June 25, 2021
Connection. This is something that I missed…a lot…during the 2020-2021 academic year. I’m the Director of the Learning Commons at Mid-Plains Community College in Nebraska. Our department exists to support students academically outside of the classroom by providing physical and electronic resources, testing services, peer tutoring, academic assistance labs, comfortable spaces for group and private study and—the ever important—coffee. In the Fall 2020, our institution returned to in-person classes with social distancing guidelines and mask requirements in place. So we were “together” on campus but we weren’t really “connected”. In August, I was super excited to have students back on campus, even in the weird world we were living in. As the academic year went on, I struggled with the disconnection from students. Students weren’t hanging out with us anymore between classes or stopping in just to say hi. Our traffic numbers and our daily coffee output dropped drastically. I struggled with our purpose—MY purpose. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.
At the end of May, our institution lifted the mask mandate. Life on campus feels like it is starting to get back to normal. We are so excited about a mask-less Fall. Because of the struggle of the past academic year, I’ve realized that we shouldn’t just sit back and wait for students to come to us. We need to get out from behind our desks and reach out to them. During the COVID shutdown in the Spring of 2020, our Learning Commons team contacted every student 3-4 times to check in, see how they were doing, remind them of deadlines, and wish them luck on their finals. We plan to do that again this fall just to engage with them, encourage them and connect them with the resources they need to be successful. I’m helping launch a new student organization on our campus this fall that I’m really excited about. I’m looking forward to all these ways of connecting.
Emails about upcoming higher ed conferences are all about reconnection, rejuvenation, refocusing. Hopefully these themes will not begin to sound like a broken record, but right now we need them desperately.
I’ve always appreciated my NASPA membership as a way to connect with others in the field of higher ed and network with colleagues in similar functional areas and with similar interests. Over the past year and half, my NASPA involvement has seemed pretty normal, since we meet virtually anyway due to our distances from each other. I serve as the Nebraska Membership Coordinator for Region IV-W and the Region IV-W representative on the Spirituality and Religion in Higher Education KC. If you have any questions about either of these areas, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].