AUC reopens Monday with 400 students, 150 staffers

~ Students, staff excited about return ~

CUPECOY–Four months after Hurricane Irma forced it to evacuate students and relocate its classes to the United Kingdom (UK), American University of the Caribbean (AUC) School of Medicine is back in operation at its St. Maarten home and is ready to resume classes on Monday, January 15.

Excited students began arriving in the country this week and are all set to start classes.

Approximately 400 students are expected to start classes and about 150 employees and faculty. While faculty left St. Maarten to instruct students in the UK last semester, local employees remained in St Maarten and under employment, AUC’s Communications Manager Shannon Toher told The Daily Herald on Wednesday. “They were key to preparing the campus for students’ return,” Toher said.

The majority of AUC’s classrooms and study spaces are back to pre-Irma condition and repairs on campus dorms are complete. AUC will continue to make aesthetic repairs such as painting, finishes and carpeting throughout the semester.

In terms of housing, students are being placed in both AUC’s campus dorms, which have a capacity of about 90, and in apartment complexes within walking distance to the university.

Approximately 800 students were enrolled for classes in St Maarten prior to Hurricane Irma, which battered the country as the strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic on Wednesday, September 6.

“When we made the decision to temporarily relocate to the UK and continue our medical programme, about 95 per cent of eligible students followed us there. We still have about 270 fourth- and fifth-semester students who will stay in Preston, UK, this semester, but our plan is to eventually hold all semesters back in St. Maarten,” Toher said.

The category 5 hurricane had a major impact on St. Maarten, where AUC’s students complete their first two years of medical school. Determined to enable them to proceed with their studies, AUC partnered with University of Central Lancashire UCLan in the UK to hold the September 2017 semester while the university worked on plans to return classes to St. Maarten as soon as possible.

While students and faculty were in the UK for the semester, AUC has been working to make repairs to its campus, collaborate with the St. Maarten Government on recovery efforts and engage with local business owners and community partners.

“We are excited to resume classes in our campus home and our students, faculty and colleagues are enthusiastic about renewing our work with community partners and taking part in the continued recovery and rebuilding of St. Maarten,” AUC Executive Dean Heidi Chumley said.

AUC will resume classes in Sint Maarten in a phased approach. The AUC Medical Sciences curriculum comprises five semesters. Students in the first three semesters will attend class in Sint Maarten for the January 2018 semester, which accounts for about 400 students. Students in the fourth and fifth semesters will remain in the temporary UK location for this semester.

“Ultimately we expect to have all five semesters taught in Sint Maarten. Sint Maarten is AUC’s home and our plan was to resume classes in Sint Maarten as soon as it was feasible to do so,” AUC said.

In regard to engagement with St. Maarten recovery efforts and community, AUC said, AUC colleagues based in Sint Maarten have been engaged with recovery efforts in many aspects over the last four months, including convening meetings with Government officials, law enforcement and the community, and contributing to the National Recovery Plan workgroup.

AUC’s parent organisation, Adtalem Global Education, set up a fundraising effort through the Adtalem Assistance Fund shortly after the hurricane to serve members of the AUC community and other communities affected by the hurricanes that caused extensive damage and personal loss in the Caribbean.

AUC has provided supplies to local organisations in need since the hurricane. The university donated pillows, blankets and other materials to the St. Maarten Red Cross following Irma and distributed US $3,000 worth of school supplies to seven local schools in November.

“AUC’s administration, students and faculty who have temporarily relocated in the UK have expressed enthusiasm about returning to St. Maarten and are especially excited about renewing our work with community partners and taking part in the continued recovery and rebuilding of St. Maarten,” AUC said.

AUC’s next Community Action Day, a day of volunteer community service around the island, is being planned for Saturday, February 24.

Campus, employees

AUC’s campus suffered some damage to teaching facilities, dormitories, office spaces and other parts of the campus. Work has been underway for several weeks to make repairs, which are ongoing. The campus is prepared to host medical education activities.

Throughout the last four months, while AUC’s programme was temporarily relocated to the UK, AUC employees in St. Maarten have remained under employment and have been working on campus to prepare the medical school for the January 2018 semester.

AUC said it has worked closely with local landlords and property owners to assess the condition of off-campus housing and secure housing for students. “We have also been working with local authorities to help assess and ensure the safety and security of the campus and surrounding areas,” AUC said.

Source: The Daily Herald