COVID-19 Student FAQs
Reduction in Fall Housing Capacity
How many students will be assigned to live on campus this fall?
The university has limited the number of on-campus residents to 1,800 this fall. This occupancy includes those living in residence halls and campus apartments.
Why was the number of on-campus residents reduced?
Due to concerns about the continued spread of COVID-19 in Ellensburg and around the state, CWU decided to reduce the number of students living on campus by more than half. To limit risk for students, residence halls will offer only single-occupancy rooms and no community restroom facilities.
What are my options if I’m unable to secure on-campus housing?
CWU Housing and Residence Life will work with students on a case by case basis to find the best option for their housing for Fall. Most CWU courses will be offered online this fall, just as they were during the spring and summer quarters. Students who are enrolled but are unable to live on campus are encouraged to continue their educations using our online-only course offerings.
What if my classes require some in-person participation and I live outside of Ellensburg?
Students enrolled in hybrid courses, those with a combination of online and some in-person instruction, are encouraged to contact their instructor before the first day of class to determine if alternative arrangements are possible if or when they are unable to attend because they live out of town. If such arrangements are not possible, students are encouraged to consult with their advisor or academic department chair to discuss other options.
Have decisions been made about on-campus housing for the winter and spring quarters?
No decisions have been made to date. Because of the constantly changing nature of this public health crisis, the university must be flexible in our response to these challenges. We will be evaluating the situation as new information becomes available, and we will share it with you as soon as we have answers.
Where can I find additional information about housing?
Please visit our CWU Housing website for more detailed and up-to-date housing information.
2020 Fall Quarter
How will classes be offered during fall quarter?
CWU plans to bring students back for an accelerated fall quarter that will begin September 9 and end November 20. On the Ellensburg campus this fall, about 30 percent of academic courses will be taught at least partially in person. Faculty will choose between teaching in-person, using virtual modalities, or combining the two. All three options are currently available to view and select when students register for fall classes online.
Instruction at the eight university centers and sites will depend on conditions in those communities. For example, Yakima Valley College will offer all fall classes online only. If you need additional information about a specific campus, please contact them directly.
What efforts will be made to keep campus safe for fall quarter?
The following practices will apply at the Ellensburg campus and all university centers and teaching sites:
• Accelerated Quarter Schedule
The fall quarter will begin September 9 and end November 20. The goal is to complete the quarter ahead of a forecasted increase in flu and COVID-19 cases and to avoid the logistics of students leaving campus and returning following the Thanksgiving holiday.
• Choice of Teaching/Learning Modality
Faculty are allowed to choose between teaching in-person, using virtual modalities, and combining the two. The goal is to find the modality that best balances the safety and quality of instruction. Students are encouraged to develop a schedule that conforms to their learning style and personal needs.
• Choice of Working Modality
Staff will be encouraged to work remotely unless their job only can be performed in person. As with the teaching environment, a combination of modalities is possible. Supervisors are working with their teams to determine the appropriate working environments that balance the risk of infection and the need to accomplish the required tasks.
Until a vaccine is available, physical distancing is a crucial factor in reducing the spread of COVID-19. The best distancing practice is to remain six feet or more from one another. When that is not possible, the use of facial coverings will be required. These rules will apply inside and outside of buildings.
Learning spaces: Classes will be scheduled to maximize physical distancing. Classes will likely be scheduled using an expanded framework of days and times, and some non-academic spaces will be employed. Furniture and arrangement of spaces will be altered if necessary.
Gathering spaces: We will modify the arrangement of furniture in common areas of some buildings, as needed. The SURC, dining facilities, and residence halls will receive special attention.
Movement on campus: An additional goal of the fall schedule is to reduce the traffic in portals and hallways. An analysis is underway to map significant pedestrian pathways and to mark them with appropriate signage to help promote physical distancing.
Client-facing spaces: Many spaces on campus involve face-to-face service, such as dining, stores, and advising/counseling operations. In addition to using online service options, the spaces will be reconfigured in ways modeled after retail stores.
• Facial Coverings and Other Physical Protections
Everyone who comes on campus will be required to wear facial coverings when physical distancing is not possible. This rule applies to all employees, students, and outside personnel (vendors) unless they are unable to do so because of a health-related reason. Face shields may be worn while teaching or working if the employee prefers.
