The COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed the ways SC&I faculty and students teach and learn. It has also greatly impacted the ways SC&I staff members work. The switch to a 100 percent remote work environment, at the same time the pandemic has led to an increase in the numbers of students and faculty requiring expanded and additional support, has meant SC&I staff have needed to adapt quickly to be able to effectively manage a variety of new and extraordinary challenges.
Read below to learn, in the voices of our staff members, about the ways the pandemic has affected their work.
Student Services Department
Kevin Ewell- Assistant Dean for Students Services
The Student Services Department has logged over 500 undergraduate academic advising sessions, which included phone calls, email responses, and LiveChat conversations. 365 of these sessions were during the two- week pre-registration period with advising done primarily by Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Students Meghan Ingstrup with support from Administrative Assistant Andrea Sacco and graduate assistant Zac Stager.
The department has had over 300 emails and phone calls to current and prospective master’s students for Summer and Fall registration assistance, application and admission inquiries, Pass/No-Credit inquiries, and school library media certifications. We also held over 120 career counseling sessions, including resume review and critiques.
I just want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of the talented and dedicated team of Student Services staff, without whom, none of this would have been possible. They have worked (and continue to work) very hard during these extraordinary times to support our students and our programs, while many of them face the same hardships and challenges as all of our other Rutgers community members. They are truly dedicated professionals and I credit all of the Student Services accomplishments to the wonderful commitment of the whole Student Services team.
Meghan Ingstrup - Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Students
As a result of our change in operations, Student Services helped some of our undergrads early. All SC&I undergrad majors with anticipated graduation dates of January 2021 were emailed individualized advising plans prior to the start of preregistration. This allowed 148 students to be advised about final graduation requirements with enough time to reach out with any questions prior to their registration date/time.
This effort gave us a tiny bit of breathing room when preregistration began, and resulted in responses from students like this one: "I’m incredibly grateful for this list as it will be incredibly helpful to me while I choose my classes for my last semester. I’m going to look deeper into it right now and let you know if I have any further questions. If I had to wager money, I would bet that we will be attending school digitally once again in the fall so I’m glad you are still here to help me even though it’s not face to face."
This is an effort I plan to continue as we move forward whether or not we are face to face or virtual.
Ildiko Koczan - Assistant Director of Student Services for Career Services
It was sort of a whirlwind for everyone at first. However, I feel like we transitioned very swiftly and have adjusted to our current virtual work. We moved most of our services to virtual support from week one of remote work. We’ve offered virtual workshops before, and it wasn't a hard task to switch our employer events and workshops to remote platforms. The biggest adjustment we needed to make was hosting the virtual drop-in hours. We have been offering Tuesday resume drop-in hours since September that we wanted to keep open to have that support platform for students until the end of the Spring semester. We wanted to make sure that we have that specific time set aside to review resumes and for students to ask questions. With the help of the Career Exploration and Success Office, we brainstormed possible ways to keep virtual channels open for "dropping-in" but at the same time allow for individual questions. Since then we have seen over 35 students dropping in to ask questions about their resumes. Another important career booster for students and recent graduates would be to use every opportunity to connect virtually with people and widen their professional networks because right now everyone is online. LinkedIn and our Rutgers Student-Alumni Career Connect platform (under Handshake resources) would be two great tools to use for connecting with alumni and professionals.
We diligently continue to reach out to our employer partners and prospective employers every week to better understand current talent needs and source opportunities for our students. Undoubtedly the pandemic has changed employer needs and how they recruit students and current graduates and of course the types of opportunities that employers currently offer. Of course, the hardest part is that no one really knows what the world of work will look like after the pandemic. There are just so many different scenarios. At the same time, what we already know is that lots of industries instated hiring freezes (including higher education, travel, entertainment and sport industries) but due to the same reason some industries started to open up more career channels including healthcare, e-commerce and technology especially the ones that help people stay connected and do remote work. We continue to post on average 15 new job opportunities across the board every week. I encourage students to keep looking and applying and perhaps just be a bit more flexible and adjust or open up their possible target jobs /industries' list a little more. Regardless, we are here to help and support them during these unprecedented times.
Alli Machiaverna – Graduate Student Counselor
On the graduate side, I am happy to report that not too much has changed. MI and MCM students take either a mix of on campus and in person courses or all online courses during their time in our programs. While we occasionally had walk-ins and in person advising appointments prior to COVID-19, the large portion of all graduate student support was provided via email and phone. The majority of our students are adult learners, working full time and taking online courses and therefore, remote (telephone and email) support has always been the most convenient and accessible option for our students. I can confirm the volume of student advising, inquiries and support remains very high. Additionally, our grad team offers chat room support daily and will continue to provide this as we remain remote. We have added a Past/No Credit policy for this spring 2020 semester for students who are facing challenges due to COVID-19. Overall, our students seem to be remaining positive and are grateful they can continue their education during this difficult time.
