When Penn State Lehigh Valley extended the period of remote learning through the remainder of the spring 2020 semester in response to governmental concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic, students and faculty alike were faced with unprecedented changes.
In the weeks following the transition, however, multiple Penn State Lehigh Valley departments and faculty members have proved the college’s commitment to virtually supporting its students.
“Now more than ever our students need to feel surrounded by support. I have been impressed at how everyone at Penn State Lehigh Valley is stepping up,” said Douglas R. Hochstetler, director of academic affairs, Penn State Lehigh Valley. “From helping students access online courses to helping them cope emotionally during this time, our faculty and staff are here for students in a variety of ways. And our students have been showing us just how strong and resilient they are during this huge change in their college career.”
Supporting students in the classroom
Although the campus closure presents some unique challenges, PSU-LV’s department of academic advising is working hard to establish personal connections with students via phone and email outreach to ensure advising needs are still being met.
“I’m thrilled to be able to highlight the wellness calls we’ve coordinated since the switch to remote learning,” said Anna Eichner, academic adviser, and coordinator of DUS at Penn State Lehigh Valley. “These calls are critical to reconnecting with students individually, assessing how they are coping with the changes and offering our resources and services. So far, we have managed to call 147 students to check in and show that we care and are still here to support them.”
“The message I am getting across the board through these calls is that students feel there is more work to do, but also more flexibility,” said Marta Da Silva, academic adviser, coordinator of New Student Orientation, Penn State Lehigh Valley. “I also work with the Penn State Lehigh Valley’s Licensed Practical Nursing program, and the students that I spoke with were very appreciative of everything that is being done to help them connect and successfully attend virtual classes.”
Penn State Lehigh Valley students are still able to access the many resources available to them through the campus library. Library materials, teaching and research consultation and scheduled events have been moved to virtual formats so students can continue to benefit from the variety of services.
“The library is integrated into students' academic and social experiences in many ways and we want to maintain, and even grow, their connection to the library during this remote teaching and learning time,” said Jen Jarson, head librarian, Penn State Lehigh Valley. “We're helping students access textbooks and other course materials, which is especially important for those who typically rely on our print collection or have otherwise had their access to course materials disrupted.”
Example from the classroom
In RHS 303: Group Work in Rehabilitation Practice and Human Services, students are facilitating group discussions via Zoom meetings with family and friends to discuss the impact of COVID-19.
“The response from their first group meeting was positive,” said Teri Kistler, lecturer, rehabilitation and human services at Penn State Lehigh Valley. “Students reported that those who participated shared their concerns, talked about struggles that accompanied not being able to work or having to work, financial concerns and the difficulty with social distancing. Small group discussions have provided a way for students to both provide support and gain support from others during this difficult time.”
Even with the transition to remote learning, tutoring support remains available for Penn State Lehigh Valley students.
“In addition to the online tutoring service Tutor.com, which may be accessed in select courses in Canvas, all of the on-campus tutoring services are now available remotely,” said Linda Rumfield, learning center and disability coordinator, Penn State Lehigh Valley.
Students may schedule tutoring sessions with the Writing Center using Starfish. Appointments for math, physics and statistics tutoring are available by contacting Alison Bonner at [email protected] or Hal Scholz at [email protected].
For any additional tutoring requests or questions, students can email the Learning Center coordinator at [email protected].
The Writing Center is busy connecting with students who are seeking a friendly face and help with their assignments during the campus closure.
“I tutor daily and have seen an increase in appointments from the students I would normally see during common hour, as well as students in our World Campus. The Zoom platform is a great fit for tutors because it allows for personal connection, document sharing, and conducting research in PSU library databases. I am so grateful I can continue to support our students during this challenging time,” said Tina Guida, professional writing tutor, Penn State Lehigh Valley.
Halle Dennis, a junior at University Park majoring in biobehavioral health and minoring in biology, is just one of the many students who have benefited from Guida’s services.
“As this semester comes to a close and graduate schools open to applications, I have been hard at work preparing the various documents required when applying,” Dennis said. “Ms. Guida provided reliable and instrumental aid when I was preparing my personal statement for the application process. Her consistent and individualized attention was invaluable.”
