SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — Bryant University’s current president began his tenure in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

In his first television interview in Rhode Island since taking the helm, Dr. Ross Gittell said he couldn’t have possibly imagined this is what his first semester would look like — but his goal for the university is unwavering.

“The real focus is something pretty simple that Bryant’s been doing for a long time,” he explained. “What do we need to do to make sure our graduates are successful and strong contributors to society?”

The president said in order to succeed this semester, he’s tapped into his decades of experience in the world of business, as well as his time serving as chancellor of New Hampshire’s community college system.

Of the utmost importance to him is having students learning in person and living on campus.

“Integrate the strong academic programming and quality of our teaching with the on-campus experience,” Gittell said. “The student advising, the clubs, the recreation … it’s really mind, body, spirit.”

Under his guidance, Bryant started the semester earlier than usual, on Aug. 25, so it would wrap up before Thanksgiving break. The university also added Saturday classes to make the abbreviated schedule work.

The school invested $7 million this academic year into coronavirus testing, according to Gittell. Students and staff were tested weekly, with some even more frequently than that.

Of the 60,000 surveillance tests taken, Bryant reported a positivity rate of 0.12%.

Gittell pointed out that the university’s rural setting and single point of entry made it easier than other institutions to contain the spread of the virus, but he said students were still doubtful they’d be able to go the whole semester without having to go remote.