By Lynn Armitage, WCER Communications
Over the last year, the pandemic has disrupted the lives of many people, particularly college students whose education, career goals, and entry into the workforce have been thrown into a state of uncertainty.
The Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions (CCWT) is shedding light on the higher education experiences of five diverse groups of students from Wisconsin, Georgia, and Maryland during the COVID crisis through a new digital hub called, “College Life During the Pandemic: Stories of Students Navigating Unprecedented Times.”
“We wanted to amplify the voices and personal stories we discovered in our College Internship Study and other research to share how students are navigating this unprecedented moment in our history,” explains Matt Wolfgram, CCWT’s assistant director. Wolfgram helped develop this new website that tells the stories of 17 students from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, and Morgan State University in Maryland.
Kassidy Jack, a mass media arts major at Clark Atlanta University, a historically black college/university, had begun to blaze trails toward her dream career as a TV news broadcaster before the pandemic hit. Jack once worked as a digital intern for the Stacey Abrams gubernatorial campaign. But once COVID came on the scene, Jack had to move home to rural Louisiana and is now attending college online.
“Since I’ve been home, 15 people have passed away from the virus, so I don’t think internships are people’s top priority right now,” says the 21-year-old sophomore. “I think people are trying to see if they are going to have a job. When is this lockdown going to be over? Is my family going to be OK?”
Wolfgram says that the pandemic has not only affected internship and career opportunities for students and new graduates, but also in some cases, their emotional well-being.
Going into her final semester at UW–Madison in 2020, Christine Gan looked forward to all the pomp and circumstance of a formal graduation ceremony just a few months away. She had worked hard toward a bachelor’s degree in psychology and she was in the final stretch. When COVID hit, it changed everything, including Gan’s enthusiasm. “At first, I was happy classes were cancelled and moved online. But after a week … I put less effort toward them. When you’re online and at home, you’re easily distracted.”
Due to COVID, UW–Madison’s 2020 graduation ceremonies were held online — a big disappointment for Gan. “That is the landmark event demonstrating the effort you put into your work. You get to walk and receive your diploma. We did not get any of that.” She says she didn’t even watch the online ceremony and went for a hike instead.
Wolfgram hopes that the student voices in the oral history project will better inform debates and policymaking around issues that impact students. “Through our internship research, we have discovered that the experiences of students are not being considered when trying to figure out how internships should be conducted and supported.”
Read more compelling stories about how the pandemic has impacted college students, here.