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People who need people: The importance of connections during challenging times

September 24, 2020 | Campus Life, Society

Before COVID-19 changed the way MacEwan faculty members teach their courses, students could find their own ways to connect and build community — through volunteer opportunities, extracurricular activities, classroom assignments, or after-class hangouts.

Connecting with others is an integral part of our human experience, but why do we crave connections? Dr. Joanne Minaker, associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science and associate professor of sociology, says humans are social beings, and social connections are especially paramount during the pandemic.

"Rather than 'overcome' these challenging times, another way to look at it is to think about students finding healthy ways to cope, offer and receive support, and build resilience," says Minaker. "For me, it comes back to care and relationships."

For students (and faculty and staff), it's important to consider what support systems and strategies are available to help you ensure your social needs are met. Here are just a few of the ways you can make connections and build relationships at MacEwan University.

Connect with classmates

So you might not have a place on campus to meet up after class, and if you do, you'll need to physically distance yourself. So why not start a study group online? Blackboard classes offer a "class email" folder that allows you to email your classmates — a good tool to bring people together.

Or talk with faculty members about suggestions for connecting with your classmates. In the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, three faculty members developed an online drop-in group in Blackboard Collaborate for their students. Nursing students progress through the program in cohorts, often building lifelong friendships along the way. But with the move to remote delivery methods, assistant professors Lisa McKendrick-Calder, Susan Carlson, Linda Cavanaugh and Leanne Topola were concerned that this community development wouldn't happen as naturally.

"As faculty, we missed that connection with our students and with each other so much since it is such an inherent part of our ways of being, our nursing practice and who we are as people," says McKendrick-Calder. "This drove us to think deeper about possible ways to connect with nursing students and to help them connect with each other in meaningful ways."

So the nursing faculty trio established the online drop-in session Connection, Caring and Building Community.

"The remote nature of this world can be so lovely and comforting and can bring us closer to the family and friends we hold dearest, but it can distance us from new people and new experiences," says McKendrick-Calder. "Connection is so rejuvenating to us as humans."

Get involved with peers

If you're interested in getting involved with students from across the university, try signing up as a Champion of Diversity and Equity (CODE) or for the MacEwan Anti-Violence Education Network (MAVEN). Both extracurricular programs will be offering their training and programming online this year.

Looking to meet people with shared interests or career goals? Join a student group through the Students' Association of MacEwan University (SAMU). This year group organizers are using apps like Zoom, Google Meet and Discord to engage their members through online game and social nights, speaker series events and conferences, and more.

"Groups are meeting through these mediums so that members can still socialize, keep engaged and help each other out academically," says Marcel Seveny, SAMU's Student Groups manager.

Seveny encourages students to find the group that's right for them — after all, he met the majority of his university friends through various groups and continues to be in touch with them today. Groups are also a great way to network with professionals and meet faculty members.

"During these times, it has become difficult for individuals to socialize, so these groups offer that opportunity to meet other individuals who share the same interests," says Seveny.

Talk to your profs

They may be super smart and have a dozen credentials and loads of experience, but that doesn't mean you should be intimidated. Your professors and instructors are here to help you learn, even if it may be challenging to reach out to them remotely. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

 

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Speak with an academic advisor

If you're ever confused about your program, reach out to an academic advisor. Academic advisors can provide the clarity you need to make the right decisions. Again, don't be afraid to ask questions.

"We're available to provide students with support and information so they can then have the understanding to make decisions," says Karen Ravagnolo, manager, academic advising.

Your education is important, so if anything about your program is confusing you during these confusing times, take charge by asking questions.

Access MacEwan services

If you don't know where to turn or who to talk to, there are a number of services available to you through the university, including Wellness and Psychological Services, which offers free counselling services online via video counselling or over the phone.

SAMU also offers Peer Support, and the university's kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre is the "home away from home" for our Indigenous students and for anyone looking for personal, academic and cultural support. Sport and Wellness provides opportunities for exercise, recreation and social interaction — a great way to better your mental health.

Physical vs. social distancing

You're familiar with the terms "physical distancing" and "social distancing." Used interchangeably, the meaning comes down to following health guidelines of distancing yourself from others by two metres.

"While increasing the physical distance between people is advised and necessary, keeping ourselves apart socially is not," says Minaker. "Being connected matters even more when we’re feeling anxious or exhausted and when circumstances in our lives are difficult, changing, and uncertain."

So while the university encourages physical distancing, we hope you consider the ways listed above to connect with others throughout the Fall 2020 term.

 

 

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