CWU will provide cloth facial coverings to all students and employees. Alternative facial protection (hoods/shields/face guards) will also be made available to employees whose positions require additional protection.
• Sanitizing and Washing
This situation calls for increased emphasis sanitizing our spaces and on emphasizing personal hygiene. CWU’s custodial staff will clean all classrooms, labs, and studios at least daily, and they will sanitize public washrooms twice a day. Sanitizing wipes will be available in all teaching and work areas to clean spaces between uses. Hand sanitizer will be available throughout the university facilities.
• Cooperation and Culture
The university will take responsibility for implementing the plan and for monitoring emerging research findings and changes in public policies. All of us must join together to keep one another safe. We can do this by distancing, wearing facial coverings, and frequent hand-washing.
For more information, see President Gaudino’s May 26, 2020 letter.
Will first-year students be required to live on campus for fall quarter?
No. CWU has waived the first-year live on campus requirement for first-year students enrolling for fall quarter 2020. No exemption forms are required for this exemption and you will not be required to fulfill the live-on requirement later in your academic career at CWU.
Will face coverings be required? If so, what happens if they aren’t worn?
Yes. Everyone on campus is required to wear face coverings (medical and other exceptions to be included). Face coverings will be provided for all faculty, staff, and students. The planning team is targeting to begin distributing face coverings or face shields in mid-August. Individuals are also welcome to bring their own face coverings when coming to campus.
Students who enter classrooms or gathering places without face coverings, or remove them after entering the classroom, will be asked to cover their faces immediately or leave.
Online/Hybrid Course Information
Why was my course changed to remote status?
We are decreasing the number of students who are physically on campus due to safety concerns related to COVID-19. The new course offerings, which include additional online courses, are designed to allow for safe physical distancing and to minimize risk to both students and faculty who are in high-risk categories.
Why aren’t all CWU courses being offered in person?
For the safety of our students and faculty, CWU will limit the number of in-person courses for fall quarter. While we are decreasing in-person courses, we are working to provide as many learning options as possible, including In-Person, Online, Hybrid (any combination of In-Person and Online) and Real-Time Online.
Is there a difference between hybrid and online courses?
Yes. Traditional online courses offer students the flexibility to complete assignments and exams at their own pace by the assigned due date. Hybrid courses offer a mix between some face-to-face instruction and some online instruction.
Do remote and online courses have designated meeting times?
Online courses do not have specific meeting times, but ITV/Satellite/Teleclass courses do.
Online courses allow students to log in at their convenience to listen to lectures and complete assignments by the assigned due dates. Students taking ITV courses should carefully review the course syllabus to determine whether or not the instructor will expect them to log in at the meeting time listed on MyCWU. For more information, visit Multimodal Learning or email Multimodal@cwu.edu.
How will I know if my course has been switched to a different modality?
Registrar Services will continue to update the course schedule throughout the summer. We will make these changes on a rolling basis as needed, so please check your fall 2020 class schedule on MyCWU periodically.
Can I take two or more remote classes that meet at the same time or overlap for a few minutes?
Students should speak to their academic advisor first. Until you can verify with both instructors that the courses do not require you to be logged in at the designated time, you should not sign up for two courses that show the same meeting time or have a partial overlap.
Is it possible to substitute a non-required course for a required one?
To make a determination, you must apply for a course substitution. The first step is for undergraduate students to contact their academic advisor; graduate students should email the School of Graduate Studies and Research.
Will there be more changes to my course schedule?
Possibly. CWU will need to make some adjustments to courses in order to increase physical distancing, so we recommend that students check MyCWU periodically to find out if class times or modality have changed. Departments will also notify students via email regarding any time changes.
How does this impact academic advising, career advising, and tutoring?
All three services are still being offered. The only difference from previous quarters is that all appointments with university faculty and staff — including academic advisors, career counselors, and tutors — must be conducted remotely, using the Zoom online meeting platform.
