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First Campus Conversation this Fall: Welcome to the 2020-2021 Academic Year

Nahla El Gendy
September 13, 2020

Last Thursday’s campus conversation, Welcome to the 2020-2021 Academic Year, introduced AUC’s senior leadership, who discussed a broad range of topics, including hybrid classes, the newly applied COVID-19 Contact Tracing System, the AUCSpeakUp campaign, safety measures on campus and at the University Residences, international students, vaccines for COVID-19 and more.

President Francis Ricciardone started the session by welcoming new and returning students, faculty and staff.

“We all learned a lot over this past year. … It was really hard, very stressful to shift from total normal pre COVID-19 physical presence to what turned out to be total online, no physical presence. We learned a lot, we were very successful and because of that experience, I'm very confident as we start this new year that we are going to have a great year. It will be full of challenges; no doubt about it. … But we at AUC. … We love challenges because they unleash our creativity and our collaboration and our productivity together,” said AUC President Francis Ricciardone.



Major Summer Achievements

  • Faculty working hard to build on the lessons learned of the spring in how to conduct online pedagogy and bring it forward
  • Refining technology and techniques
  • Enhancing physical infrastructure to improve and facilitate access to campus

“No one thinks that online instruction is a substitute permanently, or in the long run, or fully for the kind of face to face, contact and education that we all love and want. We love our students. We love to be with them. Faculty, staff students together that's what makes AUC such a special vibrant campus, we do want to get back to that, as soon as the public health situation will permit, judiciously,” said Ricciardone.


  • Working group, protection and systems in order to make AUC’s culture stronger and ensure that the dignity of everyone is protected and celebrated
  • Mandatory and universal training that every member of the community will need to take, including the president and senior leadership, incoming and returning students, faculty and staff, and across the board to understand what is meant by sexual harassment and how to deal with it
  • Changing the Title IX office to the Office of Institutional Equity that reports directly to the president, protecting all students, faculty and staff
  • Working with the National Council for Women to make sure we are "adopting and advancing" best practices in Egypt, not just on campus
  • AUCSpeakUp campaign 

"The idea of the AUCSpeakUp initiative is really to create one kind of umbrella that brings together the different components, so there's a website that we are building to become a one-stop destination for all of the resources on campus and for questions whether videos, training and ways people can become engaged," said Dina Abulfotuh, vice president for marketing communication and public affairs.

Returning to Campus

  • Applying all safety measure including wearing face masks, social distancing and washing hands
  • Fill in the daily online health check reminder in less than 30 seconds to mainly report on any symptoms you may be facing or if you know that you've been in contact with a confirmed case.

COVID-19 Contact Tracing System

Shereen Shaker ’91, vice president for management and operations:

  • 3Ts: tracking, tracing and testing
  • Fill in self-check questionnaire when you come to campus
  • System feeds directly into the clinic
  • Moving from a manual to an automated system: more accurate, saves time  
  • Producing the lists of people in proximity with a suspected COVID-19 case within 2-3 meters for more than 10 to 15 minutes, based on their WiFi connections
  • Identifies proximity of people to the suspected case but will not provide access to the specific location of the device
  • System will be ready to work starting Monday, September 14

Vice President for Digital Transformation Ayman Abdellatif:

  • Opting out of this system is possible by not turning on your WiFi but better to opt in because it helps safeguard the health of our community on an ongoing basis

“We are implementing solutions [very similar to ones] that Harvard, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Alabama and a lot of other institutions have implemented. Some of the solutions are based on Bluetooth, others are based on WiFi. We chose the WiFi solution because it’s the least intrusive and requires the least amount of work on our part as well. It is not too different from the experience that you sometimes get when you are going to Starbucks and all of a sudden you see on your phone ‘Starbucks welcomes you’ or one of the malls and you get discounts from there. It’s all very transparent,” said Vice President for Digital Transformation Ayman Abdellatif.

Will the hybrid model continue until the end of the semester?

“I hope not, but if it is going to continue until the end of the semester, we are ready with that option,” said Provost Ehab Abdel-Rahman. “The safety of our students, faculty and staff comes before anything else. We are not trying to compromise by all means the quality of education that we have, we have trained our faculty to provide the best online teaching, and I am sure that one day we will write about that and it will be published to show how successful that was in both training faculty and the implementation later on.”

Safety of Students Attending Face-to-Face Classes

  • Applying extreme measures to make sure that the classrooms are safe
  • Social distance of 2meters between students
  • Classroom signage applied over the summer
  • Disinfecting all hard surfaces including tables, every morning and in between classes
  • Plan for back-up classes if there is a need to disinfect a class and close it for 48 hours, working closely with the registrar on scheduling 
  • COVID-19 Contact Tracing System
  • Setting up a new reporting system to alert us if numbers start rising

Will the hybrid model affect first-year students?

“No doubt there is nothing actually compared to being on campus inside the classroom talking to your faculty, colleagues and going to events and extracurricular activities — nothing compares to that,” said Abdel-Rahman. “We are all working hard to be sure that when the time is ready, we will resume our normal life. I doubt it’s going to be the previous normal; there is a new normal that we are also looking at it and trying to understand to be prepared for it.”

Student Residents Check In

Vice President for Student Life Deena Boraie ’78, ’82, ’88

  • Around 300 students have checked in, which is about 45% of our normal occupancy
  • Testing students before checking in
  • Assigning one student per room
  • Developing medical protocols in case something happens in coordination with AUC’s Office of Medical Services
  • Preparing a whole quarantine unit on campus
  • Gym is currently only for student and faculty residents because of the risk of indoor activity

International Students

  • 338 registered international students at AUC this year, with a far less number of them actually in Egypt
  • 26 of our international students are attending face-to-face classes
  • Hybrid orientation over a couple of days
  • Virtual campus tours
  • Helping international students with residence permits and government procedures
  • Arranging trips to different touristic places including the Pyramids

“We are really taking care of our international students whether on-ground or online,” said Boraie.

What about the COVID-19 Vaccine?

AUC Counselor Ashraf Hatem:

  • More than 28 million confirmed cases from all over the world according to the coronameter, which is published. 
  • 95 percent of COVID-19 cases are very mild and are treated at home
  • No antiviral therapy, just an antivirus, and maybe some very weak antibiotic
  • Only 5% of patients need hospitalization
  • A second wave might come with the influenza season, starting the second week of November (respiratory virus season) 
  • Flu vaccine on campus end of September/beginning of October 
  • Five potential front-runner vaccines: Chinese, Russians, English, French and American

Concluding Remarks

President Ricciardone:

  • Zero tolerance for sexual harassment “That’s clear; that’s concise; that’s very authoritarian.”
  • Watchword this year is caring for each other. “The guidelines that are in place are not rules to make life harder. They're guidelines for ways we to not only protect each of ourselves individually but [also] protect others and care for each other. And that's the only way we're going to get back to full scale physical presence as we wish.”