Every new semester brings challenges and opportunities. None, however, quite like the spring 2020 semester for students and faculty at not only UW-Parkside, but all over the world. The question on everyone’s minds during this time is, “How can we stay connected as a community during this crisis?” At the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, students, faculty, and staff adapted to a quick shift to a virtual learning environment and moved classes online in response to the pandemic. But that’s not all. Even apart, we were able to connect, communicate, and support each other.
How we did it.
This spring challenged UW-Parkside’s faculty, staff, and students to be creative and flexible like never before. While some of our decisions were easy to spot – like the transition to online classes and operations for the remainder of spring semester and cancellation of on-campus events – others were less publicly visible but just as important. Led by Chancellor Ford and campus leadership, here are a few more ways that the UW-Parkside community responded.
Focused on student support and success…
- Instructors monitored students who weren’t engaging in online courses and reached out to them to identify challenges
- Staff from across the university contacted nearly 1,500 students by phone to check in on their well-being and connect them with campus resources if needed
- We shared weekly updates and messages of support via “We’re Here for You” videos (see below)
Got creative in recruiting new Rangers…
- We adjusted admissions deadlines and requirements to allow prospective students to continue applying even if they couldn’t provide test scores, transcripts, etc.
- Admissions counselors conducted virtual Q&A sessions and tours on Facebook Live
- The Admissions team has continued to contact and meet with prospective students by video appointments, phone calls, emails, and web chats – thousands of contact hours to date!
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Teams from across campus are working on a phased “Ranger Restart” plan that will guide UW-Parkside’s COVID-19 response and recovery for fall 2020 and beyond.
Tales from the Virtual UW-Parkside Campus
Several students and faculty across campus shared their experiences in a series aptly dubbed, “Tales from the Virtual UW-Parkside Campus.” Some students were thrilled at the response the university had to the pandemic, praising their instructors for rolling with the punches. Others expressed concerns for how things were progressing and what they may have been missing.
GABBY RICHARDSON from Elkhorn, Wis., is a pre-med student pursuing a minor in Spanish. She shared her perspective on the “new normal” with her professor, Dr. Sarah Piña, assistant professor of Latina/o Literature in the UW-Parkside Department of Literatures and Languages. “For me, the biggest challenge is not being able to volunteer because places are restricting contact that isn't necessary,” she wrote back in April. “This is hard for me because I love teaching children with special needs. My worry is that we aren't taking action quickly enough to slow it down. It's especially difficult because a lot of people aren't taking proper precautions.
“Our professors are the ones that have demonstrated true leadership and deserve the title of academic heroes. I am so grateful to be a UW-Parkside student; a place heroes teach and students thrive.”
MICHAEL ZURAD an adjunct associate lecturer, recorded his lectures so that students could stream them on demand. On top of that, he held live WebEx Q&A sessions during his regularly scheduled class times. This allowed for greater flexibility and enabled Zurad to stay in touch with his students. “The feedback so far has been positive. The students like the ability to pause and rewind the lecture while they try my examples on their own in Visual Studio,” said Zurad.
KELLY BURKE, a current Caledonia, Wis. resident who grew up in a small town 40 minutes south of Rockford, Ill., is triple majoring in management, marketing, and accounting. One of the positives that Burke focused on was that she felt a stronger connection to her class through the systems that UW-Parkside is using for online instruction. “With all of the uncertainty going on around us, it is nice to see familiar faces,” she said. “You feel more connected to the world when you see those familiar faces versus feeling like you are stuck in isolation and alone in this.” Burke credits BB Collaborate with creating a more connected learning experience. “In my previous online classes, I never used BB Collaborate,” she said. “Everyone was just a name stuck behind a keyboard. It is hard to connect with someone or as a class that way.”
TEIZAN LOGARTA, a current Kenosha resident, is a student in the Health Information Management and Technology (HIMT) program. Given that the program is completely online, she didn’t have to deal with the same quick transition of some other students, but it required some re-evaluation of her work-life balance. Staying connected and staying on task have helped her focus.
“For students who are adjusting to a new world of online learning, time management is essential, so create a schedule. Also, do not hesitate to reach out to your teachers/professors or your fellow classmates if you have questions,” said Logarta.
“We’re Here for You” and Social Media Engagement
Responding to the “new normal” hasn’t been easy. Students and faculty adjusted to a new class format, losing access to on-campus resources, having to balance studies and taking care of their families, etc. UW-Parkside faculty and staff shared heartwarming messages of support in the form of UW-Parkside’s “We’re Here for You” videos. So far, the videos have been viewed more than 1,000 times in more than 15 countries around the world.
UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford shared video messages with faculty, staff and students each Monday during the final seven weeks of the semester. The chancellor’s theme: #SevenForSuccess. Her videos were viewed more than 700 times across the globe.