Tutoring and academic coaching are available via Zoom, and students can self-schedule by visiting tutortrac.cwu.edu/. We have expanded hours across all tutoring offerings to meet needs, and academic coaches are ready to work with any student who wants to learn more about online study strategies. You can easily connect with us by clicking on the "Tutoring" link on the left hand menu of your Canvas course, or by visiting www.cwu.edu/academic-success/tutoring-services.
How can I request information services?
Although Samuelson Hall is closed, the Service Desk staff is working remotely. Any technology pickup/drop off or in-person assistance will need to be scheduled to take place outside of Bouillon Hall. Bouillon is locked, along with all other academic facilities, so please continue to contact the Service Desk to coordinate any hardware- or software-related support by calling 509-963-2001 or sending an email to email@example.com.
Where can I use a computer or check out a laptop?
Campus computer labs are now closed and laptop checkouts will not be available until further notice.
Are there resources available for first-time online students?
Yes. The CWU Multimodal Learning Center and CWU Technology Services will be available to help students prepare for this new online-based curriculum. Individual departments may also offer training sessions, advising opportunities, and other resources to help students transition to a less-traditional learning platform.
How will this situation affect financial aid?
Financial aid packages for virtual and online classes remain the same as they would have been for in-person instruction. For financial aid questions, e-mail the Financial Aid Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Students can also book a phone appointment with a counselor at the Financial Aid department’s website.
For questions regarding a student’s account, including charges, billing, and refunds, contact Student Accounts via email at email@example.com or cwu.edu/student-accounts/contact-us. Your student ID will be required for all communication and messages.
I’m a Running Start student, how will the changes affect me?
CWU Running Start students follow the same guidelines as all CWU students.
Which facilities and resources are available on the CWU-Ellensburg campus?
Most CWU buildings are now closed to the public, but campus housing and dining services remain available to students who continue to reside here. The Student Medical & Counseling Clinic and the Student Health and Counseling Center also remain open for services. Information specific to dining will be posted on the website.
Is the Wildcat Shop in the SURC still open?
The Wildcat Shop is closed for in-store purchases. However, orders can still be processed online seven days a week at wildcatshop.com.
Please note that all orders must be shipped during this time and there is no pick-up option. Customers who need repair work on their Apple computers can still receive help during the temporary closure. For assistance and current procedures, please visit the CatTech device repair website.
If you need help locating products not available on the website, please call 509-963-1311 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions about specific areas may be directed to the following:
• Textbooks: 509-963-1354 or email@example.com
• Online orders: 509-963-1648 or firstname.lastname@example.org
• Computers and electronics, email@example.com
Is the Recreation Center open?
No. While recreational facilities are allowed to be open under phase 3, the Recreation Center will remain closed to the public until September 1. However, the Recreation Center will be open this fall only for members of the campus community (students, faculty, and staff). Face coverings will be required, and social distancing will be enforced.
Why is the Recreation Center closed when the state allows it to be open?
This decision was made out of an abundance of caution. We, like all businesses and Washingtonians, must prevent any further spread of COVID-19 as the state gradually reopens. We wish to do our part to allow for a successful, safe start for the 2020 fall quarter.
Which CWU recreational services are available?
Starting July 1, Outdoor Pursuits & Rentals (ORP) will begin providing services to those who would like to rent outdoor equipment. Please call (509) 963-3537 before arriving and maintain physical distancing during pick up and drop off.
What is happening with CWU-sponsored events?
All university-sponsored, in-person events have been canceled until further notice. Some virtual events may continue as scheduled. This decision is consistent with Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement about how state higher education institutions should function.
If the public health situation worsens, what additional steps will the university take? What if I live on campus?
The university has extensive and thorough emergency procedures, and is committed to doing everything it can to ensure the health and safety of our community. Because this is a rapidly changing situation, we need to prepare for a range of possibilities. We already have suspended some operations (student recreation center) and large, in-person events, as well as moved classes primarily online.
In the event that a quarantine involving students becomes necessary, we are preparing for a multi-faceted response that would include providing food service and/or moving students off-campus or to sequestered areas of the residence halls. In the event many cases are diagnosed, those who could safely leave the campus would be encouraged to do so, thereby increasing our capacity to assist others who are unable to travel.
The university is coordinating closely with county public health agencies and the Washington State Department of Health on its response, including contingency planning.
