Home Coronavirus Effects of the Pandemic on Faculty and Staff

Effects of the Pandemic on Faculty and Staff

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An empty student landing study area that was newly renovated on the 4th floor of Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall. Photo by Breegan Petruska

By The Collegiate Staff

The importance of staff and faculty within the ecosystem of a campus community is paramount. Staff endured significant changes to their job structure, especially in the Technology Department, which helped many faculty members, administrators and students alike in navigating the online world of education.

Todd Torrey

Grand Rapids Community College Media Engineer

Courtesy photo of Torrey who has been on staff at GRCC for 15 years.

“We have to prepare classrooms for hybrid learning. We provide everything that a professor may need in the era of COVID. We have been adding equipment to help with high flex learning. We have a small team that has been doing a lot of work to adapt for the growing need for technology. I don’t think that our relationship with technology on campus will ever be the same. I think that we now know how important it is to be able to have online and hybrid classes and be more prepared for whatever comes at us next. ”

Dillon Carr

Assistant Professor of Anthropology

“Since I already have taught online for a number of years, that part of the transition was comparatively easy. However, I used to do a lot of work in my office so our house was not set up well for working from home. Likewise learning to create boundaries at home and

Courtesy photo of Carr on a family hike.

develop new rhythms of work was a more significant challenge. The first surprising lesson was not necessarily related to teaching. However, I did not expect that meetings would be so much better over Zoom/Google Meet. Once you subtract the socialization time and the walking across campus time, then meetings have become a lot more productive and take up less time. In terms of the teaching side of it, while I expected the shift to online instruction to expose vulnerabilities I did not expect it to be quite so stark. Students in a good place (technological resources, online experience, robust support network) have made the pivot quite easy and are doing just fine, whereas others with barriers (limited access to technology, no online classroom experience, and significant work/family responsibilities taking priority) have been struggling. Unfortunately, the effects of this gap is likely to be persistent going forward. As I mentioned above, my online pedagogy was already pretty well developed. While I might have expanded upon a few things I do remotely, I think the biggest impact on my teaching going forward will be seen in the renewed passion to be back in the classroom with students. My students are learning and having good experiences… However, I personally don’t get to experience it the same way. Seeing and participating in the excitement of discovery in real-time with students is easily the No. 1 part of the job, but just doesn’t occur the same way online for faculty.”

Leigh Kleinert

Professor of Biological Sciences

“My biggest challenge was learning so much new technology so quickly, plus having to help many of my students navigate this new technology. Most of us had never even heard of Zoom or Google Meet before last March. Literally overnight we were completely reliant on it for teaching and learning and communication. I learned to slow down and appreciate the simple things in life. The lockdown during the first months of the pandemic last year forced us to stay home and stay in. Usually my family, my friends, my colleagues, we are all so busy and doing so many things all the time! Suddenly, other than work, I was forced to just be. I just did the things I loved, but never had time for because I was doing too much. So just walking in nature and cooking meals from scratch was such a treat. (I won’t lie, I binged A LOT of Netflix once winter semester ended.)

Courtesy photo of Kleinert, at work in the lab.

Another thing that was really strange, and difficult, was being so isolated. I love being around people. I draw my energy from others. Suddenly we were all cut off from each other. No more before and after class conversations with students or impromptu gatherings in my office to solve case studies, no hallway collaboration with co-workers, community service events were canceled, and gone were family gatherings and weekend visits to friends’ houses. I have been keeping a journal of “positive lessons learned in the pandemic. Although I long to be back in person for all of my classes, no longer socially-distanced, so we can collaborate in small groups, meet for coffee, and have real-live study groups, there are some wonderful practices I never would have discovered had I not been forced into them. For example, continuing to offer virtual office hours. Sometimes students cannot get to campus due to work, family or personal issues, weather, health, transportation; virtual office hours serendipitously create accessibility. Also, before the pandemic, I did not have a virtual version of every lecture as well as virtual lab experiences for the physiology labs I teach. These will prove wonderfully beneficial in the return to face to face classes in myriad ways: if a student misses class due to a serious life event, when students want to review the more difficult lectures/topics, if I have a serious life event and miss class, it easily creates accessibility, and just in case next winter throws us another polar vortex.”