Kate Morgan, director of virtual education, and Eileen Grodziak, instructional designer, field the many questions students have about Canvas and provide answers, while continuing to support faculty to engage students. The department is also providing support to students who are working on virtual presentations.
Recognized as a key person in simplifying the transition, Pedro Robles, network coordinator, worked to configure the campus labs so that students could successfully remote in. Findings from his project’s success were shared with another local campus.
In addition to Robles, Mike Morgan, information technology manager, attributes the mostly seamless switch to the support of faculty and staff from each department.
“We were fortunate because our department’s prior work made it much easier to switch the labs to remote. The University worked with people to get access to licenses, and now 50 to 100 students are connecting remotely to different machines on campus with the support of IT every day,” Morgan said. “We also prepped our student workers so that they can get real-world experience answering service questions via email and phone. We are here to support both the students and their courses.”
Supporting students outside the classroom
Programs and meetings planned by the student affairs team have been moved to virtual formats to encourage continued participation in activities. The team also continues to provide support with coordinating applications for the executive board of THON 2021, the transitioning of club leadership and hosting virtual Pride Month activities. The student affairs team’s weekly e-newsletter will highlight student successes during remote learning to provide a positive outlook on the experience.
“We want to make sure students remain connected and continue to feel a sense of belonging, especially during these challenging times.”
--Pamela Fleck, assistant director of student affairs
Although students and faculty are unable to gather in-person for the annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, the Student Affairs team and RISE club officers decided to move the event to a virtual format tentatively planned for 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21. More details to follow.
Recognizing that students need a safe place to receive support during this difficult time, Penn State Lehigh Valley’s counseling center is continuing to provide aid. The hope is that this support will help students to devote their attention to course work. Tele-therapy is available via phone or Zoom.
To schedule an appointment, call 610-285-5077 or email Tammy Yocum-Cwienkala, coordinator of counseling services, at [email protected].
Lorie Khalil, coordinator of athletics programs, is running a mileage challenge for the campus community. Students, faculty and staff members with the most mileage will win electronic gift cards or PSU-LV branded items.
“This challenge is a great way to encourage fitness and activity levels despite the closure of the campus’ fitness center,” Khalil said. “We are pleased to report that our challenge recently hit 70 sign-ups. It’s great to see how many students and faculty members are participating!”
The challenge resets every Monday for the start of a new week and continues until May 1.
Despite the transition to remote learning, PSU-LV’s department of career strategy continues to ensure that students have access to valuable resources that are vital in their search for jobs or internships, such as open job and internship announcements, job search tips and even wellness opportunities to promote healthy stress management. The department is currently promoting the Hire Big10+ virtual career fair scheduled for on April 14.
“Jessica Dow and the rest of the career strategy team helped me realize the ways in which my resume was strong, while pointing out the areas where we could make some improvements. Their assistance gave me the confidence I needed to enter the complex world of internship applications,” said Megan O’Donnell, sophomore majoring in corporate communication at Penn State Lehigh Valley.
Supporting future students
The admissions office is hosting virtual events for accepted and prospective students to explore the Lehigh Valley campus, learn about the next steps to take in their college career, and receive a welcome from Chancellor Tina Q. Richardson and Director of Academic Affairs, Douglas Hochstetler. Accepted students have also received guidance to explore the accepted student webpage designed for them. Visit the admissions office’s website to learn more and register for these events.
“While our future students cannot visit us in person, we worked with our multimedia innovation center to design engaging virtual events to keep the momentum going in their college search process,” said Denise O’Neill, director of enrollment management, Penn State Lehigh Valley. “Until we can get together in person, these events provide the most pertinent information students need along with videos showcasing our campus community!”
Prospective students can reach the enrollment team by calling 610-285-5035.
At the beginning of the 2020 spring semester, no one could have predicted the unique challenges in store for institutions of higher learning in the coming months. Despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn State Lehigh Valley’s departments, faculty and staff continue to find and create stories of success. Both in and out of the virtual classroom, Penn State Lehigh Valley is pleased to honor and uphold its commitment to providing a quality education that equips students for their future careers. For Penn State Lehigh Valley information related to COVID-19, visit the COVID-19 update webpage.