Snow Stories

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When campus is "closed" for inclement weather, there is still a lot going on behind the scenes to keep classes on track and prepare for reopening.

A monster snowball fight in Wright Park.

A class held via Zoom with more than a score of students.

Four a.m. conference calls to decide on campus operations.

These are just some of the ways the UW Tacoma community dealt with several days’ worth of record-setting snow.

When you are holed up in your apartment with nowhere to go, and maybe slow or even no WiFi, it can seem pretty chaotic. But there is actually quite a bit going on behind the scenes to batten things down for safety, and to get ready for when campus reopens.

Continuity Plan

UW Tacoma’s Academic Innovation office recently collaborated with the campus IT team to develop an instructional continuity plan.

Still in draft form, the plan outlines a plethora of ways faculty can deliver instruction to students even when conditions lead to campus closure, and no face-to-face instruction is possible.

Cancelled Classes

One of the biggest concerns of students, judging by comments on social media, is how to make up for several days of cancelled classes.

“University isn’t like K-12, where the school district might tack days on to the end of the academic year,” said UW Tacoma Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Jill Purdy. “We have contractual obligations with our faculty that lay out instructional dates according to the published academic calendar.”

These days, technology plays a big role by giving faculty more ways to communicate with students and more options for alternatives to face-to-face class meetings. If a class meeting can’t occur because campus is closed, an instructor can communicate with students via Canvas, UW Tacoma’s learning management system. The instructor might send messages to reschedule assignments and to outline alternatives for students who can’t commute to campus because of treacherous road conditions. Some instructors upload videos, and some even shift tests to the online environment.

Annie Nguyen, lecturer in writing studies, moved questions on readings to an online discussion board and uploaded videos about the readings. She conducted mandatory student-teacher mid-quarter conferences via Zoom. “This allows me to check in on students during the snow storm, too, to make sure they’re doing okay and are following along with everything I’ve moved online,” she said.

Suspended Operations

Campus administrators take very seriously the act of closing campus due to inclement weather. “Safety of those who use our campus is our first priority,” said Campus Safety & Security Director Susan Wagshul-Golden. “We have a process for making the decision.”

During the most recent round of wintry weather, a group including Wagshul-Golden; Facilities Director Stanley Joshua; the Chancellor; the Vice Chancellors for Advancement and Student & Enrollment Services; the Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and a public information officer formally convened each day in the late afternoon, or if necessary in the wee hours of the morning. The group received reports on current and forecast weather, conditions on campus, and conditions in outlying areas and on the major routes to campus. They surveyed what the K-12 districts and other colleges and universities were doing. Armed with that information, the group made a recommendation to the Chancellor, who makes the ultimate decision on whether to delay campus opening, close early or suspend operations entirely.

As soon as the decision is made, the communications team sends out UW Alerts, adds alert banners to the campus website and building video screens, updates all area TV and radio stations and newspapers, and posts messages to the campus emergency blog and to major social media channels.

Snow Day!

For many, the change from the normal routine of school, work and family is a chance to double down and do homework, or get outside, or break away from the digital devices and actually speak to other human beings.

Here are a few ways the UW Tacoma community spent the recent snow days.

A team of people in Facilities Services and Campus Safety & Security is on duty no matter what Mother Nature throws our way. This photo was taken early on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 9, by Campus Safety Officer Kevin Green who was on patrol with Officer Mike Pedee.


UW Tacoma student Emily Lopez Allende and her brother Edgar Lopez built this fantastic snow dog. "It was a day's worth of work, but we split it up into three days working three hours each day. We had to do LOTS of shoveling and we had to carve it with blades." Edgar actually used a machete. Lopez’s real dog Lucky seems to approve. Photo courtesy Emily Lopez Allende.

UW Tacoma student Katalina Biondi and her friends built this snow house. The massive structure is seven feet tall and five feet wide. The interior includes a snow couch and snow shelves. Photo courtesy Katalina Biondi.

Students all around the region, including in Court 17, UW Tacoma’s residence hall, burrowed in and cracked the books. Long Tran said, “These snow days actually helped me get ahead in regards to my school work.”  Matthew Park was visiting friends at Court 17, got snowed in and ended up staying two nights. “During my time there, I took a midterm exam that one of my professors had moved online.” Christie Peralta said, “A class of mine did a Zoom conference with 20+ students. It was pretty cool.”

Written by: 
John Burkhardt / February 14, 2019
Photos by: 
Ryan Moriarty, Kevin Green, Emily Lopez Allende, Katalina Biondi, delpatt.
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or