Fall Sports Season Suspended
Will CWU sports teams play during the 2020 fall quarter?
No. Following the July 17 announcement from the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) that it would cancel all athletic competitions through November 30, CWU administrators made the difficult decision to suspend the seasons for football, women’s soccer, volleyball, and cross country.
Why was this decision made?
CWU and the other members of the GNAC chose to cancel the fall sports season to protect the health and safety of players, coaches, and fans due to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic. The GNAC’s teams are spread out across numerous states, and the member schools realized there was no way to guarantee the safety of everyone participating in these activities.
Is there a chance fall sports could be played in the spring?
CWU Athletics will work with local public health officials and other GNAC institutions this fall to provide a modified non-championship season, in an effort to schedule a more complete conference championship in the spring for football, women’s soccer, volleyball, and cross country. Details will be forthcoming.
How does this decision affect the winter sports season?
The GNAC has suspended all fall sports competition through November 30. However, each institution in the conference will decide what to allow and not allow for practices and workouts, in accordance with NCAA legislation. As of now, the start of the winter sports season has not been affected and will be re-evaluated in early October. Conversations about sports for spring 2021 are also ongoing.
Will student-athlete scholarships still be honored?
Scholarship aid cannot be canceled for an athletic-related reason. Cancellation of aid could occur for non-athletic reasons, such as the closure of campus.
If a student does not return to campus in the fall and temporarily and voluntarily withdraws from the team due to COVID-19, CWU tuition waivers will continue to be paid. Any expenses beyond tuition and fees could be removed from scholarships for that term.
Will the CWU student-athletic fee be waived for fall quarter?
This decision has not yet been made. University administration and the Board of Trustees will be discussing the issue.
What are my options if I have already purchased season tickets for a fall sport?
Fans who have already purchased season tickets will have three options:
1. Use 2020 season ticket deposit toward 2021 season tickets.
2. Request a full refund of your season ticket deposit.
3. Donate season ticket deposit to the Athletic Department to support CWU student-athletes.
A representative from the CWU ticket office will reach out to those who have purchased tickets to discuss these options. If you have other questions, call the ticket office at 509-963-1429 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emergency Pass/Fail Grading System
How does the Emergency Pass/Fail (EP/EF) system work?
For the 2020 spring and summer quarters, undergraduate students were allowed to convert their letter grades to EP/EF on a course-by-course basis. A decision about whether to offer the system during the fall quarter has not yet been announced. Under the EP/EF system, all grades of a C- or better (at the undergraduate level) will convert to an EP, which will still count toward degree requirements. More information is available here.
How do I change my course status to EP/EF?
Undergraduate students will have three days after grades are due to inform Registrar Services that you are choosing to convert your letter grade to EP/EF. Please fill out the Grading Basis Change (PDF) (EP/EF) form, scan and email it to Reg@cwu.edu. The form may be found on the Registrar Services webpage under Forms.
Why was the EP/EF grading system implemented?
CWU offered this grading option for spring and summer quarters as an acknowledgement of the challenges created for everyone by the COVID-19 pandemic. A decision about whether to offer the system during the fall quarter has not yet been announced.
Will EP/EF grades affect my grade-point average?
No. EP/EF grades are not calculated in your overall GPA at CWU.
Will I still receive a letter grade for my coursework?
Instructors graded the spring and summer quarters like any other quarter. A decision about the EP/EF system for the fall quarter has not yet been made.
If you are in a class that issues letter grades, you will receive letter grades at the end of the quarter. If you are in a course that is graded satisfactory/unsatisfactory, you will receive a grade of satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
Where can I read more about the EP/EF grading system?
See the online catalog for more information.
Student Health Resources
What is the Student Counseling and Medical Center doing about this outbreak?
The following measures have been put in place to ensure, whenever possible, continuity of care and the protection of student and staff health:
• Services will now be offered via a teletherapy model, meaning that most services will be provided remotely, even if you live in Ellensburg.
• Appointments for existing clients have been converted to teletherapy appointments unless you have made specific other arrangements with your counselor.
• The Pathways and Group Therapy programs have been suspended for the duration of spring quarter.
