For the Students: Support in the Age of Global Pandemic

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Image: Cornell Hall

Community support and resiliency can be a formidable force, capable of achieving the seemingly impossible in the wake of a crisis. The efforts put forth by faculty and staff of the Trulaske College of Business to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic have been no exception. From reaching out personally to students on an individual and ongoing basis, to celebrating student successes, the effort has been enormous and appreciated.

Here are just a few highlights that have emerged during this time:

Advising

Students depend on advisors to not only navigate their schedules and create an academic road map toward their future career goals, but to also serve as a touch point that directs them to other student services that empower them personally, professionally and academically. As director of undergraduate advising, Allie Teagarden knows this better than anyone. Her first priority when making the departmental transition to work remotely was to ensure student success.

“I have always viewed my role as having two primary purposes – supporting students and supporting the advising team,” says Teagarden.

Within two days of campus closure, the Trulaske team transitioned to remote academic advising.

“Since then, our advising staff has been ‘meeting’ with undergraduate students via Zoom every day. We still provide daily on-call advising support for students with urgent needs by phone and email,” says Teagarden. “We also continue to offer Transfer of Division sessions twice a week and individual advising appointments via Zoom for MU students who are not currently business students, but who are interested in transferring into Business. This has ensured that students have continuous access to our services and continue progressing towards their academic goals and graduation.”

In addition to remote advising services, Teagarden and her team have also increased their outreach efforts to students through both email and phone calling campaigns, to ensure that students know the department is here to provide support during this pandemic. Campaigns have largely focused on reaching students who are on academic probation or are off track in meeting their academic goals due to GPA deficits, as well as on students whose professors have reported a concern.

These efforts are in addition to the emails the department replies to every day from students with routine scheduling and advising questions, as well as from those seeking other resources and counsel.

“My first priority in implementing remote advising services and increasing our outreach to students has been to ensure students have seamless access to our office,” says Teagarden. “Our advising appointments have been lengthier than usual because it’s increasingly important for us to check on students’ overall well-being, connect them with resources and provide the assurance that we are always here to help them.”

These efforts have not gone unnoticed. According to Trulaske junior Terra Maslak, a prelaw finance major, “My advisor [Karen Lowry] is always super awesome, but now more than ever. I just emailed her yesterday and she got back to me right away, answering all of my questions and then some. Advising as a whole has really stepped up their communication, providing necessary information usually first and always accurately.”

Teagarden happily acknowledges the successful efforts put forth by the department. “I am incredibly privileged to work with our outstanding team of advisors. They are working harder than ever to support their students. It’s been really incredible to be a part of a team like this during a crisis.”

The Advising team’s success is demonstrated by next year’s enrollment. “The main metric I’m watching is the number of students who are enrolled for the Fall 2020 semester,” says Teagarden. “We have been tracking ahead of last year’s re-enrollment numbers and overall campus re-enrollment numbers consistently in the last month, so it’s been great to see that our outreach efforts have been effective.”

Graduate Programs Office

The Trulaske Graduate Programs Office (GPO) oversees graduate educational opportunities for students on campus and online who seek to further their education in the business realm. It is often viewed by graduate students as a second academic home, the first place they go for assistance in regard to policy, advising and scholarships, in addition to being a resource for them when they have questions or concerns. So naturally, during this time of uncertainty, it is often the first place graduate students turn when seeking information, answers and help.

No one knows this better than Ryan Murray, director of graduate programs, whose guiding philosophy during the closure of Cornell Hall has been to ensure a seamless transition for both students and staff.

“I have encouraged an environment of collaboration and support during these unprecedented times,” says Murray. “The strategy has always been to overcome the challenges, stronger than before. The comeback is always greater than the setback. While in constant strategic communication with Dean Ajay Vinzé and Associate Dean Chris Robert, we have insisted the service to students never falter.”

Some of the recent initiatives put forth by the GPO, in an effort to support students and their transition, have been centered around connection.

“As we have dealt with COVID-19, it has been incredibly important to me to connect to each student individually. This was a large task. Between [GPO staff] Sandy Gummersheimer, Meredith Shaw and me, we were able to talk to the majority of our students about topics such as coursework, health, technology resources, questions and concerns, and ultimately, their general well-being.”

GPO has also partnered with the College of Business’ IT department to provide hotspots to students who experience internet issues. “This small act made a huge difference,” says Murray.

Additionally, the GPO has taken steps to collaborate with Trulaske’s advisory board members and employer partners to create an experience for students who have lost or were unable to obtain internship positions because of the pandemic.

“These projects will be an experiential learning exercise student can use on their resumes to secure future positions,” notes Murray.

Business Career Services

The BCSbuzz is a weekly newsletter distributed to all Trulaske students from the college’s Business Career Services (BCS) office. It is packed full of helpful student information, ranging from career development opportunities and save-the-dates to reminders and resource links. It was a favorite amongst students prior to the pandemic, serving as an information touchpoint for them. However, appreciation for BCS services and the information they provide is being expressed by students more frequently as social distancing rules have continued to affect summer internship plans and job searches for many.

