Despite the physical distance created by the COVID-19 outbreak between members of The University of Texas at El Paso’s campus community, University leaders have found innovative ways to remain proactive, supportive and linked to students through virtual events.
After the University transitioned to an online learning format in March in accordance with a city public health directive, UTEP worked to ensure accessibility to all technological resources necessary for a smooth transition into exclusively online courses.
In addition to providing a comprehensive learning experience, UTEP departments in the Division of Student Affairs have made a commitment to expand their virtual presence and generate the sense of community that is a fundamental experience of attending college.
“Our staff members have developed new online programming formats like the weekly ‘Quarantivities’ events, which feature an ever-changing slate of speakers, performers and social activities,” said Gary Edens, Ed.D., vice president for student affairs. “We’ve also centralized a lot of our key services so that they can easily be accessed online by students. The transition of student services to a fully online environment has been challenging, but it has also provided all of us at UTEP with an opportunity to be more creative, nimble and impactful.”
UTEP’s Student Engagement Learning Center (SELC) has established a weekly effort dedicated to combating the adverse effects of social isolation and assist with the overall impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The “Miners on Monitors: Quarantivities” page has a variety of programs, events and opportunities for students that provide beneficial information and support to those who may be struggling with lifestyle adjustments or may be unaware of the different services UTEP provides.
“Having a connection to someone or something is important in life,” said Nicole Aguilar, director of the SELC. “The Student Engagement and Leadership Center recognizes this connection and has taken our mission of engaging students outside of the classroom to the next level. Miners on Monitors is a way for everyone to be together, apart.”
Some events, such as the “Mindful Mondays” series, are designed to offer helpful tips on time management and self-reflection as a means to control anxiety or adjust to a new schedule. UTEP’s P3 and Student Recreation Center also host livestreams promoting family wellness and general physical health advice regarding diet and exercise.
Across all social media platforms, the UTEP Spirit Crew, dance team and cheerleading team collectively seek to motivate and engage the student population by posting interactive stories and helpful tips. Each Monday, a new set of Spirit Week activities are posted that encourage Miners to show pride in their University and discover ways to connect with their peers. Students are exploring the depths of technological communication, maximizing the reach of an already familiar form of socialization.
Other more information-oriented panel discussions address the mental and emotional health of the student population as it copes with a variety of lifestyle disruptions and unfamiliar psychological challenges. UTEP’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) holds events such as “Coping with At-Home Quarantine,” serving both to help students recognize the root causes of the fear and uncertainty they face and the various ways to counteract these experiences in a productive manner. CAPS’ outreach sessions assure students that they are not alone, and both their crisis line and therapy services are available at all times, whether by phone or a video call.
“These programs and initiatives are designed to give us all avenues to stay connected and talk about what matters to us,” Aguilar said. “UTEP faculty, staff and students have come together to bring opportunities and experiences that keep us connected to you. We hope they serve as a reminder that we support you, and we can’t wait to see you back on campus.”
Events promoting unity are also crucial in moments of social disruption. UTEP was one of many universities that participated in “Take Back the Night,” an international event to end all forms of sexual and domestic violence. The University also held events such as Denim Day, during which students shared photos of themselves on social media wearing jeans as a symbol of advocacy against violence. The accompanying Denim Day virtual discussion panel explained the importance of education on sexual violence and the impact that students have on prevention and awareness in their community and their institution of higher education.
Joanna Whitaker, a sophomore nursing major and SELC intern, was responsible for the approval and promotion of campus events and organizations before the transition to distance learning. She now manages the weekly update of the Miners on Monitors page, disseminating information to the organizations involved and even participating in the events herself.
“As a student, these events encourage me to take a break from my school work and have some fun,” said Whitaker, noting the increased traction that UTEP social media and the Miners on Monitors page received after the transition to virtual outreach. “It is heartwarming to see so many students participating in these events and still connecting with each other and the University while we are away.”
As the University transitions into the summer and fall semester, UTEP is taking additional steps to encourage enrollment and make the process of becoming a Miner interactive and convenient. Events such as the Daily Dig series, hosted by the Office of Admissions and Recruitment, and Financial Aid Fridays are held to dispel the idea that a college education is reserved for affluent families. The University has ensured that prospective and returning students can easily reach out with questions or requests, and every department is available to be contacted and provide assistance.
Overall, the Miner spirit shines through as students come together to showcase the pride they have in their University and the faith they have in each other. Whether through dancing, creative projects, support groups, or simply sharing memories — UTEP has a community of students that cannot easily be discouraged.
Author: Julian Herrera – UTEP Communications