Since the closure of in-person classes due to COVID-19, the Student Affairs office at the University of North Georgia has been doing all it can to help students finish the semester successfully.
Dr. James Conneely, vice president of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, emphasized that student outreach has been the biggest part of helping students succeed and that the university has been going about reaching students in many different ways.
“Our business is very people-oriented, so we’re trying to reach out to students to continue to help them know what resources are available and that we’re here to assist them,” Conneely said. “We might not be in the same room as them but we’re here to do what we can to help them be successful.”
One of the ways Student Affairs has been going about this has been posting short videos in a series titled “Student Affairs Cares”. The videos are two- to three-minute-long video segments highlighting different departments within students affairs and what they are doing to help students during the campus closures.
“It gives students something a little bit more visual as opposed to reading it in an email or on the website,” Conneely said, “and we’ve opened it up to have some other departments outside of student affairs and enrollment to participate - any way that we can do outreach is crucial.”
Another way Student Affairs is reaching students is through the student connections program.
“We utilize student workers who can’t do what they were originally hired to do remotely,” Conneely said. “This program allows us to employ them to do outreach and to work with other students on technology issues or questions they’re just not sure about. We’re employing about 30 student workers in this way and hopefully, we’ll continue this program in the summer as well.”
Part of the outreach effort is making sure there is nothing hindering the students from being able to learn and to complete their semester. For students without Wifi capabilities at home, UNG has set up hotspots in campus police cars parked in different parking lots on each campus. Students can pull into the lot and connect to the hotspot without having to leave their cars. The university is also loaning out laptops and other equipment for students who may not have their own.
For students struggling with financial issues due to the virus, the financial aid office is working to help.
“Financial aid office is looking for different ways to help the students financially if they can’t pay rent, are gonna be late and so on,” Conneely said. “And we have our money management center for students who may need emergency-type loans to pay bills or whatever the case may be.”
When the closures first began, another thing students were concerned about was not being able to continue their classes and many worried that they would have to drop their whole schedule because of it. But the university helped institute protocols for this problem as well, providing help for those students.
“We instituted a different type of withdrawal process for students who thought they would just have to leave, so they can maybe just give up one class as opposed to the whole semester,” Conneely said.
The main goals are to keep the students engaged, remove any barriers that may be hindering their ability to learn remotely, and make sure they know their university has people there and available to help them in any way possible, according to Conneely.
“We sent out a survey to students when this all transpired to get a sense of what they’re most concerned about,” Conneely said. “We had over 4000 students respond to the survey giving us insight on what they’re most concerned about, and then we tried to address those issues.”
Overall, Conneely says that UNG’s approach to the unprecedented circumstances due to COVID-19 has been impressive.
“I think the biggest thing to emphasize is the University of North Georgia has really looked at this as a collaborative approach,” Conneely said. "All the divisions and departments are all working together, working across lines, and it really doesn’t matter who gets the ‘glory’. We’re working in the best interests of the students and how we can ensure that we take care of them, work with them and try to meet their needs as best we can.”