“I have really liked those emails,” says Mackenzie Ursey, a graduating senior at Trulaske with an emphasis in marketing. “They let me know what’s going on and they’re great at keeping me up to date.”

It has been increasingly important for students to stay informed about a variety of topics during a time of transition, and the BCSbuzz helps them do that. Some notable highlights of student support coming out of the department include virtual career fair announcements and signups; internship and recruitment announcements from companies still hiring during the pandemic; other recruitment opportunities such as virtual meet and greets and company information sessions; links to free premium apps and websites that help students stay connected and healthy during lockdown; etiquette tips and reminders that guide students as they navigate digital recruitment events; links to job search platforms and tools that connect students to even more career related opportunities; and messages of support and encouragement from the department.

According to Matthew Reiske, director of BCS, one of the most successful student support services the department has offered during the pandemic has been its virtual Meet and Greets.

“They provide our employers with an opportunity to continue developing their brand in a virtual environment,” says Reiske. “This also enables students to obtain information from companies they may not be familiar with or develop a stronger relationship with those they know.”

Feedback from a recent student survey reinforced to Reiske and his team that the department has done a nice job of transitioning from a traditional face-to-face support provider to a 100% virtual environment.

“While we were able to pivot quickly to accommodate all of our constituents,” says Reiske, “we look forward to the day we are able to hold our one-on-one sessions and workshops in person.”

Reiske is not alone in this sentiment. First-year Crosby MBA student Louis Galang, like so many of us, has been frustrated with some of the effects of the pandemic.

“It has been a test of character for everyone,” says Galang, “but it’s been awesome to see opportunities are still available.”

Professional EDGE

The staff in the Professional EDGE office work with BCS to support student development at Trulaske. Their innovative approach is designed to help students develop the skills that are necessary for future leaders, such as communication, professional confidence, critical-thinking and strategic decision-making. The Professional EDGE program encourages students to attend a wide range of discussions and presentations, as well as participate in skill-building seminars, workshops and events, with their participation tracked and tallied by an app called Suitable.

“Typically, the department uses Suitable as the central program for students to access our full activities calendar, earn and keep track of points, and earn badges,” says Jessie Linneman, programming coordinator for Professional EDGE. “Students scan a QR code at professional development events to get EDGE points for their attendance and participation. We have offered badges for global awareness, service learning, preparing for the Business Career Fair, and for designated levels of points earned.”

As the department has transitioned its program to an online format, it has added a new quarantine badge to its offerings. For students to earn the badge, they must complete several tasks covering a broad set of topics highly relevant to thriving during a COVID-related quarantine. Presentations include How Resilience Works, How to Better Manage Uncertainty, Finding Balance: Working from Home and Making Room for Joy.

“Each task includes an article and/or podcast episode for students to interact with and post answers to reflection questions,” says Linneman. “I have been really touched by students who have opened up about what this stay-home order has been like for them.”

Responses from one quarantine badge task in particular, Making Room for Joy, has provided Linneman and her colleagues an inspiring window into the student perspective.

“One of our reflections asked students to identify a small or large joy. The responses we received were uplifting – even simple things like having more time with a younger sibling or being able to get outside more often, were hopeful,” says Linneman. “The responses from students have sparked energy into our program at a time of uncertainty for us all.”

Camp Trulaske 

Over the last four years, Camp Trulaske has quickly become a favorite among incoming freshmen to the College of Business. It provides a way for new students to transition easily to university life and quickly surround themselves with a supportive network of colleagues and friends that can help sustain them over the course of their time at Mizzou.

“At Camp Trulaske, we believe having a friend to walk through college with makes all the difference in a student’s career,” says Jennifer Barnes, program coordinator.

However, quarantine measures have presented unique challenges to a program that is specifically designed to bring individuals together in person. As often is the case in times of uncertainty, it is necessary to adapt in order to build greater resilience, which is exactly what the Camp Trulaske team has done.

“In order to plan Camp Trulaske effectively, the team of student directors and I meet once a week by Zoom,” says Barnes. “We have the challenge of what camp will look like. Our original plan was to go to Clearwater Cove on Table Rock Lake for a weekend. We are now planning to host camp virtually and are working to create the best experience for our campers and counselors as changes arise.”

Despite challenges, some important Camp Trulaske traditions have been preserved. Most recently, the program did a Zoom reveal of this year’s black and gold teams.

“Every year we have the campers and counselors split into a ‘Team Black’ and a ‘Team Gold,’ says Barnes. “Throughout camp there are competitions such as participation and enthusiasm, and, of course, the legendary lip sync battle to finish off the competition.”

According to international business student and Camp Counselor Cade Koehly, “The camp directors and coordinators have been doing an amazing job. We’re utilizing online resources such as Zoom and Google Drive and trying to keep things as normal as possible.”

Barnes and her team are planning the virtual camp experience with many opportunities for students to build meaningful connections with other students and their new community. More details will be posted on the camp website soon!

For more information on his efforts, contact Otha Thurmond by email at thurmond.otha@yahoo.com.

Story by Seabrook Omura, Trulaske MBA student