Q&A with UND Director of Housing Troy Noeldner

Now that UND is remotely delivering for the remainder of spring, how is UND Housing responding?

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On Friday, it was made official: UND was going remote for the remainder of the semester.

Students were already expecting to be away from campus for at least two weeks following spring break, as first directed by UND’s administrators in the wake of a coronavirus outbreak. Now that it’s looking like most won’t be residing on campus for the rest of the academic year, the question is how to check out of residence halls and move belongings from campus.

UND Housing has been clear in its response: there is no hurry for students to return to campus, and those who have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus should self-quarantine for at least two weeks and stay away from campus. Also, a process is being implemented to schedule check-out dates that coincide with social distancing standards, said Troy Noeldner, UND’s director of housing. Belongings are going to be secure in dorm rooms as they were left during spring break.

UND Today spoke with Noeldner as his team, working both on campus and remotely, develops plans to keep students safe, informed and with their needs met.

The following Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity.

How is your department handling the changes on campus as UND addresses COVID-19?

Troy Noeldner

We have worked with campus on a regular basis to get updates from the CDC and Department of Public Health. And we’re working to support the campus efforts regarding social distancing. We’ve encouraged students to remain away from campus as much as possible during this period of time while also sending out the message that we’re open to students who need to have housing during this period. We’re here to serve them and we want to help out in any way we can. And it’s been fluid – we have a lot of data changes on a daily basis, but we’re trying to support the campus efforts regarding social distancing while also serving students who don’t have other options as best we can.

How are students’ health and safety being kept top of mind through these changes?

With everything that we do as a housing department and working with campus, students are always at the forefront of things. So, we had a registration process in place where students could indicate whether they were going to be here or not. We wanted to have a good sense of those who needed to stay. We are working with our custodial and our facilities people to ensure that the cleaning is going on and we’re maintaining high-touch areas. I also spoke recently with Student Health and Safety Emergency Management, and we’re talking about ways to ensure students have the right information to help them make decisions about what’s best for them and the community, as well.

Now that the period of remote instruction has extended through the rest of the semester, how is Housing responding?

Housing will be open to serve those students who absolutely need to have housing. But we’ll also work with students on a process by which we would want to start checking out and moving out, and that’s the process we’re starting to put in place. People can find more information on our Coronavirus Housing Move Out page, and read about the process for checking out.

Will students be required to move from their current housing unit to another if circumstances prevent them from leaving campus?

We have not made any decisions on consolidation. But that is something we always keep in mind. If we got to a point where there were just so few students on campus and they were dispersed throughout the system, for their sake, and probably for the sake of the University, it would probably benefit all of us to consolidate down into a more confined area on campus. Keep in mind, that’s also probably going to be the time of year where finals will be coming up, and we’re thinking about how we manage that, and how we work with students. We’re trying to lessen the impact on their academics. There may be some need for consolidation, but we aren’t planning actively for that right now.

We still have student staff who are living in all of our residence halls. Our campus staff, our RA staff and the hall director staff who are living in those halls are all being given the same opportunity to make personal choices about social distancing or returning to campus. Those who have stayed there continue to work with us; we’re doing daily rounds of all the buildings. Currently, that’s a facilities related issue – we want to make sure we have eyes and ears on the facilities even though we because we just don’t have as many people around, but it also is a presence and we’re trying to interact and connect with people. Additionally, at this point, I’m considering all of the RA staff as working remotely, so we’re working on a plan for how our staff can reach out to all of our students just to check in and be another voice and connection for them.

How is Housing working across departments and divisions to keep up with a rapidly evolving situation?

The greater campus has been really great about involving Housing in the conversations regarding emergency planning and discussions about how the response should happen. We work regularly with the Safety and Emergency Management office. We work regularly with Student Health. There’s a daily pandemic briefing meeting and I’m a part of that to help make sure I understand what’s happening at the campus level. Others in those meetings have been good about asking about issues that are important to our students on campus, so that definitely is not happening in a bubble. We have a lot of good support across campus.

Most UND employees have been told to work from home. How does this affect your operations on campus and how will you still deliver the services students require?

It’s been an interesting week, to say the least. Our housing office and our Wilkerson Commons service desk are two areas that we consider essential at this point, and we are operating with a reduced presence on campus. Most of our staff are working from home right now. We’re having virtual meetings on a daily basis just to check in and see how things are going. So we’re operating at a reduced capacity, here, but we’re still open and responding to student questions and needs.

It’s the simple things that people don’t think about, for instance students are still getting mail and packages. We have to have a system in place in which those items are being delivered to our central receiving for residence hall mail, and we’re working through how to log that, when will students pick them up, how will they do so. There have been a lot of things like that, which we’re working through remotely. The student employees who are still here and continue to work with us have been great about trying to support our efforts to manage all of our buildings with reduced staff flow.

Have decisions been made regarding refunds for campus resources such as housing, given the unusual circumstances of COVID-19?

We haven’t had any confirmation of decisions yet. I can say that the campus is hearing the concerns and questions from students and parents. This is a topic that’s happening nationally. And I know our campus leadership is considering all the options, but there hasn’t been any final decision about what steps would happen at this point.

Editor’s note: In the latest update from UND leadership, the University is working with the State Board of Higher Education to examine options to compensate for costs associated with early cancellation of residence hall room and board contracts.

Where can students and parents find information about changes to housing arrangements?

We have been emailing students on a regular basis, and Kristi Okerlund, director of student involvement & parent programs, has been really great about sending out information to parents or forwarding information to parents. We encourage them to go to our website housing.und.edu. We also have a link to a Coronavirus Housing Updates page where we’re putting a lot of our information about changes in hours, services and the communication we’ve been doing. We would encourage all parents and students or anybody interested in getting updates to also sign up for the UND Coronavirus Updates blog. Many of the things we’re sending out are also being posted there. On social media, we’re @undhousing on Instagram. We are pushing out reminders about self-care, washing your hands, doing stuff like that. We’re trying to reach people in different ways with information that’s important to them.

Please contact the Housing office at housing@und.edu or 701.777.4251 if you have any questions.

Have there been any silver linings for you during this challenging and stressful time?

The silver lining is the great people we have working for UND and their willingness to adapt and adjust to a remote working environment. Our student positions held by our future leaders are working with us and stepping up to the plate. They’re trying to fit what they can to support us. These are the things that keep us going and make me proud to be able to work with these people, who are working hard in an environment that isn’t easy.