The Graduating Class of COVID 19

Robert DowdMay 22, 2020

College Planning

Shortly before college seniors were preparing to sing auld lang syne, start their new years’ resolution, get ready for their last semester of the 2019-2020 school year, news came from China about pneumonia cases with an unknown cause. Within days, the virus spread throughout Asia and the cases were piled up at an accelerated rate. Less than a month went by, and the virus reached the U.S. shores. Within a month and a half, all non-essential businesses were closed, professional and college sports were cancelled, and all schools transitioned to an online structure. Life as we knew it was flipped upside down and our next steps as a society were ambiguous.

Almost immediately, all in-person college courses were transitioned to a virtual setting and this instantaneous, widespread change affected both students and professors. Dave Lynch, a recent graduate of St. Joseph’s University and a member of our Financial Planning Team at HFA, believed he, and many of his classmates, were prepared for the changes stating, ‘we have to be able to quickly learn and adapt to new things virtually, most of the time learning by doing’. Technology issues with spotty Wi-Fi and being out of the normal classroom setting affected concentration and he explained that, ‘many times, the professors would lose connection or have unstable internet, which would lead to several minutes of hearing something you couldn’t understand’. The student-professor interactions changed from the valuable face-to-face time, to scheduling Zoom or phone meetings, or emails. On the bright side, at least there was no more running through the quad to make it to class on time, and students did not have to leave their bed to attend 8:00 AM classes.

Stephanie Jeffers, who is an Associate Professor of Nursing and Director of Pre-Licensure Undergraduate Programs at Widener University, felt her 25 years’ experience as a registered nurse (RN) prepared her to be ready for the unexpected at any given moment. Transitioning an entire curriculum for virtual delivery is a little more complex, especially in a nursing program that requires psychomotor skills. Stephanie explains, ‘traditional lecture, simulations, and clinical experiences cannot simply be moved to an online format. A great deal of planning, hours of problem-solving, collaboration with colleagues, and creative thinking was required to successfully adapt to the changes in teaching and learning caused by a single virus’. Stephanie, and her faculty members, shortly yearned to regain the personal connection developed with the students during the classroom and office hours setting. At-home environments were a center of concern for students, and sometimes Stephanie, with a lack of privacy, resources, and ability to have a quiet area to study or take exams. Faculty and students were finding themselves paying closer attention to self-care and mental wellness and doing things to remove themselves from the computer, such as exercising, and going outside to relieve stress.

Over the past several years, St. Joseph’s Haub School of Business has been ranked in the top 25 of U.S. News, and the goal was to continue the prestige during the pandemic and continue to challenge students. Theoretical learning is presented within a classroom setting and students can gain real world experience by being involved in a Co-Op or internship. Dave said there were no significant changes to the coursework, but group projects were changed to individual assignments and exams were proctored by the St. Joseph’s faculty via Zoom.

The Widener Nursing program, which is ranked 10th in Pennsylvania among private colleges, provides students with several methods of acquiring knowledge and skills. The theoretical portion is taught within the classroom, which was easy to transition when the COVID-19 lockdown began. Clinical rotations, which are at some of the region’s top hospitals, had to be altered because the ‘personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to be spared for essential hospital staff’, Stephanie explained. The program had to fill the educational void with case studies, videos, and virtual patients. There were no changes to exams, except for the he location of the students. It was required to have Zoom on their phones, to allow faculty members to proctor the exam.

The country is slowly opening, but Universities are being cautious and continuing online learning. Both St. Joseph’s and Widener are going to conduct the summer semesters virtually, but will be prepared for all scenarios. You cannot help but feel bad for those students graduating this spring knowing all the memories that could have been. At the same time, there is that exact feeling towards the professors that developed strong bonds with their students and having it cut so short and sudden. Developing a strong professor-student relationship is overlooked, but is one of the most inspirational experiences. Professors will challenge students to be the best version of themselves and will likely become one of the student’s first mentors outside of a family member or childhood friend. It is never sought after when applying for college, yet its significance has tremendous impact in future years.

For college seniors, to say this year was unusual or extraordinary would be an understatement. It was going to be an optimistic start to the new decade before joining a workforce that had an unemployment rate of 3.5%, which was a 50-year low. Instead, students are confined to their homes, socializing is based on Wi-Fi connection, curriculum’s are altered, and graduations conducted through Zoom, which makes me believe these college seniors will be forever remembered as the graduating class of COVID-19 and a new normal may prevail going forward.



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