• Students who were on the wait list for any service will be contacted by a staff member with specific instructions about how to seek additional services.
• If you have never requested Student Counseling services before, call the front office at 509-963-1391. The staff will help you set up a teletherapy or in-person appointment.
• If you are in crisis and need support, call 509-963-1391 and the staff will help you set up a teletherapy or in-person appointment.
• Students also can access crisis support at any time from any location by calling 1-800-273-8255 or texting “HOME” to 741741. A complete list of crisis resources is available on the website.
• The Student Counseling building is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You are welcome to come in if you are unable to call us and need to request services.
Student Medical Services
• The Student Counseling and Medical Services building is open. You are welcome to come here if you are unable to call and need to request services. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• We will no longer offer web booking for appointments. Students must call and be screened prior to making an appointment. The Student Medical Services number is 509-963-1881.
The clinic is researching the ability to offer online telehealth services and virtual resources for students. At this time, we do not have the capacity to offer telehealth to students.
What can I do if I am in need of food assistance?
The community has a number of resources available if you experience food insecurity. For more information, please refer to the Kittitas County Community Resources Guide.
FISH Community Food Bank
• 804 Elmview Road, Ellensburg
• Mon., Tues. 2:30 p.m. – 5 p.m.; Wed., Thurs. 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.; Fri. 9 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.; Closed Sat. & Sun.
• Clients are not admitted to browse the pantry, but will receive groceries at a “pass through” location marked for distribution. Grocery distribution will be prepackaged. More information is available at kvfish.org.
• Anyone who is sick should not go to the pantry, but you can call 509-925-5990 to receive instructions about how to acquire food.
• Contact information available at apoyofoodbank.org.
• Call 2-1-1 or visit wa211.org to connect to a host of community resources (food, financial services, homelessness to rent assistance).
Please note: PUSH pantries located in academic buildings will not be accessible while staff are working remotely. Contact PUSH staff at 509-963-1585 if you have questions or are looking for support in accessing any resources listed above, or contact the CWU Office of Case Management at 509-963-1515.
I want to get tested for COVID-19. Where should I go?
Kittitas Valley Hospital has created a temporary coronavirus testing clinic at 716 E. Manitoba Ave. that is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. People are encouraged to call the clinic at 509-933-8850, prior to visiting.
If you are experiencing respiratory symptoms, please do not go to a health care provider before calling first. If you are feeling ill, follow the directions in the “What do I do if I feel sick?” question.
I have family and friends currently affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. How can I manage my concern for them?
As with any natural or human-inflicted disaster, the novel coronavirus outbreak presents an added layer of stress and worry for members of our CWU community who have personal connections to the affected area. This is a critically important time for all of us to reinforce a community of care on our campus and support one another.
If you would like to talk with someone, support is available to students through campus mental health services:
Ellensburg students: Student Counseling Services — Due to the department currently experiencing higher volumes of appointments, please be patient if you cannot be seen immediately.
Student Counseling Services strives to support all students during difficult times in their lives. We realize that every individual is unique and what might be a crisis for one student might not be a crisis for another. To help us best serve your needs and the needs of other students as well, here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:
1. Are you currently having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else?
If yes, please call for an urgent crisis appointment right away. If we are closed, please call 911, go to the Emergency Room, or call the crisis line at 509-925-4168.
2. Are you currently upset or distressed and it’s causing you to miss classes or other important obligations?
If yes, first try talking to other supportive people in your life – maybe a friend, family member, partner, or other trusted person. Also try engaging in your favorite calming activity such as taking a walk, doing some deep breathing, coloring, listening to music, or taking a warm bath. If these methods do not help you re-engage with your important activities, please call and request an appointment within the next 1-2 days.
3. Is your current condition upsetting or distressing but you are still able to, generally, do the things that are important to you?
If yes, now is a great time to increase your self-care by trying to get enough sleep, eat well, drink your water, talk with your social circle, and do some fun things while also taking care of your responsibilities. You might even try journaling your thoughts and feelings in general and specifically recalling times that you have gotten through tough situations or feelings in the past. If these things do not help you enough, please try attending one of our Let’s Talk locations or call and ask for our next routine appointment.