Dan Nyhof

Assistant Professor/Advisor

“Some things for my job have changed a lot, and others not so much. I am working from home, so that is a bit of a difference. My schedule is still made up of appointments with students every day. The appointments are now through Zoom or by phone. We still cover the same information in the appointments so students are getting the same level of service that they were before COVID. I anticipate that we will continue to offer multiple (in-person, phone, Zoom) options for appointments after we return to campus. This helps us be more accessible for students with their busy lives and schedules. When the college shut down I was surprised as it happened quickly. I was also impressed with all the decisions made to keep our campus and community safe. A lot of GRCC folks worked really hard to help with the transition to offering services more remotely. There sometimes are technical issues that can make appointments with students more challenging. Phone reception and internet connectivity are the main difficulties that I experience, and these are quite rare. Remotely working with students has overall been a pretty smooth process. My life at home has not changed much due to COVID. Outside of work, I do not have a very active social life. I guess one could say that I have been practicing ‘social distancing” for several years. In my free time I have lots of projects (house, car, garden, woodworking, etc.), so that keeps me busy.”

Boone Shangle 

GRCC Fieldhouse Student Employee

“That Thursday before those Friday classes had all been canceled, we got clearance to come in and work but the public was not allowed in, but then the state order came that shut everything down.”

Shangle in the conference room at the Fieldhouse on his second day back to work since the initial shutdown. Photo by Annah Johnson

“Once we shut down at the Fieldhouse, the college had already budgeted to pay us so they continued to until the end of the semester, which was nice. Then once the semester ended, that’s when I applied for unemployment. Since we’ve reopened I decided not to immediately come back. I just wasn’t sure how the whole thing was going to be handled so I just skipped the fall semester. I had done online classes before, but self-motivation I am aware isn’t there for me. I am just really happy to be back to work… the environment here is so much better than when I’ve worked elsewhere. I think the biggest thing I missed about being on campus was having everything around me, food in the cafe, hanging out in the library. I really missed being able to work out every day, that was the biggest hit to my sanity not being able to just walk into the Fieldhouse and work out. I didn’t realize just how much I had connected with campus before COVID.”

Dana Borzea 

Professor of Communications

“I taught all of my classes in person in the “before time”. Now, all of my classes are online. Half of them are in the traditional online format (i.e., asynchronous), whereas all of my public speaking courses meet live on Zoom (i.e., synchronous). My initial reaction was probably similar to my students…I was excited for a little break! I distinctly remember my last in-person class because one of my students shared that Michigan State had shut down. As they were all leaving for the day, I jokingly said farewell to them in case we were never going to meet again…Little did I know! I am an extroverted communication professor and not interacting with my students face-to-face was really hard for me at first. Although I still tremendously miss it and can’t wait to get back, there has actually been some positive changes that I plan to continue when we return to campus. I have become more open and casual when interacting with students.

Borzea imposed in the famous TV series’ office confessional.

One area that I have purposefully opened up about is mental health. I added to my syllabus the amazing mental health and financial services that GRCC offers. I also mention the importance of self-care each week, whether it be in class or via email. It is a serious subject matter, but I’ve tried to facilitate more casual conversations about our experiences and coping mechanisms as a way to help de-stigmatize mental health and try to help students feel at least a little more comfortable if they want to discuss it (whether it be in class or just with me). I don’t want students to feel as if there is something wrong with them that is their fault, but also make them aware that there is help available. Mental health has always been an important topic for me, but I thank COVID for offering an “excuse” to initially start these conversations in the classroom/online. If I had to pick three words to describe my transition to online teaching, they would be overwhelming, disheartening, yet appreciative. As a technologically-challenged millennial, I absolutely had difficulties. On top of my lack of abilities, all of this occurred during my first year as a faculty member. I was already overwhelmed transitioning from graduate school in West Virginia to a new job in a new city…let’s just say it was double trouble overwhelming. To be completely honest, I had numerous tech problems in the beginning and each issue was more disheartening than the next because I felt as if I was failing my students. However, I am also appreciative for how understanding my students were as we were learning together to navigate this new online terrain. I am also extremely appreciative for GRCC’s IT department – they are a group of all-stars! Luckily, things are much better this semester for us all!  I have to give a shoutout to two of my colleagues, Mary Lucas and Tamara Scott. They both have been unconditional sources of instrumental and emotional support since Day 1. Whether it was swapping teaching activities or just chatting on the phone on Fridays after a long week…I can say without hesitation that I would not have survived without these two! I have also been trying to cope by changing my perspective on managing it all. I can’t remember the source, but it described life as a juggling act. We have to remember that some of the balls we are juggling are made of plastic, while others are made of glass. We are all going to drop a ball or 2 sometimes, but the focus should be on trying not to drop the glass balls (which includes taking care of ourselves!). I have been trying to remind myself of this every day and it has been helpful! This is not unique nor interesting, but I absolutely loved being able to catch up on TV shows and watching new movies. In fact, I watched all of the Star Wars movies for the first time after years of being hassled. Well, they were all correct to hassle me and the Star Wars universe has gained a new fan! My favorite activity, however, has been enjoying time with my puppy (minus the potty training).“