With the global pandemic closing America’s college classrooms, Chapman University has learned to grapple with the changes. The result wasn’t quite unexpected. The kindest words: It’s been “challenging.”
Zoom has become the standard way of life for students and faculty. Email lines are buzzing more than ever.
“Bonding isn’t the same, study groups aren’t the same if you aren’t in your study space,” said senior political science and peace studies major Azucena Rodriguez.
But if students have been asked by friends and family — and asking each other — how’s it all going, administrators have been doing the same thing. Their conclusion: Not as well as we had hoped.
Chapman President Daniele C. Struppa noted that in a recent public statement aimed at the whole Chapman family:
“Going remote has taught us much over the last few weeks. For sure, and against the predictions of many, it has reinforced the value of the presence of a faculty in the classroom.”
Struppa said much of that feedback has been coming not just from students, but from their parents:
“If there is anything I have heard loud and clear is that they want our faculty in the classroom. Those who had thought that online education was soon going to replace professors…well, they will have to wait.”
Students in a variety of classes are finding frustrations.
Sarah Downey, a junior strategic and corporate communication major, has noticed a struggle in her research-based classes. Her program values hands-on experience, which is hard to gain remotely.
“It’s research-based so most of our classes are focused on that rather than creating a portfolio,” Downey said. “With that said, the goal and learning outcomes of our classes are still the same.”
Some student workers are finding themselves without work if their job cannot be performed remotely. In an email to students on the state of student employment, Brian Powell, vice-president, and chief human resources officer, announced the suspension of on-campus student employment. Students whose work permitted could work remotely. His email outlines that student workers would continue to receive pay for their regularly scheduled hours.
“We recognize that student employees enrich our workplace and add significant value to the services we provide to faculty, staff, and fellow students,” Powell said. “Their absences in our hallways and offices is felt by everyone, prompting many colleagues to ask us to reconsider our temporary suspension of student employment.”
Madison Kailey Garcia, senior business administration and marketing emphasis, had a work-study in the donor relations department since 2016. Garcia felt student workers appreciate that.
“I am mostly thankful for my boss because I’ve been working for the last four years she has let me get paid the same amount of hours I would’ve been working during the semester,” said Garcia.
Junior documentary film major Ricky King worked at the Cross-Cultural Center. Its leaders find the physical work environment hard to replace with remote work.
“I really miss the people I worked with on campus and the place I had at work,” King said. “I spent a lot of time at the CCC even when I wasn’t on shift because that’s where my people were.”
One advantage of online classes: Some students just like being home again.
Elizabeth Hymes, senior television writing and production major, has found it that way: “Having lived 3,000 miles away for the past four years, it’s been nice to get close again,” said Hymes.
But Rodriguez has found it difficult to balance work and classes. “I was planning on being a full-time student but now I have to shift to part-time because I need more work time to be able to just survive the economic changes in society,” Rodriguez said. “Work has become more of a priority and education is now secondary.”
Some students are worried about the economic landscape they will enter post-graduation.
Rodriguez worries that her opportunities entering the workforce are “slim to nothing. There really isn’t much opportunity out there, I’m guessing that by summer I’d be hired at my current internship but I don’t imagine that the firm is in any rush to start the hiring process because the number of clients that we have is very few.”
This means keeping her at her fast-food job at McDonald’s — which she has come to appreciate even more: “I’m going to have to change plans and stay there longer than anticipated because it is a really good job to have right now.”
Sophomore public relations and advertising major Joy Manion wonders how the pandemic will continue to affect the job market.
“Honestly that’s something to think about,” Manion said. “I was planning on having a different internship over the summer in an area I was more interested in but now that probably won’t happen since many companies aren’t hiring interns due to COVID-19″
Looking ahead, Downey trusts that the Chapman community will adapt to the “new normal.”
“I feel that those in charge of my program are thinking ahead and how to best benefit the students. I trust them with my education and how/why our program may experience shifts over the next few months,” said Downey.
Distance learning has given Struppa a new appreciation for the Chapman experience. “It has now been over a month since we last had in-person classes on the Chapman campuses,” said Struppa. “Since that time the Chapman experience has continued, albeit a very different experience for all of us. Through this tumultuous time that forced us to recreate almost every aspect of our daily lives, it has really crystallized for me the importance of the personalized experience we pride ourselves on at Chapman.”
And that’s why, Struppa said, he is determined to have classes on campus in the fall — health issues for the entire country permitting.