The Online Edition

Wilkes Voices of the Pandemic

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Holly Frederick ’92 MS ’93 is an associate professor of environmental engineering.

This is a very unusual time. There are not many pandemics that we face and certainly not that many that turn our work upside-down as this one has. The situation has provided me with a chance to experience both good and bad elements. I certainly do not want to stay at home forever, but if we can appreciate some positive changes, that may be a benefit. 

Some of the good elements I hope everyone has experienced include the opportunity to bring families closer together…. I did find this to be a very valuable experience. We did less commuting to school and sporting events. As much as I do enjoy supporting the events, the time with family rather than commuting was a benefit. This additional time also allowed some more work to be done around the house, which helps make the experience better. We can’t spend all day at the computer!

Technology does allow us to be productive academically during this time, but I hope we all appreciate the downside of too much reliance on the computer. I have found myself using my phone more for conversation as opposed to Zoom or email. I think that conversation with our colleagues and our students is what we miss most. We can ‘get by’ with Zoom but it is not the same as a regular conversation with time for updates on what is going on in our lives and the decisions being made about jobs and just the observations about everyday life. 

The most challenging part of this ‘stay at home’ order is the removal from social events and personal interactions. We miss a lot of regular life events that we look forward to: my daughter’s high school graduation, prom, senior events, my son’s wedding, –our (Wilkes) graduation, senior projects presentations, Order of the Engineer banquet. We can tell ourselves that we are staying healthy and keeping others healthy and this will be the benefit, but you really can’t get that time back. That is why it is important to appreciate what you can about the time now.

Hope to be back to ‘normal’ soon. That is, if there is a normal. 

Darren Martinez is a junior English major from Hanover Township, Pa.

The strangest thing is how much I thought I hated school. Setting alarms, warming up the car in the morning, pushing my body to stay awake for 8 a.m. news writing classes. I didn’t enjoy any of this, but I think I miss it. 

The liminal space that is my room is a different kind of pain. Time has ceased to have meaning. I sleep when the birds begin to sing and wake as their babies cry for dinner. My classes and deadlines feel so distant and trivial. I sit at my laptop and attempt to work as the hours melt into nothing. Texting people is exhausting, but I feel like I’d sacrifice the world just to hug someone. 

I still work, so it feels like a matter of time before a customer or coworker infects me. And I become culpable to potentially killing someone. I have a hard time telling if my fears are founded because I’m the only one at work that wears a mask. Kids come into the pizza shop in groups, trying to pay separately. The quarantine has given them a fun chance to hang out. Rioters protest in Harrisburg so more innocent lives can be lost for the sake of economy. Because they miss their haircuts or eating out. And sure, I miss those things (actually if you’ve seen what I look like you know I don’t get haircuts). But a virus doesn’t believe in God. It’s not living. It doesn’t care. Human bodies, capable of so much, become the medium by which death spreads. And frankly, I’m scared! The stupidest people to ever run this country are on TV every day telling us how good things are as innocent people die. Americans are expected to either live on a pittance of $2,000 or put themselves at risk to earn rent. Health care workers can’t interact with their families for fear of spreading the virus. And we’re still expected to submit our papers and do our quizzes. I get it! There’s no easy alternative. But it’s hard, and I truly hope you understand.

Anu Ghai, faculty of practice, finance, accounting, and management, Sidhu School of Business and Leadership.

First, I have a sense of needless loss. The interactions we faculty have with our students have decreased. While we can celebrate their victories when we know about them, we cannot know about them unless they share, as the smiles or excitement one senses is filtered by the screen.

Second, I am amazed by and immensely grateful for the empathy and caring shown by fellow students as they work hard, and continue to finish assignments, ask questions, and support each other through losing friends and family members.  

Finally, I am amazed and immensely appreciative of associate provost (Jon) Ference and dean (Gretchen) Yeninas along with my colleagues, department heads, and deans for their outreach to me, to our students (particularly Associate Provost Ference and Dean Yeninas) in obtaining hardware, hot spots, computers and whatever else is needed to keep our students connected, despite their individual locations not having the equipment and wifi to connect. Their outreach has truly shown the difference a caring community can make in times of crisis.

