SMC adjusts academic calendar

DOWAGIAC — On Monday night, Southwestern Michigan College’s Board of Trustees adjusted the spring 2021 academic calendar by two weeks.

The masked, socially-distanced board, meeting in Mathews Conference Center East on SMC’s Dowagiac campus, revised spring semester to start Jan. 25 and conclude on May 14, with an anticipated commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 15, outdoors in Alumni Plaza.

The revised calendar will provide more time for faculty to prepare for additional online courses that may be needed in spring, will avoid potential snow days in early January and positions Spring Break Week closer to the middle of the semester.

In his president’s report, Dr. Joe Odenwald advised the board that the Faculty Association and local school district superintendents agreed with the change.

“Also, I don’t want to go two years in a row without a physical graduation,” Odenwald said. Such a ceremony would recall the college’s early years when graduation took place outdoors on the Fred L. Mathews Library steps.

Odenwald also reported closing the enrollment gap in recent weeks.

“On June 5, we had 833 students enrolled for fall,” Odenwald said. “This morning we had 1,533. We’ve picked up 700 students since June 5. One area where we’re currently behind is dual enrollment, down 103 from a year ago. I’ve been reassured multiple times that will improve, but it’s going to take some sorting out after the first day of classes (Sept. 8) because the typical registration window in April/May was disrupted. I met with high school superintendents on Thursday. We’ve got one more orientation next week. I think we’ll wind up between 1,650 and 1,700 students.”

Odenwald divides the challenges ahead for SMC into three categories: managing the virus, enrollment and the budget for fall 2020; preparing for spring 2021; and planning for fall 2021.

Odenwald said he is determined not to let this year set the tone for the next five.

“This virus has controlled enough and will to some degree until we get a vaccine, but we’ve got to be planning the future,” he said.

Canceled events gave the president time to reflect.

“It’s a chance to really look at things and say, ‘What can we do for Fall 2021 to be better?’ The return of cross country athletics is something we formulated with more time. Instead of sitting around whining and worrying, we’re focused on how we’re going to win.”

Odenwald informed trustees that SMC will provide Niles campus office space to Michigan Works!, which offers a variety of free employment services such as counseling, resume assistance and interview preparation.

“They can help guide our students in career planning and workforce connections,” he said.

The board also rescheduled its Oct. 19 meeting to Oct. 26 and will use it for annual long-range planning postponed in March due to the coronavirus shutdown.

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