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UNL cancels tractor lab anniversary, prepares for fall

Amy Hadachek
for The Fence Post
Nebraska's (from left) Mark Thompson, Keith Placek, Jody Redepenning and Pat Pribil lift an acrylic barrier onto a lab table in Hamilton Hall.The barrier is a prototype that is being refined as part of the university’s preparations for a return to on-campus instruction for the fall semester. The barriers will allow chemistry lab tables to be divided into four sections.Redepinning is chair and professor of chemistry. Thompson, Placek and Pribil are part of the university's Chemistry/Physics and Astronomy Instrument Shop.
Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communication

With COVID dominating this year, making plans is like riding a roller coaster with ups and downs. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln the pandemic unraveled a 100th anniversary event, and delivered a sidewinder to forthcoming fall semester traditions, but the university remains steadfast.

After putting their hearts and souls into intensive months of planning a grand celebration for July 11 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the UNL’s Tractor Test Lab, concerns about COVID-19 resulted in the celebration being postponed indefinitely.

The decision was made by Roger M. Hoy, the director of the lab and professor in the Biological Systems Engineering Department.

“The reason for originally scheduling July 11 (at the Tractor Test Lab in Lincoln) was made to also coincide with a meeting of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers in nearby Omaha, Neb. However, ASABE decided not to have a physical meeting as planned in Omaha. Many of the celebration attendees are elderly and have one or more COVID-19 risk factors,” Hoy said. Also, the university has decided to deal with most traditional in- person activities this summer by either conducting them virtually, postponing them or canceling them.

“We would like the NTTL celebration to have full attendance and not be marred by COVID-19 required mitigation measures or lack of attendance, and we want the celebration to be about a century of tractor testing,” Hoy said. “As for when the event may be held, first it will occur in the future, but we are unwilling to commit to a date at this time. I am pushing to delay rescheduling until we know we can hold the event free of Covid-19.”

Many college bound students have an interest in UNL’s Nebraska Tractor Test Lab because of its prestigious international reputation and the people making a difference in propelling the program.

Brent Sampson retired three years ago, after 41 years as a test engineer in the lab.

“During this time I was directly involved with the testing of 978 tractors,” Sampson said. He retired briefly but missed the job so much that he returned. However, soon thereafter, COVID hit and now Sampson’s work is on hold.

In the interest of safety in dealing with this COVID-19 decision, Sampson sent all employees home as the university said only essential people were allowed on campus. “Tractors that were scheduled for spring testing were moved to the fall. This basically canceled the spring season,” said Sampson.

FALL PLANS

Meanwhile, UNL’s “Forward to Fall” guiding framework is underway to welcome students for the fall semester.

“At the beginning of May, I charged the Forward to Fall committee, asking them to help us develop plans for the Fall 2020 semester and to do so in a way that brought a deep understanding of our educational mission together with the real expertise in safety culture that is at the heart of how, on a daily basis, we engage in research across our campus,” Chancellor Ronnie Green said in a statement.

Masks, Classes, Dorms, Health Policies:

All UNL faculty, staff, students and visitors (including contractors, service providers and others) will wear facial coverings when indoors on the UNL campus, with a few exceptions, and in keeping with established campus policy, which is available at covid19.unl.edu/face-covering-policy. Facial covering will also be worn during outdoor UNL activities, if safe physical distancing and gathering practices are not possible.

“We will provide two masks each to students, faculty and staff. Everybody is encouraged to self-monitor and report any symptoms of COVID-19 by using the 1-Check COVID-19 Screening app developed by the University of Nebraska Medical Center,” said Leslie Reed, director of Public Affairs in the UNL Office of University Communication. “Students have told us they want to be back on campus and have their educational experience be ‘in person,’ as much as possible. So, we all need to work together to make sure it can be done, safely.”

Classes will be a mix of in-person and remote, or completely remote. Reed said the university is striving to promote as much in-person interaction as possible within health and safety guidelines.

Regarding social distancing, UNL staff has been rearranging classrooms and installing additional instructional technology to prepare for in-person teaching this fall.

“Most instructional space will be reduced to about 30 percent of capacity,” Reed said.

Also, technology installation is being designed for various classroom needs.

“Some general purpose classrooms and other rooms will be equipped for web conferencing with student participation; web conferencing for the instructor only and lecture capture equipment to record video and audio of the instructor for sharing at a later time,” Reed said.

In the residence halls and university-approved fraternities and sororities, beds will be placed 6 feet apart with no bunking permitted. Visitors will be restricted to communal areas near residence hall entries.

Dining will include more to-go options. Seating will be rearranged to limit group sizes to no more than six at a table with 6 feet of distance between tables.

“We’re working with the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department, the state Department of Health and Human Services and the University of Nebraska Medical Center to establish protocols for testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation in the event of anybody on our campus having symptoms,” Reed said.

They will also closely monitor surges of COVID-19 cases in some parts of the country. Reed said the staff is prepared to quickly change plans if circumstances require. “Also, regarding any student or faculty who may have specific health concerns or life circumstances that require accommodations, we have systems in place to provide those accommodations.”

The university politely reminds everybody about safety guidelines:

• Self monitor for symptoms and stay home if they’re sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.

• Wash hands thoroughly and often, and refrain from touching face, eyes, nose and mouth.

• Practice social distancing by maintaining 6 feet of distance from others.

• Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces.

• Wear masks when inside.

A highlight for incoming freshmen has been the traditional Tunnel Walk, but due to COVID concerns, the university has changed that this year. Typically, incoming freshmen would run out onto the football field at Memorial Stadium and pose for a group photo on the “N” in the center of the field.

“Instead, we will use Ncard (ID) photos to create a digital N photo; superimposed on Memorial Stadium that they can use as a keepsake,” Reed said. She said there would be other changes to various welcome events.

“It takes an entire community, our students, faculty and staff, everybody, to follow personal hygiene, prevention and the important well-being measures.” ❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at rotatingstorm2004@yahoo.com.


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