Reflections on finishing a degree during a pandemic

In this special blog post, Social Media Intern, and now Brock grad, Hayley Wilhelm reflects on her experience finishing her degree in the midst of a pandemic. 

By Hayley Wilhelm (BA ’20)

As I walked through the newly built Rankin Family Pavilion at Brock University just after 2:00 pm on Friday the 13th of March, I received an email regarding the quickly spreading virus COVID-19. What I didn’t realize at the moment was that this would be my last time walking through the Brock University hallways as a student.

Brock professors and officials have provided students with many online resources to help them cope with this stressful time, including mental health counsellors and extended online office hours.

The email I received informed students that Brock University would be closing for the rest of the winter semester due to the severity of the COVID-19 virus. All in-person classes, meetings and events were cancelled, and students were encouraged to stay home to reduce the spread of the disease. Many students, including myself, were left to wonder how they would continue their studies when they cannot leave their own homes. For me, working from home is very difficult as I am easily distracted and find it hard to focus for long periods. When doing course work, I usually go to the Brock library to get my work done. Now that Brock was closed and a quarantine has been put in place, I had no other choice but to try to get my work done at home. I know many students who were also in my position were anxious about how this outbreak would affect their education and their position as they enter the workforce. Thankfully, Brock professors and officials have provided students with many online resources to help them cope with this stressful time, including mental health counsellors and extended online office hours.

For first-year Brock students, this news encouraged them to leave the school’s residences early, with just over a month left in the academic term. Jayde Solomon, a first-year Kinesiology student, said that the process of moving out was “stressful and overwhelming, especially since we were expected to move out in such short notice.” She also noted that it was sad to end her first year at Brock in such a way, as she did not get to say goodbye to many of her friends.

Jayde is from the Cayman Islands and decided it would be best for her to return home to be with her family during the pandemic. Since returning, Grand Cayman has shut down its airport and is currently only allowing British Airways to come into the country. Jayde made the tough decision to end her first year early but is excited to continue her studies back on campus next year.

Since the pandemic, I think we have all realized how reliant we are on technology, and also how thankful we are for the way it allows us to still connect while being apart.

On the day Brock received the news, I had been at school to meet with my mentor Alison Innes to talk about my internship and what I was planning on getting done over the weekend. Alison had been working on producing a podcast called Foreword, where she would talk to Brock University professors about their research. At the beginning of my internship with her,

Alison had asked if I would like to be a part of her podcast and help her with planning and recording. I had happily agreed to help her with this amazing project and could not wait to begin recording. I was tasked with recording my segment called Quotable, where I would question professors on an area in their study and they would have two minutes to give a detailed answer.

This Friday ended up being my first and only recording. Many of our scheduled podcast times were now cancelled, as professors were now working hard to move the rest of their lectures, seminars and exams online. This pandemic has not only affected the students at Brock but also its professors, who are now working extra hard to ensure that their students have access to all the resources needed to complete their semester. Due to many of our guests having to reorganize their months, Alison and I have had to rethink how we would like to approach our recording and how we can still make a podcast while not being able to leave our homes. One of the methods that Alison suggested is that we rely on post-production editing to merge separate recordings into one. To do this, Alison, our guests and I will record our parts on our own and send them into Alison who will have them edited. Our editor, fourth-year student Serena Atallah, will merge the audio to make one recording. Since the pandemic, I think we have all realized how reliant we are on technology, and also how thankful we are for the way it allows us to still connect while being apart.

The fourth year IASC group, The Hierophant, pose for a group shot in Cairns Complex.

Throughout this academic year, I had been working on many things that now had no real purpose anymore, which is very stressful for me. One of those things is my fourth-year capstone project, which is a visual novel that my team and I have been creating since September. Our game was originally supposed to be taken to the Level Up student showcase in Toronto in April, but due to the pandemic, was cancelled at the end of February. This was upsetting for all of us because we did not know how else to showcase our work. Our professors worked tirelessly to find a new way for us to publicly show off our work, but with the severity of COVID-19 and the worries of it spreading in the area, they made the unfortunate decision to not host any public events for our safety and the community’s safety. Our group was now left to decide whether we think it is best to finish our work or to just polish up what we already have for grading. With many of us not wanting to go into the game industry, it’s hard to visualize the game being finished now that its purpose has completely changed.

This has got me thinking as to whether assignments are solely about assessment or if there is something more to them. Yes, we can use our work to prove our skills and to showcase ourselves in our portfolios but is there something beyond just receiving a grade.

For me, the friendships I have made the past four years through my classes are what make the long nights doing work worth it. Completing my capstone project no longer just meant going into classes and meetings, it was about the time I got to spend with people who had the same ideals and interests as me. Although the initial purpose has changed, the enjoyment of working with this team has not.

“Overall the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting quarantine has dramatically impacted the IASC 4L00 capstone project,” says Anna Lang, producer of The Hierophant. “It has made our team focus on the larger impacts and the realization of how interconnected our team is through technology.”

Regarding the cancellation of many gaming conferences and playtest events, Anna says, “we have changed our scope, therefore the resulting end product, to ensure the safety and happiness of our entire team! While not being able to attend the LevelUp conference was disappointing, we are happy to say we have submitted The Hierophant to the ESAC Student Video Game Competition through the Entertainment Software Association of Canada.”

