by Mary Elizabeth Campbell ’21
Amid sweeping social distancing measures, the U.S. State Department’s Do Not Travel Health Advisory, and increasing COVID-19 infections, it is evident that Summer 2020 will look different for most Davidson students.
On Wednesday, April 8th, students received an email from the Experiential Learning Team regarding the college’s decision to cancel or move a number of high impact summer learning opportunities to remote formats. Earlier that day, faculty members across various departments met to discuss how to best offer students hands-on learning experiences while also considering the health and safety of the community.
Senior administrators tasked Dr. Fuji Lozada, Associate Dean of Faculty and Experiential Learning Co-chair, and Center for Career Development (CCD) Executive Director Jamie Stamey with leading the plan. According to Dr. Lozada, several factors influenced the faculty’s consensus to cancel or digitize programs. “Local conditions [and policies] determine what we can do. [And] there is a lot of uncertainty about what’s happening” he said. “It is [also] an ethical issue of what we are doing to flatten the curve and ensure the safety of our students. We had to make the call [to reconsider] a program unless it can go remote.” Recently, Mecklenburg county’s Public Health Director Gibbie Harris predicted that even with social distancing measures, COVID-19 cases in the Charlotte and Davidson area will not peak until June.
Dean Rusk Executive Director Jane Zimmerman also acknowledged the risks of international travel for research. “Regarding Dean Rusk, we have the policy that we are not going to financially support anyone’s travel overseas, and I’m very much on board with that policy. When I look at [Davidson’s mission], I feel that it’s not responsible to be traveling. Staying at home is the most responsible way we can contribute to defeating the pandemic.”
Faculty members in charge of domestic and international research encourage students to pursue their projects in a remote setting if possible. According to Dr. Lozada, roughly 80% of Davidson Research Initiative and Abernathy grant research projects moved to a remote format in addition to Dean Rusk’s Pulitzer Fellow and Qasid Arabic Studies program. Zimmerman emphasized, “the default is, can we make this work? […] We want to be able to make opportunities possible.”
For those unable to complete their research projects remotely, senior leadership are working with the CCD to offer alternatives and potentially plan for next summer. Zimmerman added, “no one wants to penalize those who were disadvantaged this year and [can’t] complete their projects […] so we definitely want to be forward-leaning in recognizing [the circumstances].” She expressed confidence that future Dean Rusk funding decisions would “weigh heavily rising seniors and those who were disadvantaged because of the pandemic this summer.”
Faculty are also trying to rework summer programs like Davidson in Washington. Held every summer in Washington, DC, the program allows students to earn two political science course credits by completing an internship and Davidson-taught seminar. Alec Stimac ‘23 emphasized his anticipation: “I’m really excited for the summer […] because I feel this is a great learning, networking, and skill developing opportunity. [I] definitely can’t wait to meet more students as well and continue building community.”
Recognizing the value of the program and students who needed the credits to graduate, professors Dr. Silvi Toska and Dr. Peter Ahrensdorf decided to continue the class remotely. “We had an overwhelming response […] about 80% of the students who responded [to us] wanted to continue taking the course [remotely],” Dr. Toska said.
Dr. Toska also emphasized her desire to maintain the class format and as many learning experiences as possible. “We’re still going to have guest speakers [who are] authority figures [in DC] and some Davidson alumni who can talk about their experience transitioning from college.” Meanwhile, the team decided to make the internship aspect of the course optional. “We realized it was going to be nearly impossible for our students to get internships [in person in DC],” Dr. Toska said. She also noted, “more students are going to have a financial need because family situations are changing […] so I understand that if they [need] to just find a [part-time] job to make money.”
The CCD is working alongside alumni and faculty networks to find and create new opportunities for students. “We’ve already received calls and emails from Davidson alumni wanting to know how they can help […] what I like is that everybody is trying to make it work,” Zimmerman said.
Dr. Toska added that, despite initial concerns about the quality of remote internships available, she and Ahrensdorf felt “convinced [by] the kind of [student] responsibilities [described by the CCD and alumni],” and confident that they would help students to build network connections and apply for jobs in the future.
Zimmerman has been working with the CCD on a list of ideas for summer opportunities and recommends students take advantage of the current circumstances to build transferable career skills. “I really encourage students to use this time to build up things like their LinkedIn profile [and] online presence […] keep in mind the adversary that we are facing now is something that you can leverage as a skill and market yourself.” Zimmerman added, “being a liberal arts major is about problem solving […] now is really the time to exercise those disciplines and creative minds.”
For students and administrators, a remote format offers the potential for maintaining community throughout the summer. Dr. Lozada emphasized, “for students, I think you have to realize that we are in a new normal. We, [the administration], as best as possible have to work with [students] to get up to speed [on] how to thrive in this new normal. That doesn’t mean being a Zoom expert; that means that we’re back to the things we all emphasize: life-long learning.”