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ADJUSTING TO ADAPTATION: EDUCATING UNIVERSITY STUDENTS AMID THE COVID-19 HEALTH CRISIS
By Thomas A. Parham Ph.D President,Special to the Sentinel
Published April 23, 2020

Dr. Thomas A. Parham, President, California State University, Dominguez Hills (Courtesy Photo)

Springtime is a season when thoughts turn toward warmer weather, new beginnings, and budding opportunities. Such is the case for freshman and transfer applicants to colleges and universities around the state and country, as both groups wait on that hoped-for letter of admission and consider which opportunity they will accept among the options they have been provided. California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), one of 23 campuses in the California State University system, has extended offers to its Fall 2020 class and is now awaiting students’ decisions to enroll. This admissions season, however, brings a mixed bag of feelings. Excitement and the normal anxiety about which offer to choose are coupled with uncertainty about life in the new reality of the current and post-COVID-19 pandemic health crisis.

As CSUDH’s president, my team and I were set to welcome our admitted Fall 2020 class with the packet we normally send out this time of year. However, the historic events unfolding around us called for us to do something different. With all of Los Angeles County adhering to stay-at-home orders, I recorded an iPhone video message from my home to our newly admitted students. I shared with them that as CSUDH Toros, they will engage in academic and co-curricular learning opportunities, intellectual enlightenment and illumination, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, discovery and inquisition.

I concluded my message with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who asserted that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?” In many ways, this quote has added meaning at this time, as we, as a society, collectively sacrifice to flatten the curve of this virus’ spread. I also referenced that quote to remind students that at CSUDH, the education they will receive from our magnificent faculty and dedicated staff is not simply for job acquisition and career advancement. Rather, the education students receive at Dominguez Hills will inspire them to do for others in society, while taking the knowledge and skills they have learned and translating those into specific skills and behaviors that will uplift their communities, this state, and this nation. Indeed, my slogan of how CSUDH “transforms lives that transforms America” could not be more accurate.

Dr. Thomas A. Parham, President, California State University, Dominguez Hills (Courtesy Photo)

Mission-Focused

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There is no doubt that a campus that sometimes has been called the “HBCU of the West” will deliver on those aspirations and goals, even amid a health crisis that may linger for some time. In fact, throughout these past months, our university has remained mission-focused even as we have had to rapidly transition our entire campus to a remote environment.

I applaud our faculty for their commitment and dedication to our students. They have worked tirelessly to ensure the alternative forms of instruction they developed were based on sound pedagogy and evidence-based practices. I give credit to our academic support staff, who accepted the challenge of adapting student services such as academic and career counseling, tutoring, peer-mentoring, and co-curricular activities to a more virtual environment. And our campus operations have continued, thanks to the staff who provide critical IT support, clean and disinfect our environment, manage the physical plant, and provide executive leadership and management.

Beyond maintaining campus services, CSUDH staff and faculty, with assistance from students, are also using their knowledge and skills to create resources that healthcare agencies and municipalities desperately need to fight this global pandemic. For example, our Center for Innovation in STEM Education (CISE) and our Occupational Therapy Program (OT) have been making face shields using fabrication laboratory technology, while our Center for Service Learning, Internships and Civic Engagement (SLICE) make cloth masks for the community. Their efforts reflect the core values that CSUDH stands for.

 

Dr. Thomas A. Parham, President, California State University, Dominguez Hills (Courtesy Photo)

Commitment to Education

Admittedly, this spring semester is not what we envisioned for our 15,000-plus students, and especially for our graduating seniors. Like most, if not all, students in this nation, their academic and personal worlds have been disrupted by the current health crisis. However, I have been impressed with how our students have handled all the changes they are confronting. Their commitment to their education, especially now, will benefit them, and society as a whole, as we move toward recovery. Our communities and our economy will need the innovation, critical thinking, and advanced skills that an educated citizenry provides.

So, whether a student already engaged with their studies at a university campus, a new student about to enter college, or a parent struggling to assist their son or daughter, I offer this advice to help you navigate this uncharted terrain and remain focused on the future.

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Current students: Communicate with your professors about lectures, assignments, and exams. Access services like advising, mental health counseling, affinity group support, and career guidance to support your academic endeavors. Students and their parents: Sit down and discuss the options for attending a university like Dominguez Hills. When you decide to accept an offer, be sure to submit your intent to enroll, and submit all required documents, such as official transcripts, federal financial aid form (FAFSA), housing applications, and health and immunization records, on time. Like CSUDH, many universities have extended these deadlines as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Do not hesitate to reach out to admissions staff with any questions. They are there to assist you through this process.

Second, I encourage all incoming freshman and transfer students who are newly admitted to finish your semesters strong, even as you, too, must do so in a virtual space. While schools, colleges, and universities are exercising a level of flexibility with your final grades in response to our current climate, we need you to do your part to prepare for the next stage of your education.

Dr. Thomas A. Parham, President, California State University, Dominguez Hills (Courtesy Photo)

Third, I invite new students and parents to be a little patient with the climate of ambiguity we are all experiencing. The territory we are navigating is uncharted in my lifetime, and as presidents, senior executives, faulty, staff, etc., seek to crystalize operations going forward, there is considerable uncertainty about how long the curve of new COVID cases will take to decrease, when public health guidelines will be relaxed, and when physical distancing strategies will be abated. Until then, I invite you all to stay tuned.

Additionally, the psychologist in me would recommend that as you listen to and absorb the daily news, try and balance stories you expose yourself to. In a climate of negative news where data about new and total COVID-19 cases, tales of struggle and hospitalization, and anxiety-provoking death statistics dominate the headlines, it is easy to become more anxious, depressed, hopeless, and pessimistic. Instead, try and balance those narratives with other stories of collaboration, compassion, empathy, assistance, healing, and recovery.

One of the consistent trends in life is change, although most change allows for more gradual adjustment than today’s rapid/immediate jolts to the system. And yet, the cultural fabric of our people is organized around our tendencies to find hope in the midst of despair, courage in the face of fear, and a tenacity to “keep on keepin’ on” in the face of life’s adversities. We all will need to summon those internal resources to help us navigate our way through this health crisis. I remain confident however, that we can do it if we just recognize that we are all in this together. Indeed, Dr. King was also clear that “we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied to a single garment of destiny.”

From our Dominguez Hills family to you and your loved ones, stay safe and healthy.

Dr. Thomas A. Parham is president California State University, Dominguez Hills

Dr. Thomas A. Parham, President, California State University, Dominguez Hills (Courtesy Photo)

 

Categories: COVID-19 | Education | News | Op-Ed | Opinion
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