DUNMORE, Pa. — Penn State Scranton’s Student Services and Engagement office is doing its part to keep students connected to the campus community during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
With students now engaged in remote learning for the remainder of the semester, Student Services’ staff members are taking that same approach in order to provide students with a host of virtual services and social opportunities.
According to Director of Student Services and Engagement Brad Kovaleski, the steps are necessary to ensure that students aren’t just surviving, but thriving during this unprecedented and uncertain period.
“A big part of being an inclusive and welcoming campus is caring for everyone in our community,” Kovaleski said. “Checking on people, engaging and connecting are just a few ways we can accomplish these things. We miss the in-person check-ins and understand how much we as humans need interaction. Research shows that people who have meaningful social connections are happier, have fewer health problems, less depression and live longer.”
Student Services and Athletics staff members are available via their emails or office telephone numbers from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The staff has been busy fielding inquiries on a number of matters, including online textbook availability, campus scholarships, tuition payments, Writing Center assistance, newspaper access, social distancing tips and wellness resources. And, every morning, students receive an email from Student Services Administrative Support Assistant Michele Nicoteri that’s packed with useful information.
Students can also schedule one-on-one telephone and Zoom meeting appointments, including sessions with campus counselor Dr. Katherine Stefanelli, LPC, and Career Services Coordinator Jon Tobin.
Meanwhile, Stefanelli will be doing a weekly guided meditation at 3 p.m. every Friday, and adding a segment called "Mental Health Minutes w/Dr. KatS," on her YouTube channel.
Also, yoga instructor Carol Brozzetti, who has been teaching Gentle Yoga on campus each week will continue those sessions every Wednesday, live at noon, via Zoom.
During April, each campus major will host one virtual meeting, while the campus’ student clubs will hold two online meetings. This includes the Student Government Association (SGA), which is holding its elections virtually through the GSA Engage portal and social media.
On the social end of the spectrum, Student Activities Coordinator Julie Gilpatrick and Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator Dharti Ray are planning a series of unique and fun virtual activities.
“We think that the students should have all the resources and opportunities regardless of our physical location,” Ray said.
Among other activities, they are holding virtual Coffee and Chat sessions for staff, students and faculty, as well as virtual tours of the National Aquarium, Ellis Island and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Other events include the Indoor Scavenger Hunt, Best Hashtag challenge, Workspace Photo challenge, Photo Pride social media challenge in celebration of LGBTQIA+ Awareness Week, and the end-of-semester Social Distancing Spirit Week.
For dates, times and a comprehensive list of virtual campus events, visit: https://psuscranton.campuslabs.com/engage/events.
Ever mindful of the financial challenges many students and their families are now facing, Student Services is also promoting the University’s Student Care & Advocacy Emergency Fund, available to students across the commonwealth. Students can apply for funds at: https://studentaffairs.psu.edu/support-safety-conduct/student-support-services/financial-concerns. Once on the page, click on the first blue box titled “Apply Now: Student Emergency Fund.”
In addition, the office is creating a plan for the campus food pantry to reopen once the campus is operational again, Kovaleski noted.
Taken as a whole, these measures could go a long way toward mitigating the disorienting effects of the campus’ current reality.
“I think it’s important for faculty, staff and students to realize that this was a big shift in our daily lives,” Kovaleski said. “We should be getting settled into a routine by now and it’s important to remember we have other communities and outlets that make college life -- and Penn State in general -- such an awesome place. The more we can be in the moment and help students navigate this online world, the better we are setting them up for success.”