illustration by Jon Krause
The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the way we live, learn and work.
According to a recent Gallup panel, 62% of employed Americans reported working from home in early April, doubling the figure of 31% from mid-March. We spoke with members of the Fox Community to hear about their remote experiences, challenges they faced and the lessons learned that they will carry into the future.
Helping students through the process
“It’s amazing to see people learn and adapt to things like this,” says Katie Gerst, associate professor and academic director of the Fox Honors Program. Gerst assisted Fox Honors students with the transition to online learning when the university made the switch to remote instruction in March 2020. Although the students faced challenges as they quickly adjusted to a new and unfamiliar environment, Gerst was proud of their resilience and adaptability. She reports that by the second class, the students were confident in remote learning and giving presentations.
As assistant academic director for the Fox Online MBA and Online BBA programs, Gerst is well-versed in online learning. But she acknowledges struggling with how to keep students engaged during an uncertain and unpredictable time. “Sometimes, when we logged into class, I would start things off by just asking how they were doing and what they were up to outside of class,” says Gerst. “I was doing things to try to keep them upbeat.”
She also made real-world connections and explained how the remote learning experience could apply to future job opportunities. “I told them that when they are in the workforce, this is the kind of meeting they are going to have,” says Gerst. “If they have a meeting with somebody in Europe, they will need to be very familiar with hopping onto an online platform like Zoom.”
Zoom technology helped her through this experience on a personal level as well. “I’m an extrovert with a very healthy social life,” says Gerst. “Virtual happy hours and video calls are getting me through this.”
Balancing work, family and personal needs
As a parent, the experience for Joy Stroman, senior academic advisor in the Center for Undergraduate Advising, has been layered. “I have two young children who have to attend school from home,” says Stroman. “So managing my tasks and meetings with their tasks and meetings was an adjustment.”
Like Gerst, Stroman’s prior online teaching and advising experience helped ease her transition into providing online services to students. She and her team created a new online alternative to their regular walk-in advising services. They also found a way to host one of their flagship student events virtually. “As a group in the advising office, we could do our jobs remotely and do them well,” says Stroman.
The main challenge for Stroman was navigating her additional responsibility as an educator to her children. “It’s one thing to work remotely when your children are in school physically,” says Stroman. “It’s another thing to work remotely and home school your children.”
Implementing a structured schedule was vital in keeping her children engaged and giving her the time necessary to focus on work. New traditions like Friday movie nights and Saturday buffet breakfasts helped to lighten up the experience and carve out much-needed family time.
Through this time, Stroman learned the importance of self-care and not being too hard on herself. “The few moments I have to myself are so important so that I feel like I can contribute, both at work and home,” says Stroman. “The key for me is remembering that it’s okay if everything doesn’t go according to plan.”
Maintaining momentum in graduate school
Aineya Ricketts, MBA ’22, associate bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, also discovered the importance of self-care in quarantine. “The first month my self-care coping mechanism was baking,” says Ricketts. “Then, in April, I started working out 30 minutes per day and walking three miles per day.”
Ricketts completed a course for the Online MBA program, continued her work at the Federal Reserve Bank remotely and homeschooled her son: all during a global pandemic. “The biggest challenge was just the combination of everything,” says Ricketts. “If someone told me that everything was going to happen at once, I would have said ‘I can’t handle this.’”
She credits her experience in the OMBA program for preparing her to succeed in a virtual environment. Through her coursework, she learned the ins and outs of Zoom and how to create and follow a schedule. “We know what we have to do in a week, but it’s on us to develop our schedule,” says Ricketts. “That experience definitely put me ahead.”
Ricketts emphasized that with everything on her plate, she still made family time a priority. That sometimes meant taking a break in the middle of the day to play a game with her son. For Ricketts, this experience showed the value of accepting change. “I learned that things might go wrong, but all we can do is adapt and walk gracefully through the chaos.”
Staying active as a student
For Fox Honors student Sean Boyer, BBA ’22, the biggest challenge came from getting used to his new offline environment. As an undergraduate student, Boyer had to move out of his off-campus housing and return to his home to resume classes virtually. “On campus, I have so many great places to study, and I can focus in those areas,” says Boyer, “So I had to adjust and find new space at home.”
Boyer stayed busy at home by keeping up with his classes, continuing his role as a virtual tour guide and finishing his semester as a Diamond Peer Teacher. For the summer, he joined the Institute for Business and Information Technology (IBIT) team to provide free business consulting services to small businesses affected by the pandemic. “I’m glad that I’m able to help people who were affected by COVID-19,” says Boyer.
Throughout his time at home, Boyer has maintained an optimistic outlook on the future. He shifted his focus to personal development and got to work planning events for the fall semester with his student professional organization, the Association for Information Systems (AIS). “I think we’re eventually going to look back on this for everything we overcame,” says Boyer.