Welcome to the New Normal

Dylan Murray takes a look at campus resources for remote learning and asks how students are handling the extra stress.

By: Dylan Murray

The world as we once knew it has come to an abrupt and near instantaneous halt, and by now, none of us need to be told why.

Although the emergency brake of our globalized society was pulled by our country’s leaders, classes at Worcester State and across the nation soldiered on until the end of the semester by utilizing various forms of online learning formats. While the change may have allotted some students a few more hours of sleep, there is also the reality that with the implementation of online classes, students risked falling behind or missing out altogether on learning important material relevant to their career path.

Tuesday, May 5th marked both the end of classes for the academic semester at WSU and approximately two month’s worth of drastic, COVID-19 related changes. The transition to an online learning format was necessary to complete the remainder of the semester, and during this time, students, university staff, and faculty have had to overcome difficulties. Distractions, technological and financial limitations, illness (experienced personally or by a family member), and the potential for substance abuse due to boredom or stress are just a few of the difficulties students and faculty are having to overcome.

One WSU student who has been trying to find ways to navigate these uncharted waters is Julia Konow, a junior English major with concentrations in journalism and writing. Konow, who hails from the town of Lebanon, CT, has been doing her best to handle the switch to online classes during this new ‘normal.’

“Switching over to online classes has definitely been an adjustment for me,” Konow said. “Trying to navigate the updated syllabi that have been adjusted to meet the needs of online classes has been difficult at times because I have had to adjust to new course schedules.”

This experience is something many students can relate to. The demand to reset their routines and adjust their learning strategies to an online learning environment is not something most people were prepared for, and is especially difficult when students have become accustomed to their individual, on-campus routines.

“Another difficulty with online classes is feeling like I am staring at a computer screen all day and living through email,” says Konow. 

Although typical college-age students have grown up using electronics to communicate and socialize, it can eventually become exhausting constantly checking or responding to emails, signing into Zoom meetings, and doing your best to make sure that nothing gets missed on Blackboard.

Through this technological and academic fog, Konow has been able to find a helpful beacon. 

“I am fortunate because of how responsive my professors have been via email so that I am able to ask questions with quick responses,” she said. “One of the most important aspects of shifting to online learning for me is having avenues of communication, with both peers and professors.” 

Open communication is vital, especially in an academic setting, and being able to ask questions and receive a timely response is a key factor that allows students to be able to succeed while WSU is holding classes online.

Aside from professors and faculty, students also turn to the administrative offices at WSU for assistance. Konow says, “I haven’t used any resources yet for my own work, but I see the information about them in the weekly emails to students, so they seem to be very accessible.”

Although Konow has not needed to use any campus resources, this doesn’t answer how students who do need help with things their professors can not provide, such as counseling, can find the assistance they need.

For these students, on-campus offices such as Student Development, Residence Life, Student Engagement, Health and Wellness, and the Student Accessibility Services (SAS) office are the resources they should be contacting. They play major roles in WSU’s response to the different issues facing students and faculty.

After talking with the deans and directors of these administrative offices, it is clear to see that they are dedicated to making sure students, staff, and faculty have access to the help they need, even while the school has transitioned to a remote learning environment. This includes keeping in contact with the WSU community through email and making sure that students and faculty are aware that these offices are here for their benefit. 

“For many students, they haven’t taken online classes, and there’s a reason for that…Academically, they struggle without having that face-to-face contact in the classroom,” said Laura Murphy, Assistant Dean of Health and Wellness, noting what difficulties the administration has noticed in students. Not only have the changes to online classes been difficult, but Murphy reports that, “Most students are struggling with getting into a routine, and [being able to] reestablish that [routine].”

Many students have a favorite spot on campus where they like to do their coursework, whether it be in the library or inside their dorm rooms, and having to replicate a similar environment at home is certainly difficult, if not impossible.

In order to help assist students with their transitions back home, the counseling center has been running telehealth sessions with students and staff members. These sessions take place either over the phone or through secure video chat services and are, similar to traditional counseling, completely confidential. The Counseling Services page also has a variety of links to different mental health resources on their website.. 

“We are still very busy,” said Murphy. “From our standpoint in counseling, counseling services are up and running, doing regularly scheduled counseling sessions as we would if we were in the office.”

This group is also working closely with the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, creating workshops and resources to help both students and faculty who may be having difficulties getting used to the new technical landscape.

Another important resource for students are the WSU Food Pantry and the Student Emergency Fund. Vital to the WSU student support network, in recent weeks, these resources have had “an influx of donors” looking to help how they can. Dean of Students Julie Kazarian says that the fund reviews applications from students on a weekly basis, reporting that organizers have “definitely seen an uptick in the use of both our food pantry and our student emergency fund to help with anything from utilities to cell phone bills and laptops.” 

Being able to support students with these financial issues is extremely important since many students’ cell phones “are the major way in which they are communicating and accessing or finishing their course work,” says Kazarian. 

Moving forward, the administration is set on making sure students, staff, and faculty make it through this pandemic academically and personally successful. 

“Worcester State has been here a really long time; we just may need to adjust how we do business,” says Fran Manocchio, Director of the Student Accessibility Services office.

In the meantime, students should keep checking their inboxes for updates and support as the semester winds to a halt with finals. If issues do arise, they should never be reluctant to reach out with their concerns, as someone will be there to help as best they can.

Author’s Note: Any student or staff member wishing to utilize these services can either call the counseling center at 508-929-8072 or send them an email at conseling_wsu@worcester.edu to set up an appointment. 

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