As college advisers, being physically present in our service sites has been critical to fulfill our advising duties. Face–to–face interactions are often required when meeting our students’ needs, as it allows us to best communicate our hopes and beliefs in their futures. We establish trust and grow our relationships in unique ways and continue one-on-one engagement throughout the year.
Our transition from in-person to virtual advising began as a slow process. At the time, we could not comprehend the extent to which COVID-19 would impact our service in our schools. We were still meeting with our students in our offices, staying after school for FAFSA assistance, and solidifying field trip plans for the Spring. After the buzz began, we began to receive more and more messages and news notifications about the potential impact. Things seem to be moving quickly. We first began preparing by acquiring student contact info. On a Friday we were told we would be pulling out of schools and on the following Monday, we were told that all school across the state would be closing.
As a cohort, advisers have been in regular communication with one another throughout the year. We support each other across the state by texting each other pieces of advice, emailing ideas and by sharing templates for flyers and forms. No need to reinvent when the genius of another is realized. We rely on one another for solutions and encourage collaborative teamwork despite serving in locations that are miles apart. Once the news that our schools would be closing, our group chat began to fill with screenshots and messages in response to the news. Worries and concerns began to flood not only our workspace, but our personal lives as we hoped to find quick solutions to problems without clear answers.
Disappointment started settling in. Our thoughts immediately turned to our future celebrations to support student achievements such as Decision Day, prom, award ceremonies and graduation. Though we were worried about these milestones for our students, following CDC recommendations in order to maintain the public’s health became increasingly important. As first-year advisers, we were experiencing several “firsts” in our role – though we never imagined one of these firsts would be an international pandemic. Our plans began to shift, while prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of our students, our fellow advisers and the communities that we serve.
It was alarming to experience how fast changes were happening not only in a matter of days, but from one hour to the next. We had to adapt quickly and ensure a flexible attitude. In doing this, we truly realized the importance of our network of advisers. While sharing thoughts and frustrations, the group chat of 58 advisers offered comfort, words of encouragement, and positive energy. Each week, most advisers schedule time to video conference in small groups to share strategies and updates. These meetings also provided a sense of companionship and support in an otherwise time of social confinement. The transition to fulfill our roles online was not something any of us could have ever predicted, so building stronger connections with those who are experiencing the same circumstances gives and gave us the motivation to keep pushing while advocating for our students’ needs during this time of uncertainty.
Through the near-peer model, we build strong relationships with students. Because of this, it is important to remember that not only do our students look to us for guidance about their post-graduation plans but also as mentors in which they can relate to and go to for comfort and information. Many of us just graduated, so the feelings of pride, anxiety, and accomplishment are still vivid. Too, the circumstances and emotions our students’ experience are often much like those we experience ourselves.
The pandemic has not changed the way we have committed to the adviser role and our students; however, it has strengthened relationships within our cohort and our schools. The physical distancing has created a social connection that has allowed and required us to engage and check in with each other’s emotional and mental well-being in a way that is purposeful, creative, and unique. It is amazing how connected we are and how much we care about each other and each other’s circumstances.