Is CWU restricting travel to other countries or locations?
On March 19, the U.S. Department of State issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory: Do Not Travel, and on April 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a Global Level 3 Travel Health Warning for COVID-19, an upgrade of its previous alert. Moreover, the U.S. and countries around the world continue to maintain an array of travel restrictions, stay-in-place orders, and other measures to stem continued transmission. These include cessation of non-emergency passport processing, cessation of visa processing, and continued denial of entry. Therefore, CWU has canceled all education abroad programs and university-related international student travel until Winter Quarter 2021, at the earliest.
The university administration and Office of International Studies and Programs continue to monitor developments and will evaluate the viability of further terms at a later date. Students should not make any non-refundable payments at the moment; CWU will not reimburse students for such expenses in the event of cancelation.
Any member of the CWU community who chooses to disregard university recommendations for international travel must understand they will do so at their own risk and may face difficulties in return travel to the U.S. and/or possible restricted access to the CWU campus.
What if I wish to travel internationally on non-CWU-sponsored trips?
If your plans include traveling, particularly internationally, please understand you will do so at your own risk and may face difficulties in return travel to the U.S. and/or possible restricted access to the CWU campus. Depending on your destination, you may have to make difficult decisions to change or even cancel plans to ensure your own well-being and timely return to campus. In many countries, there may be new entry and exit control measures and even quarantines implemented with very little notice during the coming weeks.
These actions could severely impact your plans and/or delay your return home or your ability to return to campus once you are back in the state. Please carefully weigh the risks and benefits of any international travel and view U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on COVID-19 to learn more.
Are there any resources for combating stigmatization, bias and xenophobia related to the coronavirus?
Many of us are concerned about what the people in our communities may be experiencing, including possible stigmatization or discrimination based on racial bias or appearances. Please help others understand that the risk of coronavirus is not at all connected with race, ethnicity or nationality.
Stigma doesn’t fight the illness and will hurt innocent people, but sharing accurate information during a time of heightened concern is one of the best things we can do to keep rumor and misinformation from spreading. Public Health — Seattle & King County has compiled resources for combating stigmatization, bias and xenophobia that can be used to prevent and respond to incidents of discrimination. If you know of incidents of bias related to the novel coronavirus, please notify the CWU Diversity and Equity Center.
What is the CARES Act and where can I get more information about it?
Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act on March 26, delivering emergency funds to businesses, individuals, and public institutions. The CARES Act also increases regulatory flexibility for colleges and universities, such as by providing campus-based aid waivers, permitting allocation of Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant funding as emergency grant aid to students, and authorizing continued work-study payments to students. More information is available on the U.S. Treasury Department’s website.
Has CWU been seeing any new cybersecurity threats related to COVID-19?
Yes. CWU Information Services has alerted all faculty and staff to be on the lookout for phishing and scam emails with a subject line referring to COVID-19. These messages are consistent with recent warnings from the Washington State Office of Cybersecurity. To combat this threat, the I.S. team has created a resource to assist CWU users in identifying these scams. The emails included in the article are actual staff emails that were flagged with the "Report Message" feature in Outlook.
Please continue to be vigilant when clicking on links contained in emails so we can reduce the cybersecurity threat to our users and our network.
Is there information available about any community members being screened for COVID-19?
To protect their privacy, CWU legally is not able to release personal information about any students or University community members who are being monitored or tested for novel coronavirus, including their location.
Should any CWU community member be diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, the relevant local health department and CWU would initiate appropriate protocols to protect the health of anyone deemed to be at risk.
How is CWU following up with people who were in contact with anyone who is being tested?
Local health departments closely monitor people who are at potential risk and have protocols for contacting individuals who may have been in close contact with CWU community members being screened for the novel coronavirus, such as roommates.
Should any CWU community member be diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, the relevant local health department and CWU would initiate appropriate protocols to protect the health of anyone deemed to be at risk.
Who should I contact if I have a personal situation not covered by the previous questions?
Students should talk to a professor, lecturer or academic adviser in their department if they have questions regarding coursework, online class meeting times, attendance, assignment due dates, testing procedures, tutoring opportunities, and related concerns. They should also contact the appropriate department to ask department-specific questions.