UW-Parkside also launched a UW-Parkside Faculty and Staff Facebook group to stay connected, share pictures, and help support each other during this difficult time.
In Case of Emergency: Future Focus Fund Awards
Alongside the academic challenges created by the pandemic, many UW-Parkside students faced financial challenges this spring. The jobs that many of them rely on to pay their tuition and living expenses (retail and restaurants, for example) closed, so students lost income. Their families had similar financial struggles due to job loss, making it harder for families to assist students. The move to online instruction mid-semester meant unexpected expenses for students who had changes in their living arrangements or needed to provide their own technology for their studies.
These situations could have kept students from completing the semester. First, we did what we could as a campus community – reaching out regularly, providing laptops to students, connecting them with resources in the community (free internet service, for example) – to make sure students had what they needed to learn. Fortunately, UW-Parkside also received significant financial support to provide emergency aid to students. In addition to student aid funding through the federal CARES Act, this spring 78 UW-Parkside students received $80,000 in emergency awards thanks to donors to the UW-Parkside Foundation’s Future Focus Fund. Most students requested the emergency aid to pay for their spring tuition and for necessary expenses like rent, groceries, and car insurance.
“Because of the restrictions on the CARES Act dollars and the sheer level of need students were facing this spring, Future Focus awards were crucial,” says Kristina Klemens, director of scholarships and financial aid. “For some students, this aid was the difference between dropping out or staying enrolled, or even graduating or not graduating this spring.”
As we move beyond the pandemic, students will continue to face financial challenges, making need-based scholarships and aid through the Future Focus Fund more important than ever. Thank you to the alumni and other supporters who helped UW-Parkside students keep their education on track through their generosity.
A Record Graduating Class and A Virtual Celebration for the Class of 2020
The spring 2020 Commencement ceremony was supposed to resemble other spring celebrations. The Alfred and Bernice De Simone Gymnasium would be packed to the rafters with family, friends, and well-wishers cheering as their special graduate crossed the stage and received a diploma.
COVID-19 changed all of that.
Instead, a record class of just over 500 students, including more than 55 master’s degree candidates, watched messages from UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford, Provost Rob Ducoffe, UW Regent Emeritus Torrey Tiedeman, and Chancellor’s Award Recipient Zachary Atkins (Racine) online. The virtual commencement website included messages of congratulations from state and regional elected officials and community leaders, including U.S. senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, Representative Bryan Steil, Governor Tony Evers, and Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes.
"Dear Class of 2020" Alumni Messages
Alumni welcomed the Class of 2020 to the Ranger Alumni ranks with their own special messages – thank you to alumni for sharing your best wishes with our graduates.
Examples of notes sent to class of 2020 by alumni:
“Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” I graduated in 2009 with unemployment over 10%. I applied to tons of companies and had little to no success landing interviews or getting companies to respond. Eventually, I found a home, and a decade later I’m still here. Your home is out there. Pig-headed discipline and relentless optimism will help you find it. Stay hungry.
Alex Kusters '09
Congratulations to our 2020 UW-Parkside Graduating class and welcome to the Alumni! I send my personal congratulations and welcome to my son Hayden Fettes into the UW-Parkside Alumni group - two generations of MIS Graduates! I am so proud of you!
Sheri Kobriger '99
Proud mom & Alumni since 1999
Congratulations to UW-PARKSIDE’s class of 2020!! You are awesome, resilient and brave!! My class of 1973 was small, and we salute the largest class at this time. Smile and follow your dreams!! You are SPECIAL!!
Joyce Gyurina '73
Congratulations to the Class of 2020 and welcome to the ever growing group of alumni! Your graduation is certainly likely to be one you will never forget. You worked hard, persevered, and now this part of your journey is complete. Best wishes to you as you venture into a new chapter of your life.
Jim Kramer '79 and '90
Foundation Board Trustee
UW-Parkside Archives – COVID-19 Documentation Project
In early May, the UW-Parkside Archives announced the launch of a project to document the experiences of Parkside students, staff, and faculty during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this project, staff are collecting photographs, videos, audio recordings, digital art, and other digital documentation detailing how the Parkside community has been affected. The UW-Parkside Archives staff are interested in hearing stories about the shift to remote instruction and learning, studying and working from home, working at on-campus and off-campus jobs, the impact of closing residence halls and other campus services, the ways people are staying in touch during this period of social distancing and self-quarantine, the emotional impact of the pandemic. Any and all contributions will help future researchers understand this challenging time in history.
People are free to and encouraged to submit as many times as they would like. All contributors must be 18 years old or older. The UW-Parkside Archives will only be able to accept materials submitted by the person who created them. Only one file is allowed per submission. If you would like to submit a series of photos, please contact the UW-Parkside Archives at email@example.com.