Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science
July 13, 2020

Update from the SCS Return to Campus Team


Tl;dr...We are beginning to discuss what things might look like when our community returns to campus.  Lots of reference materials below, and a chance to provide the group your thoughts (follow the "Please let us know" link just above the list of references at the end).

Dear members of SCS,

We’re writing to provide an update on the work of the SCS Return to Campus Team and of Carnegie Mellon as we move towards the fall semester.  As background, to help plan for the fall and the return to campus of some faculty, staff, and students, Dean Hebert created the SCS Return to Campus Team.  Our work is complementary to other teams (in SCS: education, research, and campus technologies, for example).  We have met several times to try to understand and categorize issues and concerns of the SCS community: faculty, staff, and students.  This work is based on surveys, emails, and (Zoom) conversations.  We are also working to understand what aspects will be determined by the university -- and are providing advice there -- and what will be determined within SCS.

We are writing to give you an overview of the identified issues and areas of concern in SCS and what we know right now.  We want to be clear, at this point, that we do NOT yet have all the answers.  We know we don’t even have all of the questions (and encourage your help and thoughts in that area). 

Some requests:  We remind you to get in touch with a member of our team if you feel we’ve missed a significant area, have questions, or have some additional thoughts or information.  Or you can use this quick Google form to do so.

We also encourage you to spend some time with the university COVID-19 Updates website and the SCS Alerts and Updates website, acknowledging that there’s a lot to read, as this is not a simple set of issues.  And, please let others know about the resources that do exist so far (we’re pretty sure not everyone reads mail fully!).  A recap of some suggested links is at the bottom of this message.

Thanks for your comments, questions, collaboration, work, and patience.  We anticipate having another update in a few weeks.

Team Members

Mary Jo Bensasi, LTI

Jessica Colnago, PhD Students

Colleen Everett, CSD

Philip Lehman, Research

Jian Ma, CBD

Tom Pope, ISR

Carolyn Rose, LTI, HCII & SCS Council

Walt Schearer, Dean's Office & Computing

Paul Stockhausen, Facilities

Deb Tobin, RI

Kelly Widmaier, MLD

Status update

Environment:  Carnegie Mellon and the School of Computer Science continue to work this summer on restarting a small number of on campus efforts.  These have started with pilot research projects where campus access was required to continue research efforts (more than 20 approved to date in SCS).  A few (4) instructional projects have also been approved to help prepare labs for teaching in the fall.  With a small number of approved exceptions for other essential tasks (computing facilities, building facilities, quick reboot access, COVID-related research), other SCS groups may not be on campus yet.  Please note that SCS has created a system with computing facilities and building facilities to support computing needs and the need for retrieving critical items.

Fall 2020 context: The university and SCS are preparing for a “hybrid” model of teaching and learning in the fall. It’s clear that we will not be back to “business as usual.”  Other work--including some research and administration--that does not require on campus presence will generally still be done away from campus for the foreseeable future.  To be clear, we are not anticipating a general return to campus in the fall.

We have (so far) identified the following general areas that we want to be sure are addressed: by the university, SCS, or both.  (This list is necessarily neither precise nor mutually exclusive.)  Some current information is below and more may be found at the links.


Distancing and Density: Spaces: how will we handle the physical arrangement of and rules about spaces, including offices (shared and not), classrooms, conference rooms, common areas, hallways, elevators, stairs, public spaces, and rest rooms?  This includes schedule coordination for room use.
  • The university is currently engaged in a large planning exercise, and has also sent Information to Guide Fall Semester Planning to undergraduate students, including around classes, classrooms/modalities, class sizes, student housing, activities, and other aspects.


Distancing and Density: Physical how will we maintain physical distancing when on campus, while supporting and politely reminding each other, when needed?
  • Signage, policies, and reminders are in place and more are being developed.  The university will also have in place a training module, a campus “code of conduct,” a quarantine upon arrival, symptom tracking, contact tracing, and testing.
  • A reminder that anyone on campus must maintain physical distancing and wear a facial covering (with exceptions for eating or drinking, if a medical condition requires an exception from your healthcare provider, or if working outdoors during hot and humid conditions).


Safety and cleaning:  what is the cleaning schedule and policy for our spaces?

  • Regular cleaning and sanitizing are already in progress, as are work on additional procedures, and FMCS is working directly with each project that has returned to campus.  Special cleaning requests may be sent to


Contingency for illness What happens if a member of our community becomes ill?  What health-related steps will be taken?


Contingency for work Depending on the work, will someone step in?

  • This spring, in SCS, we had instructor backups in place and are working towards a similar plan for the fall.


At risk:  What are the concerns and support for those in our community who may be more at risk or have relevant circumstances with loved ones or have transportation or other concerns?  


PSOs: What is the role of the Pandemic Safety Officers (PSOs)?


Services/equipment:  What additional services and equipment, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), screening, and testing, will be provided.


Education and training for those returning to campus

  • In addition to the web pages, please see this initial video, with others to follow.


Apologies for the length of this message -- we hope the content is useful.  Please let us know if we’ve missed a significant category or you have thoughts or concerns to add.

A few summarized helpful resources for reference: