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Responding and Adapting to a New Normal: An MPA Student’s Perspective

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By The Center for Public Policy at VCU’s Wilder School
March 26, 2020

On March 18th, it was confirmed that Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) would join the general trend of other universities, making all classes transition online for the remainder of the semester. Along with this, the university made the decision to cancel spring graduation along with similar end-of-the-semester events. Aside from essential personnel, staff is expected to work from home. The university grounds, which had previously been filled with students rushing to class or socializing on the main campus, is now a ghost town.

While the decision to promote teleworking and virtual classes was made with the health and wellbeing of the students and faculty in mind, it is difficult to process the changes that are quickly approaching as the semester progresses. For many, classes that relied heavily on in-person participation and passionate discussions are shifting to a reliance on discussion boards and paper assignments. Professors who engaged each student through a careful, deliberate sculpture of the class structure are now frantically rebuilding their lesson plans to be virtually accessible. Our university emails have been flooded with various divisions of the University as they each grapple with the question: How do we address this?

The confusion and panic that resulted from the suddenness of the change can be felt across roles, whether it be students or administration. With class structures being changed, assignment expectations and deadlines are muddled and unclear. Some assignments are even entirely removed, resulting in a difference in weighted percentages of the final grade. In a matter of a single week, our clearly defined expectations and roles that we had created for the semester were unrooted and displaced. In a matter of a single week, it seemed like our semester had been flipped entirely upside down. As a master’s student in the final semester of my MPA program, the overarching feeling that exists can be embodied by a single word: disappointment.

I should clarify: it is in no way a feeling of disappointment in the university’s response in addressing the real and prominent threat of the Coronavirus. Because of the immediacy of the university’s decision, the spread of the virus will be extremely hindered. Students and faculty could have been at risk of getting sick or passing the illness onto vulnerable family members. My disappointment arises from reflecting on the fact that I, and many of my colleagues, have attended a lecture for the last time with faculty who have left a significant impact on our educational and professional careers. It arises from thinking that I may have already seen the colleagues who have been by my side as we navigated the trenches of graduate school for the last time before we leave the educational realm. It arises from the realization that, after we submit our final assignments, that is the end; no graduation ceremony to commemorate our achievements.

I realize, however, that these feelings of disappointment do not diminish the prospects of the rest of the semester. No matter the changes that have occurred and the opportunities that will be missed because of it, the resilience that has been demonstrated by the University throughout this time inspires hope to those who are feeling that their final semester is crumbling before their eyes. This is seen through the professors who have personally reached out to ensure their students’ wellbeing and comfort. It is seen through the administration’s frequent communications to ensure that each student and faculty member is aware of the situation and knows what resources are available. It is seen through my fellow colleagues reaching out to one another and ensuring they have the supplies and support that they need. While my disappointment emerges from the fact that my time within the university has been cut shorter than anticipated, it is indicative of the quality of my time within it.

While physically distanced from one another, there is a sense of community that has persisted despite the chaotic nature of the last few weeks. There is a universal feeling of connectedness as students and faculty alike work to navigate the changes required to keep all of the Virginia Commonwealth University community safe and healthy, while maintaining expectations of educational excellence. Because of the health and distancing requirements, the VCU community will stay healthy; because of the provided support of the faculty and administration, the VCU community will thrive and excel in the last few months of the semester.

Author: The Wilder School’s Center for Public Policy advances research and training that informs public policy and decision-making to improve our communities. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of Wilder School faculty, we services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights, and program evaluation to clients in governments, nonprofits, businesses, and the public, across Virginia and beyond.

Twitter: @CPPatVCU

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