Khamilah Nixon, 19, began her first year of undergraduate studies at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) in the fall of 2020 amid the pandemic. Navigating a virtual campus and her online computer programming classes initially baffled her after the familiarity of high school.
“It was hard not to interact face-to-face with the professors or get the support of other students without a real classroom,” Nixon said. “But to overcome that, I found this application that GGC configured.”
One day in his freshman year, Nixon struggled with the internet and missed the start of his online arithmetic class. Still, GGC students could connect to CircleIn, an app where students built virtual peer-to-peer study spaces. Nixon’s classmate posted lecture notes there, so once her wifi was up and running, she caught up.
Soon, the tutoring tool helped her form a support network even without a physical campus.
“I helped a classmate of mine in a programming class,” Nixon said of CircleIn as a connector. “We went back and forth through the chat app to figure out what was wrong with its code. It was very important to work together like this.
GGC’s partnership with CircleIn to support students like Nixon was born after months of the College collecting data on student study habits. In January 2020, Dr. Michelle Rosemond joined GGC as Vice President for Student Engagement and Success. When COVID-19 hit roughly two months into his role, Rosemond and his team worked with GGC president Dr. Jann L. Joseph to use the data to keep students in school.
“The key was to measure students, qualitatively and quantitatively, at all stages of the pandemic,” Rosemond said. “We had to understand, quantify and compare their experiences inside and outside the classroom. “
GGC opened in 2006 in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and today has over 12,000 undergraduate students. Its student body is hailed as one of the most racially and ethnically diverse in the southern region. This diversity has made understanding the needs of students even more important in a difficult time, Rosemond noted. No student had the same learning environment.
“They told us about the challenges of finance and technology, or the lack of them,” Rosemond said of the results of a student survey she assembled with the research and institutional analysis department. from GGC as part of an emergency data collection plan last spring. “We were figuring out how to work with the campus bookstore to get laptops for the students. How to facilitate course registration. They kept us pretty busy.
Rosemond and Joseph sought to “anticipate” the needs of the students rather than react to them. “The best way to solve a problem is to prevent a problem,” Joseph said.
“A third told us they thought they might have a successful semester,” Rosemond said of the survey. “Then we asked ourselves: how do you move the needle three-thirds? Take tutoring for students. Let’s give advice to the students. ”
For example, they found that students did most of their online lessons from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
“But the teachers are not ready to answer questions at this time,” Joseph said. “Yet if this is the peak time when students are working, we need to advise them in this online environment. This led us to think about flexible working environments with our advisers in contact with the students at 7 or 8 in the evening.
Joseph noted that the staff should also protect their time and not run out. While GGC has sought to teach students about self-care, modeling with their own staff has become part of this process. So she and Rosemond found another way to support the night owl students.
“If you can’t meet them there, then who can you ask who can?” Joseph said. “We then worked with the students’ peers.
GGC has partnered with a collective of mentors to engage with students in the virtual world of CircleIn, where students can also create flashcards together. Rosemond and Joseph plan to continue the peer support programs over the next academic year.
The IRA department will also perform weekly checks on the students. And there will be a faculty task force to examine the lingering effects of the pandemic on students and staff to find real-time solutions.
“We are stepping up our mental health and wellness initiatives,” said Rosemond. “We want to normalize health-seeking behaviors. We know some students are still in distress, so we want to get ahead this year. “
For Joseph, the past year of trying to keep the students in school was a team effort that will continue with ever greater flexibility.
“We are very proud of our institution, but above all proud of the people who make our institution,” said Joseph. “We are only here because of our students.
Nixon said she looks forward to taking her first class on campus this semester with the community she has already found.
“It’s always good to reach out to at least one person to give you the support you need,” Nixon said. “I have found that your teachers are ready to help you. They want you to be successful. And just knowing that it really helps you not want to drop out of class. “
Rebecca Kelliher can be contacted at [email protected]