As COVID-19 gripped our nation and our College, administrators, faculty, and students rallied. We all had to move quickly and make major changes to ensure students could continue their degrees remotely. This was no simple task. The quarantine came down in the middle of the spring 2020 term and the COVID numbers remained a major concern. As protocols were put into place on all five campuses, those who continued to work on campus could be seen walking with masks on. Signs gave us direction in which way to walk and showed us how far apart to remain from one another. Mostly, our campuses were empty. Eerily quiet as the normal buzz of students laughing and talking was missing. The bridge at West Campus where students often stand to look at the turtles in the water, empty. It has become our new normal. Yet, we as a College persevered. Exhibiting a resiliency that has proven we will get through this and our students will continue to have access to their courses and the resources they need for academic success even in the middle of one of the most challenging times in modern history.
College President Timothy Beard, Ph.D., says even with the challenges, we have risen to the occasion and ensured the safety of students and staff above all else. “In spite of the many challenges brought on by COVID-19, the opportunity for PHSC to continue to help produce an educated workforce in Pasco and Hernando county has never been greater. PHSC has indeed risen to the challenge and activated its online learning platform where 90% of the College’s courses are taught remotely. PHSC has mobilized its faculty, staff, and students in an extraordinary way to thrive in a season that has introduced to the world a new, but unknown normal.”
Remote learning had to happen quickly and with that, students and faculty gained a new classroom—their own homes. Kevin O’Farrell, Ph.D., Provost, Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch, has been at the helm of the switch to remote and hybrid courses and echoes that feeling of resilience. “During the global pandemic, we were able to harness the talent and skill of our faculty, e-learning, and student affairs staff to pivot to a primarily virtual learning and student service delivery modality. This was not a simple process, but required an engaged college community that was committed to student success.”
For students like Bonnie Rogers who is working on her AA, it has been a challenging change but one she is adapting to. “I am a visual learner and I do thrive in the in-person environment and I miss that whole on-campus experience. This College is great at ensuring students become friends; and supportive ones.” While Bonnie acknowledges some initial anxiety, she says she is working to stay motivated while doing her coursework from home. “Trying to stay motivated while working from home has been a challenge, but I changed my environment to make it more effective for me.”
Eddie Williams, Ed.D., Program Director and Associate Professor, Social and Human Services, is currently teaching an online practicum for his psychology students. He has noticed an improvement in attendance and class involvement. “It has been easier to connect to students as there are no barriers, no transportation issues. It’s an internship class. That was a barrier before. It has been a better experience for my class.”
Williams says removing the barrier of transportation has been a blessing even in the middle of such challenging times and the College is still working to ensure solid student engagement across the board. “The Zoom sessions allow students to connect in any way. As a college, safety comes first and PHSC has handled it very well compared to other colleges. We have been working well with our governor and looking at other universities and how they are doing things. Also, we are still connecting with our students well virtually, such as student life events. Students are getting laptops, food, and other resources they need.”
Paul Semanco is graduating with his AS in Human Services in May. For him, the transition has been much easier than he expected; even improving his work-college life balance.
“The shift has gone very smooth for me because I have already taken online classes,” said Semanco. I prefer it a lot better than in-person because it saves on gas and time. I know a lot of people are hands-on and prefer face to face, but the way you can adapt is to make sure you get into a class with a Zoom feature because you can see everybody. It’s like still being in the classroom and you can engage with other students in real-time. Even though it’s online, you can still have breakout zooms if necessary to work on projects with other students.” Semanco is excited about the future and despite the switch to remote learning, says he is still committed to not only completing his degree but putting it to use.
While COVID-19 has offered challenges, it has also been a gift in some ways. It has shown just how quickly people can adapt to change with proper support. O’Farrell says that fortitude has been inspiring. “Because of that high level of commitment, we have witnessed the successful transformation of our learning environment. Students can continue to push forward in their programs of study while experiencing a supportive and engaging virtual classroom experience.”
These changes are the result of a collaborative team effort with the primary goal of supporting students and helping them achieve their academic goals. Even in the midst of pandemic, Pasco-Hernando State College is ensuring the safety of students and staff while continuing to offer the resources they need to succeed. In the end, what we will learn from this will carry on and enhance the strength of our institution.