Rebuild a sense of community and solidarity with professors and students

Opera singer


In November 2019, I was fortunate enough to take about 20 of our physics students to Physics Congress (PhysCon) in Providence, Rhode Island. The lecture was a hoot, and I have lots of fond memories, including a late-night chat in the hotel lobby with several of my students. They eagerly told me everything they learned during the day. Their ideas came out so quickly that it was hard to make sense of it all. Career paths were changed on the spot and you could feel the excitement in the air.

Fall 2019 – doesn’t that seem like a hundred years ago?

Being together as a community was the main idea for us back then: working in a small university department where you know everyone, conducting research in a lab throughout your freshman year, and attending academic events. amazing where you can speak with your career choice department manager. This is what I signed up for when I decided to work at a mostly undergraduate institution, and this is the reason why a lot of my students are at Adelphi University. This creates a real opportunity for them to grow in their careers and not get lost in giant amphitheatres with hundreds of students. The word students use to describe our department: community.

Then COVID-19 happened. Some of our in-person activities have been canceled altogether and others have been moved online. Online club meetings, virtual conferences, and online awards celebrations were good, but they lacked the real “ah-ha moments” to chat with your peers and mentors; they missed the moments before and after the meetings where people checked in and shared a laugh. In short, they lacked solidarity.

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Seven practices for creating a community and virtual belonging for students, gave us a glimpse of how we might solve some of these issues in a virtual environment. Everywhere, small departments have tried to adapt as quickly as possible to the COVID crisis; However, some are at a disadvantage because most of the infrastructure is designed to foster community with an in-person, not a virtual, environment. Many colleges and universities are under financial pressure and looking for places to cut back, and small university departments are under pressure. Before COVID, these small and medium-sized departments sold “the unit” to their future majors. But these small departments have suddenly – and hopefully temporarily – lost their main selling point of community and unity.

Usability is still a wonderful goal for many university departments, and students can benefit greatly by focusing on it – we just need to get around COVID.

Here are some suggestions for increasing ministerial solidarity in these difficult times:

• Plan picnics for your students and colleagues. These can be safely kept outside. Don’t be too complicated. Host the event, get yourself some food, cook some Frisbees, then step back and let your guests have fun. I also particularly like campfires.
• Find professional reasons for organizing outdoor events. (Tonight we’re doing our astronomy night and we’ll see Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn.)
• Something I learned from a former mentor: take your lunch break and eat with your students. Have a rule that if it is not raining you will have lunch in the quad and students are welcome.
• Give students plenty of opportunities to work together by organizing group study sessions, assigning group projects, and even encouraging students to work together for parts of exams. Continue to shuffle the groups so that the students get to know everyone in the class.
• Get students to share their talents and hidden interests, and be sure to celebrate when you find out that one of your students is, say, a brilliant opera singer. One task I use is to have students teach a class and be creative about it. I ask them to present their song / rap, dance or artwork by turning them into physics class they are proud of.
• Bringing pizza to an event is commonly known as the gold standard for getting students to attend your events. However, the idea of ​​college students fighting over a slice of pizza in the COVID age is a bit scary; However, these kinds of events are always possible, you just need to get creative. Recently, I bought sandwiches for a departmental picnic. I asked the deli to individually wrap each sandwich. In fact, all of the food we purchased for the event was individually wrapped, and since the event was outside, attendees felt comfortable eating.

One of the things I struggled with this fall semester was staying patient and flexible. Whenever we were planning an event, there was always a risk that the event would be canceled or postponed for reasons beyond our control. In the middle of the semester, I caught a normal cold, and as part of college protocol, I had to stay off campus even after I started to feel better. For this reason, I had to postpone a number of events. It was difficult to stay positive, but I found everyone to be patient and very flexible with all of the sudden changes. In the end, I thought it was better to at least try to deal with the setbacks than not to try at all.

The process is slower than normal. Events that we would have done in the past without further thinking now require multiple bureaucratic hurdles, but we need to start coming together and connecting. Students and faculty are hungry for friendliness – COVID makes it harder – but it’s something we need more than ever.

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