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MI Students Adapt During the COVID-19 Pandemic
SC&I spoke with four Master of Information students to discover the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their academic, professional, and personal lives and learn about their strategies for coping effectively.

The recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has led to many drastic changes, even in the lives of those of us fortunate enough to have remained healthy. Stay at home orders and the switch to remote work and learning are a few of the adjustments that have impacted many students in the SC&I community — including our Master of Information students, many of whom work full-time at libraries or have internships in addition to their master’s studies.

SC&I spoke with four MI students to learn more about how they have adapted to life during the pandemic, and how they now manage their careers and studies in order to achieve their goals while also trying to stay well.

Nicholas Cunningham

Nicholas Cunningham, whose concentration is in Library Information Science,  works for Trexler Library at Muhlenberg College as a full-time public service assistant, and he has an internship which requires 10 hours of work a week outside his full-time working hours.

While he has been able to continue to work for Trexler Library from home, he has still needed to adjust to some changes. For example, he said he used to manage the library’s student workers, which meant he would work evenings and weekends. Now, due to the pandemic, he is only working 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. During those hours he usually focuses on projects, and he is on-call for patrons.

Things have changed at his internship as well. While he used to fill in as the Social Science Reference Specialist, holding instruction sessions tailored for specific classes and their assignments, now most of these sessions have been cancelled. The ones that weren’t cancelled he said he’s conducting on Zoom. He also lets students know that he is still available to speak if they need help.

“It isn’t as rigid of a schedule, but I still am getting things done,” said Cunningham.

Dean Klimek

Dean Klimek, who is concentrating in both Data Science and Technology Information Management, said the pandemic has led him to find new opportunities through his job as a junior teen services librarian at the Piscataway Public Library.

Before the pandemic, they planned to host a “Girls Who Code” program to teach teenage girls how to code. It was supposed to begin towards the end of February, but because of the pandemic they weren’t sure if they could still host it.

Despite the challenges involved in not cancelling, they decided to move forward by utilizing google hangouts. The participants join in for a one-hour web conference every Thursday. Surprisingly, he said, they’ve been able to interact more with the teens and they have been receiving more feedback from the teens in the online format than they did while hosting it in person.

The surprising success of this online format has led them to develop another online program for teens called “Talk it Out” which aims to get teens together to talk about their concerns, especially important to do during the pandemic.

As an MI student, Klimek serves as an instructional assistant for an information technology course where he holds Zoom sessions online.

Klimek said he has not been directly impacted by the change to remote learning because all of his classes were already online prior to the pandemic. Regardless, he said, his life has really changed now that he can’t get to the library. He said he used to go to the library and seclude himself to get all of his work done, but he is now back at home.

“It’s different when you’re at home because it’s home,” said Klimek. “You’re doing more things and there’s more people in the house.”

Cheyenne Riehl

Another MI student with a concentration in Library Information Science is Cheyenne Riehl. She is the special collections and outreach intern at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum Library, where she works in the rare book and physical collections room. She is also a Manager at a UPS Store.

Before the outbreak, Riehl said she used to commute almost two hours to Rutgers and Pennsylvania for classes and her internship.

Now, while not being able to work at the museum physically has had an impact, she said she is still able to work remotely from home. She works with outreach programs as well as LibChat, and she assists the head librarian with budgets and other remote work.

With regards to her MI studies, she said while the change to remote learning is more convenient for her in terms of the commute, she still prefers in-person classes because of the interactions between her professors and fellow classmates they result in. She also said shifting her study hours has been a challenge for her, because she studies either early in the morning or later in the night when everything is more settled down. She said her professors have been very accommodating through the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been very helpful.

“I have very lenient professors who are very accommodating, especially given the crisis,” said Riehl. “If you communicate that you are struggling, they are willing to work with you.”

Chelsea Rizzolo

MI student Chelsea Rizzolo is concentrating in Library and Information Science and she is due to graduate in August of this year. She said she used to work three part-time jobs in addition to grad school before the pandemic.

Now she said she’s been able to still work two out of the three remotely. Rizzolo is the public services intern at the Otto E. Albrecht Music Library at the University of Pennsylvania and an instructional assistant for two undergraduate IT classes at SC&I.

At the library, she works on public services projects related to communications and library instruction observation. She also assisted with the installation of a new library exhibit, “Re-covering the Ney Collection,” curated by Juan Castrillon, a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at Penn. The exhibit also is available online and has been extremely successful. She said she is also still able to work remotely with the technical services team on projects such as tackling the historical backlog of catalog records that need updating.

Rizzolo lives with her husband, and her parents live in other states. She said it has been a struggle for her not knowing when she can see her parents again, but she still talks to them virtually, along with her grandma and her friends.

Prior to the pandemic, she was a hybrid student, so she was already comfortable with remote learning. However, she said her transition to studying at home has not been as smooth, because she used to spend most of her study days at the library. Now, she said while she is still able to manage her time, it takes more effort for her to motivate herself to sit down among the many distractions in her home.

“For my own sanity, I still give myself little goals to look forward to in between study tasks,” said Rizzolo.  “Simple things like going for a quick walk or making a cup of coffee.”

More information about the Master of Information Program at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information (SC&I) is available on the website.




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