September 2020: Back to school as (un)usual

photo: Mitchell Henry

Mid-September saw Oregon dealing with multiple raging wildfires. Newberg was covered in a thick smoke caused by a wildfire just a few miles north of campus. Unusually strong winds blew the smoke over campus, and it sat there for 10 days, causing red skies and the air quality index to skyrocket to “Hazardous.” Not fun … more on this later.


Before all that smoke, though, campus was picturesque, as it always is in late summer and the fall. Students were out, minding COVID-19 precautions, and enjoying being back on campus.

Many classes were held outside and physically distanced, with masks of course. Some sessions simply could not be held outside, and most of our classrooms were too small to hold large numbers of students while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines. So we got clever and turned four of our six basketball courts into eight classrooms. Many students have the option to learn remotely as well, so teachers have held class in person and on Zoom simultaneously.

Students throughout campus studying alone or properly distanced is the new normal now.

Signage reminds everyone how to remain safe and healthy. For the busy first few weeks of school the Bruin Store allowed only a few inside at a time, and if you were there to pick up an online order they brought it out to you. The Hadlock Student Center, the campus hub for all things recreational, has plenty of reminder signs posted but was open for business as (not exactly) usual.

The university has procured a few electrostatic atomizers to help disinfect high-use areas and in the event (knock on wood) that we have a positive case. The Hadlock Student Center uses one to clean equipment after use.

As I write this caption, these trees are turning color as we enter fall. This bridge is Crisman Crossing, built in 2015. It is the longest clear-span timber truss bridge in the contiguous United States and is named in honor of Leo (’45) and Abigail (Miller) Crisman (’43) for their longtime family legacy at George Fox. ⁠

We have to wear masks, so we might as well have fun with them, right?

Students need to distance in our dining hall as well. A little reminder signage on the floor is helpful. Tents have been set up in a couple locations on campus for studying and eating your meals. Once the smoke rolled in our mascot, Pennington Bear, handed out free N95 masks. Those N95 masks helped students breath a bit easier with all the smoke in the air also.

photo: Mitchell Henry

Oh yeah, the smoke. There were a lot of big fires burning in Oregon in early September, and some of them still are. That’s not too abnormal, but this year we had a very serious windstorm. Our campus (and a large portion of our region) is nestled down in a valley. The winds blew that smoke in, and it just sat here for days. For a few days the AQI was the worst in the world; you might have heard about it in the news. We couldn’t go outside, we needed the wind to blow it back out, we needed rain. Then one day, Sept. 18, we got it. A huge deluge. It was awesome and refreshing, and it cleared our skies and lifted our spirits.

And then, just like that, fall. Some trees were damaged in the windstorm and even needed to be removed. As you can see, trees are all over our campus, so to lose trees that have been with us for decades has been an adjustment for sure.

And I’ll leave you with this fall sunrise drone photo.

Chris Low is the photographer in the marketing and communications department for George Fox University.