Arkansas Tech University students asked about their transition to a virtual learning environment agree there are considerable challenges, but the support of their faculty members is allowing them to overcome those obstacles.
"My professors have been rock stars," said Alyssa Dougan, a junior at ATU and secondary education social studies major from Hope. "They all have been so understanding of the situation and have done everything in their power to help us succeed. One of my professors allowed for more time on online tests, sent out a survey asking how he could help and extended due dates on assignments. Another professor has set up times that he will be on Zoom every week just so we can ask him questions. They have all been so encouraging, which shows how much the professors at Arkansas Tech really care about the success and well-being of their students."
ATU moved to virtual instruction on March 18, 2020, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as defined by the World Health Organization.
One month later, ATU students who responded to a series of questions about their new circumstances cited reduced personal contact with their professors and peers, adjusting to new studying environments, focusing on their academic tasks and juggling multiple online courses as their greatest challenges.
"Every faculty member in the (ATU Department of Behavioral Sciences) has gone above and beyond to make sure students have the help and resources we need during this time," said Brianna Robinson, a senior from Little Rock. "I was distraught the day we were told we would not be allowed to come back to our internship site, but it was nice to have my professors assure me that everything would be fine and I would still finish the coursework needed for graduation."
Macie Johnson, a sophomore political science major from Bauxite, appreciates the flexibility offered by her faculty members during this period of virtual instruction.
"The majority of my professors have been really good at helping me overcome the challenges I have faced with online schooling," said Johnson. "My teachers have been really kind and understanding in all aspects. For example, my professors have sent e-mails every week checking in on their classes and reiterating what assignments we have coming up. They also understand that this is a difficult time for everybody, and because of that, have been pretty lenient when it comes to due dates."
Callie Harper is a nursing major from Farmington. She described her instructors as "supportive, understanding, positive and encouraging" as she has navigated the final month-and-a-half of her junior year at ATU.
"One of my favorite aspects of virtual instruction is that I can do it at my own pace," said Harper. "Sometimes life gets in the way and you need to do an assignment later in the day instead of during the 'class time.' Virtual instruction allows for that."
ATU student Jacob Loomis has empathy for his instructors.
"My professors understand that it is hard for students because it is hard on them, too," said Loomis.
A junior political science major from Bryant, Loomis said the events of spring 2020 have changed his outlook on the future.
"It is a generationally-defining event that has altered the course of history as we know it," said Loomis. "We have to live and adjust to that. I am trying to get into grad schools after I graduate. I don’t know if this will set me back or if the coming economic downturn will affect my plans for the future."
Johnson is equally uncertain about her future, but she is working to maintain perspective.
"Everything changed so fast, and in this time, I have really been able to take a step back and look at all of the things that I had previously been taking for granted," said Johnson. "The world as we know it will never be the same again. That statement is both scary and amazing."
Dougan said that giving her grandparents a hug and going out to dinner with friends will be high on her priority list when life returns to some version of normal.
"I cannot wait to appreciate the people and experiences in my life better than before," said Dougan. "During the pandemic, I have been doing a lot of reflection to try to evaluate what and who is important to me. I have been thankful to have time to reflect and recognize areas in which I can be a more positive light to those around me by working on myself."
ATU seniors, like Lorrel Passmore of Greenwood, have seen their lives thrown into even greater flux.
"This pandemic has shifted my thought process while being a senior and finishing my schoolwork," said Passmore. "I am in the process of looking for a 'big girl' job, but no one is hiring, so that's just hard to process right now."
The pandemic forced the postponement of spring 2020 commencement ceremonies at ATU. Robinson said that delaying the formal celebration of graduation does nothing to detract from the achievement.
"My ATU degree is a representation of all my hard work," said Robinson, who is majoring in psychology and rehabilitation science. "Getting my degree is the milestone I have been working toward since the day I started at ATU. While the current circumstances are not ideal, it does not change the work I have put in, the memories or the connections I have gained. Nothing will change the pride I have in completing my ATU degree."
Harper hopes that all the sacrifices made during spring 2020 will provide her with the opportunity to enjoy a more typical academic year as a senior in 2020-21.
"I am most excited to be with my friends again," said Harper. "I never realized how much I would miss going to eat chips and salsa. I am excited to see my favorite people, in my favorite place. ATU is something special, and I have found my future career and my forever people there. I just want to get back to it."