UAS students and teachers cope with lack of physical community

The University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau, shown on July 25, 2019. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

Last month, the University of Alaska Southeast closed down its physical campus, removing most students and transitioning to largely online learning.

But students and teachers say that transition has not been smooth.

Robin Gilcrest is a professor of architecture and construction technology. Normally her classes are a hybrid of physical and digital learning. Before the pandemic, she was teaching students how to use drafting software.

“I’ve been calling or texting them individually to make sure that they’re OK. But no, this is very traumatic and some of my students were working and now they’re not,” she said.

Now her classes are fully online. And, without that in-person interaction, she said some students aren’t as engaged as she hoped they’d be.

“They’re probably more worried about how they’re going to pay their rent than whether they get an assignment done,” said Gilcrest.

For many students, online learning just isn’t compatible with their classwork.

Sadie Inman’s focus is geography and the environment, as well as outdoor studies.

“A lot of the professors don’t know what to do,” she said. “Some of my classes have dropped assignments and other classes have made up more assignments. And so everything’s kind of just upside down.”

On top of the stress of classwork during the pandemic, housing is increasingly becoming an issue.

Inman is one of about 150 students who were living on campus before the pandemic. Only about 30 students are still there. They didn’t have safe places to go home to.

And while Inman was able to find housing through her work as a volunteer firefighter, options were limited for other students, like Sage Logan.

Logan left campus in a hurry when the university asked students living on campus to leave on March 17.

He’s now back home in Washington state, living in close quarters with his family, but he feels the impact of being removed from the community.

“People are close. You often refer to your professors by their first name,” he said. “It’s a very familiar kind of feeling. So kind of being removed from that environment feels like it kind of adds a little salt in the wound for this isolation.”

But — there are still ways for students to stay connected. Online meet-ups and art therapy sessions are held regularly through the university’s social media pages.

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