New tents provide room for classes and clubs to meet safely.

Graduate student Kevin T. McDonnell teaches ENGL 269: Science Fiction and the Environment in PCF 2. Photo by Brandon Martin

Rice might look very different this fall, but new temporary structures are making it possible for campus life to continue safely. The structures, which include four Provisional Campus Facilities (PCFs) and five open-sided tents, serve as flexible space to accommodate a range of needs — classrooms, meeting spaces and event rooms. One structure currently serves as the commons for Sid Richardson College, while another provides overflow library space to align with COVID-19 restrictions for study room occupancy.

Scheduling for the temporary structures is handled through the Office of the Registrar, which oversees PCF academic scheduling during the day, and Campus Events, which manages scheduling for other uses and the open-air tents.  

“So far, we’ve had about five student organizations and three classes that have scheduled tents, and they range in size from 15 to 50 people,” said Hollie Evans, campus events manager. “A couple of classes are using the outdoor tents on nice weather days, and an architecture course is doing some pre-build under the Fondren tent for a project installation.”

Tom Stallings teaches SMGT 360: Sales and Revenue Generation in PCF 3. Photo by Tommy LaVergne

The open-air tents are available each afternoon after 1 p.m. Evans said there may be additional adjustments to tent usage in the spring. “After we know what the academic need will be, we can offer more space for other campus activities.”

“Even if it’s not the dorm life, servery meals or Will Rice events that I thought would characterize my senior year, I’m grateful to have a designated space and time that keeps me tethered to campus life,” she said.

Each PCF used for classroom learning features a wide range of technological innovations. “The tent is completely enclosed, air-conditioned and, in so many other physical ways, feels just like a large classroom,” said Madeline Ngo, a Will Rice College biochemistry and cell biology major. “If someone on Zoom speaks, we hear it through speakers all around the room. There are also microphones around the students’ desks so the in-person students can project their responses to those on Zoom.”  

Ngo is using PCF 2 for a dual-delivery English class that meets three times per week — titled Science Fiction and the Environment — which includes about 20 students total, approximately five of which rotate each class to attend in-person. “I know many students who can come to the tent but choose not to,” Ngo said. “I can’t speak on behalf of them, but I think it is a testament to the fact that both options are well-executed.”

Ngo said this class is the only reason she comes to campus this semester. “Even if it’s not the dorm life, servery meals or Will Rice events that I thought would characterize my senior year, I’m grateful to have a designated space and time that keeps me tethered to campus life,” she said. “My professor does a fantastic job helping both the in-person and virtual students feel engaged. Don’t get me wrong — we still get the occasional awkward silence amplified in our space and in laptops across several different time zones, but so far, the tent class has been a pleasant experience.” 

Photo by Brandon Martin

Watch Larry Vossler, senior project manager in Facilities, Engineering and Planning (FE&P), along with Rice administrators and students discuss the planning and construction of these structures and the many ways they can be put to use by students and faculty.

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