. It offers aggressive scholarships and is working to better serve transfer students from community colleges through its commitment to Associate Degree for Transfer agreements. Learn more about Simpson University at simpsonu.edu.