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UW Faculty Study How Students Adapt To Being Back On Campus

Courtesy of the University of Washington

Many of the college students in the Northwest have already returned for the new academic year. Eastern Washington University began on Wednesday. The University of Washington starts a week from Thursday.

At the UW, faculty members such Paula Nurius in the Department of Social Work are interested to see how in-person instruction during a pandemic is going to work. She'll report on her research Thursday evening during a webinar open to the public. Nurius did research during the last academic year to gauge how students were coping with a fully-online college experience.

“We spent some time both with surveys and with interviews with our students and we were finding that college from home, at least in that very quick pivot, was extremely difficult,"  Nurius said. "They’re often back at their childhood home. Maybe they’re sitting on a bed with other sibs and trying to get near the router so they could get the signal for their classes. They’re having to take tests at the dining room table. It was just a very big pivot with very limited predictability and controllability, which make stress difficult to manage. There was just a lot of isolation and loss.”

Nurius will present her findings this evening at a joint University of Washington-Gonzaga webinar that’s open to the public.

She’ll be joined by Megan Kennedy, who is the director of the University of Washington’s Resilience Lab.

“As we return to campus in the coming weeks and as we start being in in-person class again," Kennedy said, "we’ll see that students don’t experience as much social isolation as we get to reconnect and come back home together in a classroom across campus. We’ll be able to see and assess how students are doing through this return to campus, but, of course, the return will be a transition point too, like all transition points. We’ll probably see some anxiety and stress, but hopefully, we’ll see more sense of connection to each other and to the university.”

Kennedy says her lab and the university have developed a variety of ways to help students improve their coping skills. Nurius says they’ve created support groups where students, staff and faculty can share what they’re feeling.

Paula Nurius: “This whole experience has been a real underscoring of the value of the college experience. It is not just getting the content. It’s engaging with colleagues. It’s engaging with instructors and advisors. It’s having opportunities to go beyond just receiving information and giving it back in some form or another.”

“Students have been pretty innovative," Nurius said. "Most are very savvy about different aspects of different apps and different social media tools and so forth. Students were finding very creative ways to do study groups or to stay connected through applications I didn’t even know existed. It’s been interesting to watch that. Now, at the same time, I think that the loss of engagement, the loss of being able to work together, problem solving skills are a big part of what education’s about. Some of what is consequential for their mental health is there’s this bounce back view. I’m a bounce back kind of person. I can do this. Or that’s not how I grew up. That’s not how it works. There’s a range there. It’s a difficult set of circumstances where we’re working with them to try to stay balanced in really unbalanced circumstances. But, at the same time, there’s a lot of room for innovation and success just takes different forms.”

Paula Nurius and Megan Kennedy will lead a webinar tonight called Stressed and Depressed: The Effects of Covid-19 on Mental Health. It’s free and open to the public. Here's the link to register.