It has been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, forcing a major lifestyle change for everyone which included nationwide school closures, curfews and a lockdown.
New Mexico State University announced a two-week spring break on March 13, 2020, due to increasing concerns about the COVID-19 virus. Over the course of the remaining semester, faculty, staff and students alike had to quickly adapt to the situation.
Ruth Johnston, vice-chancellor and chief COVID-19 officer for NMSU, remembers the moments leading up to the shift from in-person to online instruction. She said that while her team was perfectly capable to deal with such issues, a pandemic is something that no one had experienced in their lifetime.
“I don’t think we were really believing that it was going to impact us,” Johnston said. “So, while we were meeting frequently and talking about what was happening, we did not really in our minds know that we were going to have to pivot fully online.”
Johnston said that when comparing the NMSU community to other universities, there was a noticeable difference in attitude towards the pandemic.
“I would say that NMSU is just an amazing community wanting to keep itself safe,” Johnston said. “I’m just so impressed by how much people care and are willing to for the most part engage in positive ways.”
Johnston looked back to the moment she was assigned to be chief COVID-19 officer, saying that she had previous experience as the “head emergency person” at her prior campus in Seattle. Even with her knowledge, she remembers feeling both scared and excited to take on this role for NMSU.
“It’s really scary, I mean I was here only 8 months before this happened, so I didn’t know everybody, but what an opportunity,” Johnston said.
The sudden instruction shift meant that all students, as well as instructors, had to adapt to both online learning and teaching. NMSU’s President, John Floros, said that the transition was far from easy. According to Floros, many students were not prepared for online classes at home.
“A lot of students didn’t have connections or had connections but not strong, or didn’t have Wi-Fi or computers,” Floros said. “We had to deal with a lot of real problems that either our faculty or our staff or students had.”
Clothing, Textiles and Fashion Merchandising major Fernando Alvarado said he has enjoyed the transition from in-person to online classes more than he initially expected, even though he couldn’t fully engage at first because he did not have a webcam.
“Before this, I never needed a webcam, so I wasn’t prepared for online classes,” Alvarado said. “Some of my professors requested that I had a webcam, but I couldn’t afford it at the time.”
While Floros said he believes that they could have been better prepared for online teaching, he also said a good job was done when addressing all the major issues that arose from the pandemic.
Animal Science major, Mariana Salgado, said that while NMSU responded well to the pandemic, there were many aspects that could’ve been handled better. She mentioned the significant increase in coursework.
“I do believe that many professors could have been much more understanding since many decided that they would assign loads of homework in an attempt to make up for the learning experience lost due to the online format,” Salgado said.
While Salgado praised professors, saying that they prepared very well considering the time they had to do so, she said that increasing work in the way that she experienced it was very harsh on students.
“This was simply unempathetic for students since many of us went through serious declines in our mental health due to the changes,” Salgado said.
Miguel Jaquez, an aerospace engineering major, mentioned that last semester he was put in a tough situation. It was announced by NMSU that all students with an outstanding balance of $200 or more had to enroll in a payment plan that would divide the student’s tuition into five payments, each scheduled to be paid by the 15 of every month.
“I didn’t have the money to pay all my tuition at the moment, so I had no choice,” Jaquez said. “I only got into the payment plan because I knew I could get disenrolled from my classes.”
Jaquez said that he eventually resolved the issue, but still had to pay an extra amount of money in late fees due to the payment plan’s policies.
According to Ruth Johnston, one of the greatest tasks was to adapt the NMSU instruction system to an online one. She said that NMSU had neither a strong online presence nor a record of telework among its offices before the pandemic.
“We’ve learned, we have to keep learning, we have to keep vigilant, I’m a positive person but it’s been hard,” Johnston said.
Johnston claims that although the COVID-19 pandemic brought many problems for the Aggie community, there are aspects to be positive about. For example, she mentioned the significant growth in online instruction, telework and even the prospect for an improved classroom system.
“I think that we’re going to have an opportunity to rethink our physical structures, and where do we really need to have people in offices, and how can we improve the classroom experience for students,” Johnston said.
To read more information in regard to COVID-19 and to learn about NMSU’s future plans throughout 2021, visit the NMSU Now website at: https://now.nmsu.edu/plan/index.html