Student services provide virtual access, appointments during pandemic

May 28, 2020Andrea Vasquez
Online advising 2020

Transitioning San Jacinto College to altered operations due to COVID-19 was no easy feat, but administrators, faculty, and staff pulled together to continue a successful completion of the spring 2020 semester.

One of the largest aspects to the transition was how to offer and maintain the College's student services departments that serve as vital resources to student success.

Since March 23, the following student services have been facilitating virtual appointments:

  • Recruiting
  • Admissions
  • Orientation and campus tours
  • Educational planning, counseling, and completion
  • International student services
  • Career services
  • Tutoring services
  • Financial aid
  • Veteran services

Other services, such as accessibility services and the campus food pantries, require additional information to arrange services.

The College's campus food markets have also been one of the most requested student services during altered operations. Currently, students enrolled in any summer term and/or registered for the fall 2020 semester can make an appointment to visit their campus food market and must complete the College's pre-screening questionnaire each day prior to a food market visit.

Upon entering the campus through the designated entry point, students (and all previously approved visitors) are required to show campus police that they have a face covering and let the officer know they are visiting the food market, where food will be distributed as a curbside pick-up. Since the campus food pantries are currently limited to the food and supplies they receive from the Houston Food Bank, some items may have a limit or be unavailable.

Now also available to employees, students and employees are able to access the food markets once per week.

"We don't want students worrying about where their next meal comes from," said Brian Bui, San Jacinto College North Campus student engagement and activities coordinator. "Thankfully, due to our partnership with the Houston Food Bank, we are still able to provide students with access to nutritious food so they can focus on their studies and achieving their goals."

Another online resource students are using is tutoring via the campus student success centers. Previously housed in the campus libraries, the centers also had to transition their tutoring services remotely.

"The situation with COVID-19 encouraged us to think outside the box and develop creative alternatives to better assist our students," said Diana Shokralla, South Campus student success center director. "Working with my campus counterparts Erika Hernandez and Dawn Shedd to ensure consistency across campuses, we successfully transitioned 100% of our tutoring services to online sessions within two weeks, which included developing and managing an online system and online conferences to train our tutors on facilitating online tutoring sessions. Despite initial technology glitches, students have expressed their happiness with being able to continue to meet with and receive help from our tutors."

Student tutor Zach Mayfield adds that despite offering the service online, it's really no different: "That part of the job still feels exactly the same to me, which is great, because interacting with and helping students one-on-one is always my favorite part of the job."

Students have also been able to register for the summer and fall 2020 semesters thanks to the College's educational planning, counseling, and completion department. Like the other student services areas, the educational planning teams have also transitioned to providing online advising appointments — one of which was very surprising for educational planner Brittany Fowler.

"I have had so many students do their educational planning Zoom calls at work, on their lunch break, in the parking lot, or wherever they can step away for a few minutes," said Fowler. "I have also Zoomed with moms and their kids at home taking time out to get their academics in order. My most memorable Zoom appointment was a student in a hospital bed with a mask on. I was immediately concerned, especially when she told me her water broke earlier that morning and was patiently waiting for her baby to arrive. I felt like she had more important things to worry about at that moment, but she simply said she wanted to get everything taken care of for her classes while she had time available. I was thoroughly impressed. From there we discussed her new normal, what her schedule will be once the baby arrives, and planned her classes accordingly. Many students have been so grateful for the Zoom appointments and hope we can continue them going forward, especially those who don't have transportation, online students, and those who work full time during our business hours and take night classes."

Since nearly all courses and student services transitioned to online access, the College's technical support team began to see two needs arise: computers and internet access. According to the student technology surveys completed at the start of altered operations, 7% of San Jac students did not have personal computers, and 3% had no internet access.

To help alleviate these issues, the technical support team provided more than 112 check-out laptops and 12 webcams to students and found alternative delivery solutions for students who were immunocompromised. The tech support team also provided WiFi access in the campus Interactive Learning Centers parking lots. The WiFi is only available to students and employees, and those who need access must fill out the College's pre-screening questionnaire each day they plan to be on campus and must remain in their vehicle while accessing the WiFi.

The technical support team has also ordered 250 additional student laptops and is working on more solutions for laptop retrieval for students who have completed their programs.

"We are researching solutions to deliver and retrieve checkout laptops so students do not have to come to campus," said Carolina Aguilar, interim IT project coordinator. "We are also researching alternative software delivery solutions for students who do have computers at home and need access to software they normally use on campus. These services will aid in student success once the College returns to normal operations but also prepares us for future situations that require off-campus learning."

Although this uphill battle wasn't how students, faculty, or staff imagined finishing out the spring 2020 semester, in true San Jac fashion, each employee has demonstrated its values of integrity, inclusivity, collaboration, innovation, accountability, sense of community, and excellence to ensure students continued and completed successfully.