The COVID-19 pandemic has altered countless aspects of college life at the Capstone since March, including classroom instruction and support from renowned faculty. But in the face of adversity, UA faculty embraced the challenge and evolved to create innovative means to instruct and connect with students.
Creating meaningful connections with faculty and peers is vital for students in their first year of college. Despite the disruptions of coronavirus, many faculty members found ways to start and nurture these relationships.
Lawrence Jackson, associate chair and associate professor of dance, started Freshmen Fridays in an effort to connect dance faculty with freshmen students.
“Due to the limitations of social interaction, I felt it was important to connect with our freshmen who are new to our program and the university who struggle to navigate making the transition to college amidst a global pandemic,” said Jackson. “I was deeply concerned that they would feel isolated thus causing them to feel excluded from the program.
“The dance program has always maintained a familial environment and I wanted to extend that sense of family to the newest members of our program.”
Each Friday, a different faculty member leads a small group of freshmen dance students in various styles of dance, including jazz, contemporary and ballet.
“This initiative has been overwhelmingly successful,” said Jackson. “We have routinely had an immense amount of freshmen participate. The freshmen have also shared numerous emails where they have expressed gratitude for this initiative and are grateful for our efforts to make their transition warmer and more welcoming.”
Establishing and building strong connections is no stranger to Dr. Casey Totenhagen, associate professor in the department of human development and family studies. In fact, she teaches a course on interpersonal relationships.
“The class examines the dynamics of interpersonal interaction related to the development and maintenance of relationships,” said Totenhagen. “It covers the fundamentals of interpersonal relationships, such as effective and healthy communication; hallmarks of quality in different types of relationships; and related topics.”
As the pandemic shifted many UA courses to a hybrid model, Totenhagen had to drastically pivot her approach to teaching as in-person interactions would be severely limited.
Instead of having a brief lecture followed by small group activities like in a normal year, Totenhagen prerecorded all of her lectures and asked students to watch them before coming to class so all of the time she and the students had together in-person could be dedicated to applied activities and interactive discussions.
“This change in approach has been very positive,” said Totenhagen. “I did an anonymous midsemester evaluation and most students that participated indicated they liked the class format and in-class activities.”
Totenhagen said she’s charged her students to take what they learn in her course and apply it to their everyday lives.
“I always encourage them to be thinking about how they would apply what we are learning about the science of relationships in their future careers,” said Totenhagen. “But if that isn’t their path, think about how they could apply what we are learning in their own relationships.”
While time in the classroom is important for all faculty and students, some must complete a required number of hours in order to advance in their program or achieve certification.
This was an obstacle facing Dr. Karly Downs, assistant professor and clinical director of the Capstone Family Therapy Clinic, and her students in the marriage and family therapy graduate program as the ability for students to work in the clinic to gain the 500 direct client contact hours needed for licensure after graduation was no longer a possibility due to health guidelines.
To continue to provide her students with opportunities to meet with clients and gain hours, Downs turned to telehealth, a popular method of providing health care via videoconference or telephone.
“Telehealth has been around prior to the pandemic, but due to the need in this time, we have found it to be a great option for several of our clients,” said Downs. “Particularly those who can’t get to our clinic, have complex contextual struggles or who are sick but still want to meet with their therapist.”
According to Downs, the students were amazing in their flexibility and willingness to serve their clients. Graduate students in the program provide treatment to patients with a variety of mental health and relational struggles.
Downs believes this unforeseen experience utilizing telehealth will serve her students for years to come.
“Teletherapy is a skill more important to learn now more than ever,” said Downs. “Once the pandemic is under control, I believe all mental health clinics will continue to utilize this form of treatment to provide widespread services to clients who could not otherwise reach the mental health help that they need.
“By the students having this experience, they will be even more prepared for their careers in private practice, agency work or whatever path they choose.”
These are just a few examples showcasing how UA faculty have risen to the occasion in providing strong instruction and support during this challenging time and will continue to be innovative for the foreseeable future in the face of this global pandemic.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.