Smeal Update: September 18, 2020

PSU Community Survey reveals strengths and opportunities for Smeal

In a Penn State Today story, the University this week released the findings of the Penn State Community Survey, which was launched in February 2020 as part of a comprehensive effort to promote community, inclusion and diversity.

The report indicated several areas of strength for Smeal, including the overall climate, campus experience, and a sense of belonging among survey participants. However, findings also point to many opportunities for improvement, especially the extent to which members of the African American, Latinx and other under-represented groups feel safe, valued and welcome.

While the survey was completed before many of the changes that have happened nationally in the past six months, the results will help to inform and guide the multitude of efforts across the college and the University, including our Diversity task force and committees.

Members of the Smeal Community are encouraged to review the survey report and dashboards in the coming weeks and consider opportunities to improve the climate at Smeal. We will continue to share examples of our efforts, challenges and successes in Smeal Update.

Penn State chooses not to participate in payroll tax deferral program

The University has decided not to participate in the payroll tax deferral program. Employers could decide whether to “opt in” to the program, which would have deferred the remaining 2020 tax paid into Social Security to be paid in 2021.

University announces three-pronged approach to flu vaccines

Penn State Human Resources has announced three options for employees to participate in 2020 flu vaccine clinics. Those three options are detailed in this Penn State News story.

Some frequently-asked questions from faculty

Who is eligible to be tested via Penn State’s on-demand testing and random screening programs?

University Health Services provides appointment-based, "on-demand" testing for students who have COVID-19 related health issues. The information for students is found at

For University Park students who self-identify as having COVID-19 exposure or who have been identified by the contact tracing process, a Vault Health testing site is available on the lower level of the HUB Parking Deck. This is a temporary test site to address current needs in the first two weeks of September 2020, and may be extended beyond mid-September if the need continues. By allowing students to be tested who feel that they may have been exposed rather than solely those who have been identified by the contact tracing process, these expanded testing efforts will supplement and hasten the University’s existing contact tracing efforts and the deployment of quarantine and isolation.

Both students and employees may be selected by the University for random screening as part of the University’s ongoing surveillance testing program. Students and employees will be provided with instructions via email about where to go for this testing when they are selected.

For Commonwealth Campus students and employees, random screening is being conducted by Vault Health. Individuals selected for random screening will receive an email that includes specific directions on next steps. It is important that selected individuals register for their test within 48 hours of receiving the email and then complete their test within 48 hours of having the test kit in hand. On-demand testing for students of the Commonwealth Campuses is being conducted by Quest. Symptomatic students should contact their campus health center or testing contact to obtain directions on how to obtain a test kit.

Latest news of importance to faculty

Several new FAQs pertaining to promotion and tenure were added to the 2020-2021 Promotion and Tenure FAQ document to provide guidance about processes in the midst of the pandemic. Please see FAQs #68, 70, and 71 for updated information about peer teaching reviews, an updated charge to the committee, and virtual meetings.

Please check Penn State’s COVID-19 dashboard for the latest on-demand testing and random screening results.

Key reminders

  • Two contact tracing student referral forms are now available; one allows students to self-report concerns and the other allows individuals to refer students who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who may have been exposed.
  • The flexible instructional modes developed for the fall 2020 semester, along with limited classroom capacities, will remain in place at all Penn State campuses in spring 2021, provided that the public health landscape allows for some in-person instruction.
  • Faculty and staff are encouraged to report student progress in Starfish to allow for a collaborative and proactive approach to assisting undergraduates. At a time when many students are learning remotely, Starfish is the central place for instructors to document and share the successes or challenges a student may be encountering in a course. It gives instructors the ability to note areas of concern, like whether they believe their students have reliable access to technology; and other important indicators of student progress, such as absences or inadequate class participation or completion of assignments.

Introducing the Smeal Community Weekly Poll

The Staff Advisory Committee, in an effort to engage the Smeal community, is introducing a weekly poll. This week's survey is related to your Zoom personality. Click this link to have some fun. Results will be shared during next week's Smeal Community Zoom.