Mark Allen is interim vice president of student affairs.

I have enjoyed a long and fulfilling career in higher education, having spent over 30 years of it at Wilkes.  I’ve seen countless student success stories which fuels my motivation and enthusiasm for the work that I do. I’ve collaborated with talented colleagues to develop and implement programs that contributed to the quality of student life at the University. In my capacity as dean of students, I also faced many challenges…. I have worked with individual students through academic and personal crises while, at the same time, working alongside fellow administrators to help the institution through several threatening circumstances which included evacuating the entire campus population twice during major flood threats. Nothing has compared to this most recent challenge…. Unlike those past student and institutional challenges, where I could work face-to-face with members of the community, I am confronted with highly relational situations that need to be nuanced and resolved from afar, through a computer screen.  On a personal level, there is something inherently lost in emails and Zoom meetings that deal with deeply sensitive issues; however, I am so grateful for the technology….For the past several weeks I have been extremely impressed with the ability and resolve of our students, staff, and faculty to move into an online world. Having taught online courses in the past, I am aware of the unique differences for both the teachers and students to share knowledge in this virtual setting. I am also impressed with the level of creativity and involvement of so many at the University to offer programs and activities to keep us all bonded together. The COVID-19 crisis has brought new challenges to my professional world but I face them being surrounded by people who have adapted to the worst of circumstances to preserve our special Wilkes community. There is no doubt that as we come out of this crisis the world will be different – so too will the University.  However, I have to believe, based on my observations and interactions…over the past several weeks, Wilkes will be a stronger institution, better positioned to educate students in this ever-changing 21st Century world.  

Suzanne Murray Galella is associate professor and chair of the Undergraduate Department in the School of Education. She also is coordinator of student teaching.

We miss seeing our students’ faces and our in-person interactions; but, we have learned that online teaching and learning can be personalized and through best pr

actices a “face-to-face” class can be replicated.  Our virtual classroom in Desire 2 Learn allows for whole group instruction to take place while our break out rooms allow for small group instruction and cooperative group work.  Our faculty have continued to be innovative and collaborative in order to provide our students with the best experience possible.

Kimberly Ference PharmD ’03, associate professor, pharmacy practice. She has been teaching from her home where she lives with her husband, Jonathan Ference PharmD ’03, who is Wilkes’ associate provost, and their two children, Jack, 11, and Katie, 8. 

For me the most difficult aspect has been working at home while taking care of my children. Most of the time the kids are good about recognizing we’re working. We’re in meetings or class all day and sometimes they need us.

Another challenge was spotty internet access with everyone using the internet. We had to switch providers to avoid interruption in connectivity. I’ve moved offices three times since this started for ease of connectivity and comfort. We both started off working in the basement but the kids also wanted to use that space making it difficult to work. Next, I moved to the main floor and now I’m upstairs in our spare bedroom.

As a clinical pharmacist, I’ve cared for patients for 16 years. I am proud of the work being done by my pharmacy colleagues on the front lines.  It has been difficult for me to not be helping patients during this challenging time. In order to overcome the feeling of not being ableto help, Jon and I sent close friends and family quarantine packages as well as donated supplies.

Caroline Rickard, senior, communication studies, Orwigsburg, Pa.

Rickard likened the experience of the pandemic to the process of mourning, which happens in stages. 

“I’ve gone through the denial phase, and now I’m at the acceptance phase and the next phase is moving forward… One of the main things that went through my mind, starting from when I heard that campus was closed for the rest of the semester, was that it was hard not to make it personal. Why is this happening during my senior year? I only had two months left and those memories that you’re supposed to make in your last months are gone. This would be the last Spring Fling, the last block party, the last moments I’m going to spend with my friends that I made in college….And to know they were taken away abruptly was personal….Students all over the country who are graduating had those memories taken from them. For a couple of weeks, I was in the denial phase. This isn’t actually happening. I’ve come to accept that this is serious and that Wilkes is acting in students’ best interest. If anything, I think Wilkes has made this difficult transition and this adjustment and has created a new memory. The cohesiveness and the togetherness I’ve felt through the last two weeks from the University through social media, the Web site, just online in general, has been so empowering. This is a fight that you shouldn’t be in alone….And I think Wilkes has done a great job of reminding the community that we’re Colonel and forever Colonel we’ll be. I’ve come to accept it and I’m moving forward because I have this great community at my alma mater, wishing me the best and moving me forward.”

