By: Nina Gayleard, Contributing Writer
Photo by Brendan Felch/ The Towerlight
For many students, completing an internship or clinical experience is a requisite part of earning their degree. Typical student experiential learning came to a grinding halt when the United States declared the COVID-19 pandemic as a national emergency in March.
Dr. Hayley Mark, the Department Chairperson of Nursing, said that the shift from in-person clinicals to virtual came when Maryland moved to essential travel.
“[When] the state went to essential travel only, we pulled students from their clinicals,” Mark said. “They were no longer in face-to-face clinicals as of the end of March, and so we did almost all virtual simulations.”
Though students could not continue experiential learning in the same ways they normally would, with most options being mainly on-site experiences, the pandemic did not stop Towson students from garnering their necessary and beneficial professional learning experiences.
Junior Emma Roth interned with the Philadelphia Bar Foundation over the summer in a position that would have been in person but shifted to fully remote prior to her start date. According to Roth, there were challenges she faced with this online position.
“The challenges with this was that I really only got to work with my two direct bosses,” Roth said. “I was hoping to get more exposure to the rest of the team and get to network with them.”
According to Roth, her work experience varied from what was initially expected, but she was able to encounter other learning opportunities that she may not have with an in-person internship.
“I loved my bosses and know that they were doing all that they could to make this a meaningful and educational experience,” Roth said. “I was able to sit in on calls and meetings that normally an intern wouldn’t be invited to, but because it was Zoom, they extended the invite.”
Similarly, according to Dr. Laila Richman, Associate Dean of the Department of Special Education, students in this department are now provided with a virtual experience, which wasn’t previously supported by the department.
“We worked closely with our partner school districts to move students who were currently in internships to the virtual model,” Richman said. “This Fall, we are continuing with almost all of our internships being virtual since school districts are engaged in virtual instruction.”
Student Carley Epely, an Early Childhood Special Education major said that some of the requirements have changed due to the virtual shift.
“The amount of hours we have to fulfill has changed as well as the requirements for assignments has shifted,” Epely said.“I feel okay about the requirements. My mentor who I am working with has not communicated with me yet and my start date is very soon.”
There have existed some situations where internships or clinical experiences are scarce, though this varies by field and student major.
Professor and Director of the Professional Writing graduate program Michael Downs said that “with the economy cratering in so many ways, there are fewer internships out there, and they are more competitive. It’s harder for students to find them.”
Downs said there has been at least one student in the program who was unable to find an internship, but added he was able to work together with the student to create other suitable arrangements.
According to Downs, the changes are teaching competencies to students that they may not have learned otherwise.
“They’re working from home, they’re having to create their own sense of discipline. There are other skills that they’re having to learn while managing a home-life balance,” he said. “They’re probably learning things about technology, and I’m sure they’re learning about Zoom. Maybe too much.”
Downs also said that some alumni of the Professional Writing Program found that many of their current jobs and responsibilities, besides the shift to telework, have not changed.
“And that’s just an advantage we have as writers,” he said. “We can just put our heads down anywhere, and as long as there is a laptop in front of us, it’s okay.”
Moving forward, Mark said the Nursing Department may utilize some of the unique virtual experiences in normal times.
“We learned that certain simulations really worked and we could continue to use them even during normal times because they were very helpful,” Mark said.
Richman confirmed that the Department of Special Education will add virtual instruction to the regular curriculum.
“It is important that our graduates are prepared for that type of instruction as well as in-person instruction,” Richman said.
Looking to the future, Towson students, faculty and staff have no choice but to continue to adapt and learn. Roth feels this adaptation is going to be routine soon.
“It seems like this is becoming the new norm,” Roth said.