Today, as a college professor, I find myself worried about my students. They have many things to be concerned about given the shelter-in-place orders that we now face nationwide.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, I sit in my living room with my dogs next to me. They have become my supervisors during this time of staying at home. They are easy to work for as long as I keep the dog treats in plentiful supply; they have it much easier than my students. The following are some of my thoughts for students facing uncertain times.
100 Percent Online Learning
First, there's the adjustment to a 100 percent online learning format. While Gen Z (current college students are Gen Z, not millennials—how time flies!) is known for technological prowess, they weren't necessarily groomed to deal with professors who have no technological skills. My colleagues and I are stumbling over the online learning system, trying to figure out the best way to deliver our courses. The professors who have taught online classes before are at a distinct advantage over those who have not. One of my colleagues spent hours programming an exam into the online learning system. When the students opened the exam, it simply showed them all the correct answers. Score: Technology—1, Professor—0.
Also, some students need the discipline of going to class every day to stay abreast of what's happening. I am drafting this article on April 1, 2020. I have two students who have not logged onto the online learning system since March 4. They are racking up zeros for all kinds of assignments, and I am not sure what to do to motivate them. I guess not everyone was meant to work independently without supervision?
To any students reading this—it's time to show your very best, not your very bare minimum! Remember, what you do online is now all we have to grade you on. Sure, you completed half the semester before spring break, but there's still this second half, and we can only grade what you actually do during it. Poor performance, even under these dire circumstances, will not only impact grades (yes, we still have to issue those), but it will also impact the references your professors give for you when employers call.
I feel horrible about the lack of celebration for the May graduates. They have already been told there will be no ceremony. Maybe there'll be one they can come back for later, but for now, there's no ceremony. How must it feel to work so hard for 4 years (sometimes 5 or 6, depending on the student) only to find out there will be no chance to walk across the stage and make your parents and family proud?
Even if they get to come back for a ceremony, it will not be the same, and we all know that. I missed my doctoral graduation ceremony in the summer of 1992 by 4 weeks (4 WEEKS!). At that time, there was only one ceremony a year at my university, so I did not get to be officially recognized until June 1993. I didn't go because I knew it wouldn't be the same. But, at least I had a ceremony to go to, no matter how late it was.
It hurt my feelings a lot over missing that ceremony, but I eventually got over it. (Besides, my parents threw me one heck of a party in July that made me forget all about that silly formal ceremony.) But at the time, it was devastating to miss; I cried ugly tears over that missed graduation. I cannot imagine what kind of tears may be flowing right now for the Class of 2020.
Students graduating in May will simply get a diploma in the mail weeks later. No fanfare, no party, and no ceremony. Can you imagine finishing college and having no ceremony and no party? What a disappointment for these students and for their families. I know how proud I was when my son finished college; I cannot imagine how upset I would be if his ceremony were canceled for any reason.
And then, there's the job search. My students were anxiously applying to all types of employers early this semester. They were sending out résumés, going to career fairs, networking, and doing all the things they had been taught to do to find a job or summer internship. They had my colleagues and me writing letters of recommendation. The planets were about to perfectly align for the dream job and then … BLAM! Coronavirus. Social distancing. Shelter-in-place. Curve-flattening. All kinds of new buzzwords no one knew 4 months ago.
Employers are no longer coming to campus to conduct interviews since the students have all been sent home. Career fairs and employer visitation days are over. I had several guest speakers lined up for my classes, speakers whose companies may have been hiring, but I'll never know because I had to cancel them all.
I asked my students to keep me updated on their job searches. A lot of them were already hired before Coronapocolypse started, which is good. Some indicate they are still getting interviews, and one of them even asked me about an offer he had received in mid-March. So, it sounds like hiring is still happening, and that's encouraging news.
Many juniors and sophomores had secured great summer internships when the shelter-in-place orders started coming down from above. Now they must wait and see if their internship programs are even going to be held. It's hard, after all, to utilize an untrained intern via the Internet, and if our lockdown in the United States lasts longer than we've been told it will (and I think that's a real possibility), many of these really great internship programs may be canceled entirely.
I spoke with an employer today who was looking to hire a summer intern. She is frozen in her tracks right now thanks to COVID 19. She knows who she wants to hire for this internship but doesn't know when the office can reopen to train the intern. Meanwhile, she is left hanging. Sadly, so is the student.
So, for those who are hired, the next question is, "When do I start work?" And that's a darned good question because in the last week the projections on this have gone from Easter to May 1. Will we really all go back to work on May 1? Or will it be June 1? Or could it be even later? It's hard to know. Employers have to plan for the uncertain, as do the students, and we are certainly in uncertain and uncharted waters here.
In any case, college students looking for summer internships or full-time employment for after graduation should not give up! Keep doing exactly what you were doing before—scour the employer websites, apply for everything you're qualified for, and FOLLOW UP with everyone! You don't want to be pushy, but you do want to make sure your name stays in front of every recruiter's mind. So, if you haven't heard anything in 2 weeks, I'd certainly follow up with an "I was just checking in to see if you need anything additional from me" type email. Great jobs are not usually presented to you on a silver platter—they require a lot of work to find, and that work continues even if you are not attending classes regularly!
One of the most beautiful and nearly perfect things about our industry is that it is danged near recession-proof. No one knows what's about to happen in our economy, and these are thus frightening times. We have the luxury of being in an industry that had very few layoffs and job casualties in the 2008 meltdown (few as compared to other industries), and we need to appreciate that. If you're hiring, this is the time to tell our story to those you are recruiting. Remind them that it's a strong signal of health to hire someone new, and especially so in such an uncertain period in history.
To those in the job market right now, I say, "Be politely persistent" in your efforts. Do not overwhelm recruiters with desperate emails every week asking about the status of the job, but do check in with them once in a while to make sure they remember you. If you're still being considered, that's good to know, but keep your options open and do not stop looking! Here's why: I've seen several students put all their eggs in one basket before, just sure that ABC Company was going to hire them. And then, when ABC finally lowered the boom and rejected them, they were left with no job prospects. Don't let that happen to you!
Best of luck to everyone during this wild and mind-boggling time!
Write to me at [email protected]. I'd love to hear what you are experiencing and what you think!
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