Gretchen Yeninas MA ’07 is associate dean of student affairs. Her husband, Jim, supervises the University mailroom.

Friday the 13th is a scary date if you’re a fan of horror movies. Friday, March 13, 2020, will stay with me for a different reason. It’s the last day of 2020 that seemed kind of “normal.” It’s the last day we had a full office of people in Student Affairs and the last day my son, Ethan, spent with his fifth-grade class. The following Monday, I packed up my laptop, a handful of folders and notebooks and went home.

Ethan and I set up the dining room table, his classroom on one side and my office on the other. He worked on packets until his school moved online, I worked to keep track of our students who were adjusting to a virtual semester and coordinated efforts with administration. That first week my husband, Jim, who also works in the University mailroom, still had to go to work in person. His normal schedule changed the following week.

Ethan popped into most of my Zoom meetings that first week. For him, the novelty of seeing everyone on screen wore off, but I liked seeing other kids (two-legged and four-legged) make appearances during meetings. I quickly noticed the extrovert in me was bored sitting at a computer all day. It made me long for the usual student foot traffic in my office and conversations with colleagues. This online world isn’t for me.

I realized that life still goes on despite this COVID virus. Our students still face big life issues while trying to do schoolwork. Their loved ones have died because of the virus and for reasons other than the virus and they have experienced the stress that comes with suffering. They have lost jobs that help them pay for school—or conversely, they have been scheduled for so many hours (like at a grocery store) it’s impossible to focus on class work. Part of our responsibility in student affairs and our partnering offices is to email, call and text students to ensure they know we’re still available to help them succeed. I’ve been a liaison between students and their faculty to help them finish the semester. 

Just over 100 students, mostly from Panama, have continued to live on campus during this closure. I’m proud to say that my family was able to help keep them safe. My mom and sister sewed fabric masks for everybody in just 24 hours!

Walks have been an escape from the confines of my house. I don’t live far from campus, so Ethan and I often take walks through the eerily empty parking lots, past empty buildings. For those of you who haven’t been on campus since March 13, the daffodils and tulips have bloomed and the grass is like velvet on the Greenway. But the life of campus isn’t present—its people. 

I’ve created a new routine of emails, walks, fifth-grade fractions, Zoom meetings, basketball breaks with Ethan and Zoom yoga. I’ll be happy to keep some parts of this routine, like the delicious new recipes I’ve tried, but I can’t wait to go back to living my life in person instead of virtually. 

Jonathan Kuiken is associate professor of global cultures

The closure of campus and the switch to online learning has been, to put it mildly, a challenge. There was a great deal of work to learn new software, record lectures, make sure that readings and films were accessible, and many other technical hurdles to clear. But in the end, these technological challenges proved the easiest of the difficulties to overcome. Teaching is a deeply personal experience for me, and it is the face-to-face engagement with my students that makes this more of an identity than a job. While we have been able to continue having a rigorous intellectual experience through recorded lectures, online reading discussions and the like, nothing can truly replace the classroom setting where students and professors can feed off of each other’s energy and where an unexpected comment or a question can launch the entire discussion in an unplanned but deeply rewarding direction. These profound moments reveal to me that learning is a deeply collective experience which shapes both the students and the professor. Luckily, I have been able to maintain some of this cooperative spark through digital meetings over Zoom, phone calls and other means of communicating directly with students. But much like a phone call or a digital “face-to-face” chat with a relative who lives a great distance away, these “meetings” only accentuate the richness that is lost by not being able to meet together in person. So, if I am to be honest, I must admit that I deeply miss my students, my colleagues, the staff of the University. The term universitas from which we derive the word “university” was used first in the Middle Ages to describe a body of students and scholars who joined together for mutual aid and support. It is that idea of gathering together in the pursuit of scholarship, learning and growth that technology can never replicate.

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