UMass Dartmouth looks to bounce back from pandemic ahead of fall semester

Education
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DARTMOUTH, Mass. (WPRI) ─ Right now, UMass Dartmouth is a shell of what visitors would normally see this time of year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chancellor Dr. Robert Johnson and his staff are hard at work coming up with ways to bring life back to the empty campus come the fall semester.

“In an ideal situation, fully back, face-to-face, with social distancing,” Johnson explained.  “We’re mapping out classrooms and how they’ll be structured differently. How do we enter and leave buildings? How do we protect our older and high-risk groups? Making sure we have blended learning and workforce opportunities so they’re protected as well.”

The president of UMass, Marty Meehan, has already proposed a tuition freeze for the upcoming year, recognizing that many of the school’s students and families are facing financial hardships caused by the pandemic.

Johnson wants to take it a step further, calling on whoever wins the Senate race in Massachusetts to enact legislation that would keep education affordable, including indexing the Pell Grant with inflation.

“When I attended school, 80% of my education, and I came from a low income family, was paid for by grants, from federal and state aid; only about 20% in student loans,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just the opposite now.”

High on his list of priorities is the “Blue Economy,” what he refers to as “the next big thing.” He said it will utilize one of the region’s most precious resources: the water.

“Imagine the 195 corridor going from Providence all the way down to the Cape,” Johnson said. “Imagine a bunch of Blue Economy companies and non-profit organizations along that corridor and we create essentially the Silicon Valley of the Blue Economy, right on the south coast.”

He’s pushing for elected leaders to provide more funding for the initiative, which UMass Dartmouth is spearheading.

When the school was asked to host a field hospital during the pandemic, which fortunately never had to be used, Johnson said it was only natural for them to step up.

He said the same goes for the role the school will play as the region looks to emerge from the pandemic and get back to work.

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