Season of Change: Northern continues to adapt to new normal amid pandemic

Around the world, spring 2020 was a season of change – rapid, unpredictable and unprecedented change.

Wolves Country is no exception. Students left for spring break thinking they would return in a week, but the spread of the COVID-19 virus led to uncertainty and upheaval. After a spring and summer of online courses, classes are scheduled to resume in-person this fall.

While spring 2020 will always be the season when people learned to navigate life during a pandemic, at Northern, it has also been a season of other lessons learned:

  • Faculty quickly adapted and excelled atteaching entirely online.
  • Students discovered how resilient they can be while adjusting to remote education.
  • Staff found ways to be flexible and creative, reaching students through innovative methods. 
  • The entire Northern community has learned the importance of connections, even when they’re virtual, and that the NSU community extends far beyond the physical campus.

Below is a timeline of how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted NSU in spring 2020.


3: President Downs sends out the first message to campus regarding the COVID-19 virus, discussing preparedness and prevention tips.

12: NSU announces it will extend spring break for one week.

13: Gov. Kristi Noem declares a state of emergency for South Dakota, calling for remote work when possible and prohibiting out-of-state travel.

16: Northern announces it will close campus to the general public and cancel all public events through April 3.

16: Northern announces it will temporarily move classes online through April 6.

22: Brown County has its first confirmed case of COVID-19.

24: Northern, along with other Board of Regents institutions, announces it will move classes online for the rest of spring semester. Campus remains closed with events now canceled through May 15.


6: Northern announces summer courses will be held online as well, in an effort to assist the state in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

9: NSU opens complimentary rooms in Wolves Memorial Suites to emergency medical professionals who are fighting the COVID-19 virus.


1: Northern announces it will resume on-campus operations, including face-to-face learning, for fall 2020, following BOR guidance.

9: Northern holds a virtual commencement, with President Downs conferring degrees via online video. Spring graduates will be honored at Gypsy Days this fall and also invited to participate in winter commencement.


Though courses remain online all summer, staff members will start coming back to campus in June.


Students and faculty will come back this fall, with in-person classes resuming. Moving forward, the NSU Return-to-Campus Taskforce and Academic Planning Fall 2020 Taskforce will explore best practices that put health and safety first while supporting the university’s educational mission.

The “Wolves Mask Up” campaign is already underway, emphasizing prevention through social responsibility, encouraging the use of masks, hand sanitizer and other hygiene methods. Northern has also lowered the maximum occupancy in event spaces, and is offering a limited number of single-occupancy residence hall rooms for the upcoming year. Other measures being considered include smaller class sizes, and offering some courses in a hybrid model (in-person and online).

Masks will be required in all public indoor spaces, as mandated by the South Dakota Board of Regents’ Face Covering Protocol, which applies to all students, staff, faculty and visitors. For more information on steps Northern is taking to combat the spread of COVID-19, please visit

While much is yet to be determined, one thing is certain: When Wolves return to campus this fall, they will be returning to a new normal. The resiliency, flexibility and innovation learned in this season of change will be crucial – and the NSU community, working together, will continue to adapt.