Allegheny Faculty Members Take Initiative for Positive Student Outreach
From offering advice on social media to holding “online office hours” to assembling a reading list to educate and inform, Allegheny College faculty members are working to help students grapple with the COVID-19 crisis and the shift to off-campus, remote learning.
Allegheny students currently are on their spring break but will start remote classes March 25 for the remainder of the semester.
Matthew Venesky, assistant professor of biology and an infectious disease ecologist, is one of the faculty members offering online guidance for Allegheny’s students. He has invited students to a Twitter dialogue for those who want more information about social distancing or basic concepts related to disease transmission.
“I’m hopeful that with this being the new normal, that there are conversations between students and their families and between students and their professors about the basics of disease transmission,” said Venesky. “I would encourage students to reach out to faculty with their questions and concerns. We are all in this together.”
Venesky said he is conducting a senior project group meeting with eight seniors via Google Meet this week. “We’re looking to just stay in touch with one another and say ‘Hi’ and talk about things. I pitched the idea and all eight emailed back within minutes wanting to do it,” he said.
Eric Pallant, chair of the Environmental Science and Sustainability Department, has this to share with his students:
“If there is a central theme for the Department of Environmental Science & Sustainability, it is that we work to solve real-world problems in our classes and make the world a better place outside of them. Our ability to be flexible and creative distinguishes Allegheny ESS majors from their counterparts at any other college or university.
“So here we go. The world as we know it is changing. … We’ll figure it out. Together. That’s what we do. It’s time to apply your flexibility and creativity.
“Frankly, I couldn’t ask for a better family of faculty, staff, and students with whom to get through this and come out the other side the better for it. Stay connected to your friends, classmates, and instructors while you are away. Ask questions as you have them, and we will all do our best to find answers.”
Added Pallant: “Every professor in my department has said over and over they will do whatever it takes to deliver the best education possible to their students. Not one of them has complained. … That includes professors teaching labs in forests and streams and professors teaching Geographic Information Systems to students who will no longer have access to the software only available in our GIS computer lab. They are all figuring out a way to make it happen. I suspect that is true among faculty across campus. What an amazing group of colleagues.”
Emily Chivers Yochim, associate professor of communication arts and theatre, said she has assured her senior advisees that their Allegheny careers will be celebrated when everyone can get together again. “I’ve been supporting my students in the best way that I know how — reaching out to them to let them know that I am thinking of them and that we are all watching out for their best interests,” Yochim said. “I’ve texted and talked by phone with a few, including alumni, who are feeling at sea. And I’ve emailed my advisees to let them know that I am available for video chat, texts, or phone calls at any time.
“I’m seeing Allegheny at its best — caring for our students,” Yochim added. “Even when I was a student (Class of 2000) I could see that Allegheny is a very caring community that’s always looking out for students, and I’m seeing that shine through now.”
Becky Dawson, assistant professor of global health studies and biology, has kept up an exhausting schedule of media appearances in the Erie area and serving on panel discussions about the coronavirus. She is an expert in epidemiology and global health challenges, researching disease risk factors and patterns of disease in human populations. She also has found the time to correspond with students about the outbreak.
Ken Pinnow, professor of history and global health studies, is compiling a reading list that he is sharing with the Allegheny community. “I have compiled a short list of readings about past epidemics as a way to promote wider thinking about our responses to COVID-19,” Pinnow said. “History can be a powerful way to not only contextualize the present but to reflect on ourselves. The readings cover a number of topics germane to the challenges that we’re facing at the moment.”
Amelia Finaret, assistant professor of global health studies, is writing poetry and at some point will share with her students. “Otherwise, I am just trying to email them a lot and stay positive,” Finaret says.
She shared the draft of her poem. It begins:
There is no school for a while, starting this week,
In the hope that this pandemic doesn’t get too bleak.
Especially for our elderly friends,
Working together so that lives don’t end.
We will walk, play, and read at home,
And remember we are lucky to not be alone.
Tag-team childcare, no dates with friends to play,
We will also bake a lot, so our fears don’t stay.
For everyone, everywhere, keeping a routine,
May be key to a bearable quarantine.
We will take a family picture every day
To remember this time in a historic way.