With the academic term coming to a slow end, professors had no choice but to move their lectures online, pushing back due dates and even having to change the format of their exams to better suit the unforeseen quarantine. While moving classes online was a very smart and flexible choice by Brock, it still caused stress on students who now feel strained to complete their studies without access to the resources provided by Brock on campus. Although we have had to move things online, professors and Brock staff members have come up with some very interesting ways to connect with students. Many professors have begun using Microsoft Teams to host their large lectures, as the app allows you to have over a hundred participants. The Brock International Instagram page hosted a talent show for its followers, where international Brock students could submit a video of their talents with the chance to win Skip the Dishes gift cards. Not only is this a great way for us to see some of the incredibly talented students at Brock, but it also brings some positive energy into this hard time.

Working from home can cause students to feel a lack of motivation and creativity which makes completing work that much more difficult.

“Something that has been difficult for me is the ability to focus and get work done at home,” says Maicy McIntyre, a third year CHYS student. “I’m the type of person who goes to the library or a Starbucks to get work done, so the quarantine has been hard for me in terms of getting work done.”

While working from home can be stressful, there are many ways you can make the most out of your quarantine period. Entrepreneur offers many great tips and tricks for those who are having to work from home during this time. One of the main tips that they note is communication. Communication is key in all work settings and in times like these it’s even more important. Having clear and concise communication with coworkers will make a huge difference in helping to distinguish what needs to be prioritized and how they should be completed. Many businesses are working from chat room style websites and applications, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. The best part about these tools is that they allow you to have face-to-face conversations in real-time from the comfort of your own home. Thank goodness for technology!

Another great tip is to keep up with your usual everyday routines. Get up at your normal time, take a shower, get dressed, have some breakfast or coffee and find a spot to get to work. Keeping a tight schedule is essential to ensuring you stay on track, even planning out time to watch tv or read a book will be good practice and give you some time to take a break from your work. The hardest thing, and what I find the most important, is to remain positive through this whole experience. We have to remember that, although these are tough times, we are lucky to still have the opportunity to continue with our everyday tasks and keep productive. We can remain positive through many activities, such as listening to music, meditating and exercising and by safely interactive with others online. If you wish to learn some more tips and tricks to help with productivity at home, you can visit the following links to Inc., Buzzfeed and HuffPost.

The memories I’ve made at Brock and the people I have met over the years have made up for the difficult ending.

The most upsetting thing about this is that this was my last semester at Brock before I graduated, which was now cut short due to the on-going pandemic. I did not get to say goodbye to my friends in my courses or thank my teachers in person for all the support they have given me in the past four years. It’s sad to end it all this way, but the memories I’ve made at Brock and the people I have met over the years have made up for the difficult ending.

On Tuesday, March 31st, as I sat on the couch doing work with my other fourth-year roommates, Brock informed us through email that our graduation was now cancelled. Although we suspected it would end this way, it’s difficult to comprehend. Throughout our years at Brock, graduation was the final hoorah, the thing we have worked our hardest to achieve, and now we have been denied that celebratory moment. It’s hard to remain motivated or even attempt to feel that completing the rest of our studies is worth it if we don’t even get to properly graduate. Yes, we will get the diploma and the credentials, but because of the pandemic, we cannot even be acknowledged for our hard work.

However, there are many ways to find meaning without having a ceremony. We have worked so hard in our studies and we should all be proud of the things we have accomplished during our years at University. Brock’s President Gervan Fearon perfectly sums up all of our thoughts by acknowledging that the University is “acutely aware of how special graduation day is in the lives of you and your families and friends, who have sacrificed so much and worked so hard to earn the right to walk across the stage.” He also gives us some hope with the situation in mentioning that, “the University will work on options for spring graduates to be recognized or to participate at future ceremonies.”

My roommates Gillian, Emma, Teija and I posing for pictures in our homemade graduation caps. We could not keep a straight face the whole night.

One way that my roommates and I, who have all decided to quarantine together, made up for our graduation is by hosting our own. The six of us dressed up, did our hair and makeup, and moved all of our couches to the sides of the room to make a big stage. We hung up decorations on our walls and made awards for each person. It was so much fun being able to celebrate and just make the ceremony more personal to us and make it reflect our time at Brock. With our housecoats as robes, we made homemade graduation caps from construction paper. One of my favourite moments of the night was a video we made that had all of the videos and pictures we have taken together over the last four years. It was so amazing to see how far we have come and the people we have become over the past few years together. I definitely encourage others to try hosting their own graduation, whether you have to do a group video chat or just gather with those in your home. It is such a great way to not only lift spirits, but also to celebrate what we have accomplished.

There are many ways for us to make meaning in graduation without the need of a ceremony.

There are so many things that students all over the world will miss out on due to the pandemic, and it’s really important to remember that it is okay for us to feel disappointed or unmotivated during this time because it is a hard thing to go through and almost everyone is feeling the same way right now. There are many ways for us to make meaning in graduation without the need of a ceremony. The world acknowledges that we have missed out on a huge milestone and they hear our complaints, but we cannot be angry at our government or universities, because they have no way to control the situation at hand. Within a week, we were confined to our houses and denied access to everyday activities, including school and work. It is alright to be frustrated with the situation, but we have to think about the impact these negative notions could have on ourselves and other members of our households. The Nation Interest notes that social connection can help us to gain comfort during the pandemic and that through venting we can help relieve the tension we are feeling. If you wish to read more of the Nation Interest article, it offers some other great tips to help with coping and the benefits of social connection.

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About ainnes

Social Media Coordinator, Faculty of Humanities, Brock University

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