Instructional Design and Assessment Department
Sharon Stoerger - Assistant Dean for Instructional Support and Assessment
The first change we encountered was helping our instructors move their face-to-face interactions with students to a remote environment. This situation was a new learning experience for everyone involved. We have never had to transition to remote instruction in such a short time period. Normally, online course development and creation takes months. In March, we were given a couple weeks to make the transition and to get everyone feeling comfortable in the virtual classroom. Not only was everyone struggling to make and manage this transition, but we were coping with personal issues associated with COVID-19. It was stressful for everyone.
Once the IDTS team learned about the move to remote instruction, we offered drop-in sessions, and they appeared to be well-received. Those who visited us during these sessions liked that they could have their questions answered and have that face-to-face interaction. The sessions also enabled the instructors to see us and to put our faces with our names. Then, when we had to move our operations from the office to online, they knew who they were emailing: me, Erica, or Veronica, instead of a faceless bot.
In addition to instructional design, my duties also include overseeing assessment for the school. Many of the assessment activities and reports at the university have been suspended. Instead of engaging in those types of data collection and analysis activities, I am being asked to reflect on the remote teaching experience and assess what it has been like for our students and instructors. This form of data collection is enabling us to determine what worked, what challenges our instructors faced, and what recommendations can we support moving forward. This involves examining what is happening at Rutgers, as well as at our peer institutions. Our goal in preparing for the summer and fall semesters is to provide instructors with guidance and support that is informed by research and promotes best practices.
While I enjoy working and teaching in an online environment, I really miss my colleagues and the students. This includes the hallway conversations and people stopping by my office to chat or ask a “quick” question. These types of informal interactions do not take place remotely. Because everyone’s schedule and personal situation is different when working from home, it is harder to just pop on Zoom and have a hallway conversation. The scheduled, mediated conversations are not the same thing, and I look forward to having those face-to-face interactions again. It’s the little things that matter.
Erica Lucci - Instructional Design and Technology Specialist
We had already anticipated the transition to remote teaching well before the actual switch took place. Just before we left for spring break, we hosted a full week of face-to-face sessions so that faculty and part-time lecturers could come in and work with us on a one-on-one basis. Our goal was to make this transition as seamless for them and their students as possible. We provided them with tips on best practices for digital instruction which they could implement under tight time constraints. We emphasized the fact that this is remote teaching, not online teaching: writing and designing a course for online delivery generally takes months of preparation, but instructors have been compelled by recent circumstances to teach traditional courses remotely with very little advance notice. We maintain a constant presence to support the faculty whenever unexpected questions, concerns, or issues emerge.
Veronica Armour - Instructional Design and Technology Specialist
The transition to remote working has not been a big change to my daily interactions with instructors. Many of our faculty and part-time lecturers are not on campus during business hours due to research and full-time job commitments so I am used to using Zoom, email, and phone calls to talk with them during “normal” times. Also, the type of work that we do with instructional design is the same, just more of it. I think the biggest change is that I’m doing a lot more coaching, with instructors having to move to the online space when they typically teach in-person. Our instructors have had to step up their game to transition so quickly, mid-semester so I feel like the coach guiding and cheering them on as they go. I’ve redesigned our IDTS website (https://idts.comminfo.rutgers.edu) so that focuses on the needs of faculty during this time. So, even though we are not physically on campus instructors can still drop-in on our virtual “office” space to get resources.
Information Technology Department
Jon Oliver - Assistant Dean for Information Technology
My specific department has been affected a lot. We knew sometime in February that the virus was going to be here and it was going to be big. My suspicion was, based on what other countries were doing, that Rutgers was probably going to have to move forward with remote instruction.
One of the big things I’ve always thought of for years was business continuity for the school. I thought that maybe a hurricane would come along one day, take the building out of commission for a day or a week, something like that. I never thought it would be for an extended period of time, but if we lost the building, we needed to ensure that we had the infrastructure in place to be able to do both research and teaching.
This meant making sure that all of our servers were not housed inside of our building and that software and applications that are used in the various curricula are accessible remotely. We have services like Amazon, which offers Amazon Web Services (AWS). They have a significant server farm and a lot of different tools that technologists can use for all sorts of business. What we started to do was create these virtual instances on Amazon that would enable us to provide software remotely. We set up servers and licenses for us to do that.
When we knew in March that Rutgers would be operating off-site, we didn’t want to require students to purchase different software in the middle of the semester just so they could get through the rest of it.
We knew that most staff needed access to their desktops in their office for student records and other information. We made sure that all the staff knew how to VPN (Virtual Private Network) into our local network in the building, to be able to get into their desktop in their office. It is all encrypted and protected, so it is a legitimate way for them to access the records and financials they need to work with in a safe way. Our student workers use the virtual help desk.
For our students, we’ve offered laptops to those who don’t have those resources at home. The problem that we’ve seen is providing students with internet access when they don’t have it. I am trying to work with major carriers to see if we can get mobile hotspots. It’s hard when you can’t go into buildings such as libraries or cafes that provide free wifi. This is an ongoing issue that we have to solve because I don’t think this is the last time we are going to experience something like this.