The Faculty of Arts & Science Academic Advising team's dedication to students has always been apparent, as demonstrated by their commitment to the wellbeing of students. Never before has this commitment been tested as it has now during this time of social distancing. With the closing of campus, they had to act quickly to transition to remote delivery to ensure services to students did not come to a standstill during this stressful time.
As the advisors put it, "It's hard for all of us. All we can do is what the U of L does best, support one another in any way possible. We understand how difficult this transition has been and how concerned our students are about the impact of COVID-19 on their academic lives. We always keep their best interests in mind and are confident that we can continue to provide exceptional service despite these unprecedented circumstances."
This was a tremendous change for the advisors that came with considerable challenges, primarily due to the complexities involved with their work as well as setting up technology to work remotely. The advisors are often working with complex program information and a high volume of students, so they rely heavily on each other in their day-to-day work, and they are used to communicating about student programs, policies, and curriculum issues multiple times a day. This is made more difficult by the distance that now separates them. Given this, and to ensure no disruption in service, the very first thing they did was set up Microsoft Teams so that they could fire messages to each other very quickly.
They shifted to email only appointments, quickly communicating this change to students by updating their voicemail message and their website, and via a series of posts to social media. As I'm sure you will understand, they were immediately inundated by hundreds of emails from concerned students. Information was changing rapidly and daily, and during this challenging time, students needed guidance that only advisors could provide. The advisors were overwhelmed at first with the number of emails coming to them, and it has taken time and diligent work to begin to make a dent. They are prioritizing student concerns and answering queries as quickly as they can.
When asked about how this new normal has impacted the team, student program advisor, Carla Buziak states, "In terms of our transition from work to home – we are a strong team – our personalities are very different, but we really work well together and appreciate each other's strengths. We are also 'people-people,' so being away from each other and the students has been a challenge. And most notably, everyone has expressed how much they miss each other and meeting face-to-face with our advisees."
Students are experiencing heightened anxiety right now, but despite that, they have been gracious when dealing with the advisors. Across the board, students have expressed their appreciation for their efforts, which is really heartwarming. Some have even been poetic in expressing their thoughts – "youdabomb.com" was part of one "thank you" email. They have been, almost without exception, extremely patient and understanding with the advisors as they move through their email backlogs and try to provide timely information to them about the current semester, the summer term, and the fall. Students have also been wonderfully resilient in considering how to approach what to do with their courses in the current semester and, in some cases, deciding to look at "better, safer options [rather than] falling apart trying to complete it all."
The advisors are all of one mind when it comes to trying to calm students' fears about this unprecedented situation. Every U of L employee – faculty, staff, and administrator – is doing whatever is within their capabilities to help students move forward from the difficulties presented to us all. They will, of course, continue to provide services to students via email for as long as they are required to remain at home. They will also strive to (some dramatically so) to improve their skills in the use of technology!
The biggest takeaway from all of this from the advising team is that they truly miss their students and really look forward to SEEING them again!