Having spent the latter half of the spring semester learning remotely, senior public relations major Tyler Hallman was excited to return to campus this fall to reconnect with his friends and professors in person. Little did he know that it was all about to change.
Three weeks before the semester started, Hallman received a full-time offer at IHS Global, an international organization committed to equipping Christian healthcare professionals to be witnesses for Jesus. IHS Global is where he has served as an intern the past three summers. Seizing this opportunity, he decided to enroll as a fully remote student so he could work and study at the same time.
Hallman is one of 196 students at Messiah to have, for various reasons, opted for the fully remote student option that was introduced as part of the University’s fall reopening plan. Though most, if not all, of us have experienced virtual learning to some extent at the end of last year, students studying remotely this semester still have to make significant adjustments. For Hallman, he has had to learn to juggle work and study.
“Last year, school was my priority. Now I have to share priority between work and school,” he said. “This year a lot of my work that I do for school is after an 8-hour day, so I’m just kind of beat.”
Hallman is not alone in his experience. Senior theatre major Charmaine Chan, who is attending classes remotely from home in Malaysia this semester, has taken on a full-time job at a local café. Chan returned home in March shortly after Messiah transitioned to remote learning and has remained there ever since.
While she appreciates having more time to spend with her family, Chan has to navigate a whole different set of challenges that comes with living in a different time zone. Being 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time means most classes happen at odd hours for her.
Other than attending one of her classes in real time from 11 p.m. to midnight three times a week, Chan provides asynchronous attendance and participation in all of her other classes, which has been an obstacle in her pursuit of connecting with her friends at Messiah.
“I’m taking my senior seminar this semester, and it’s quite sad because that’s the class you get to interact the most with your classmates. You get to understand each other’s perspectives and aspirations,” Chan said. “This class is at 4:30 in the morning here, so obviously the professor doesn’t expect me to be up [at that time]. But it’s a missed opportunity to build stronger relationships with my classmates.”
Like Chan, senior social work major Fatimah Jan had initial qualms about being involved in campus activities while studying online. As a leader in the Multicultural Council and Human Rights Awareness Club, she desires to connect and be present with students. With some effort and creativity, Jan has created for herself opportunities to build relationships out of her current circumstances.
“I like having a leadership position as a remote student because now I’m able to interact with other remote students and make them feel like they’re part of the community just by being a point of contact for them,” she said.
Jan considers the greatest struggle she faces as a remote student to be maintaining effective communication on both personal and academic levels. Attending classes using Zoom while most of her other classmates are there in person has made engaging in class discussions a challenge. At the same time, it has contributed to her character development.
“All my professors are super intentional about remembering that there are remote students also listening in on the conversations, but I think what’s difficult is that I’m not there to raise my hand,” she said. “So, I have to assert my voice a lot, unmute myself and speak my thoughts. And also, not being afraid to almost interrupt class because we’re not there experiencing class like people who are physically there are. I’ve definitely learned to be a little bit braver about the things that I need to say.”
Similarly, Hallman views his time away from campus as a learning opportunity. Studying remotely this semester has allowed him to explore life beyond Messiah.
“Messiah is an amazing place and I owe a lot of my growth to being at Messiah for three years,” he said. “But the Messiah bubble is a real thing and right now I’m in the season of discovering what routine looks like, what time management looks like, how to balance work and school and relationships at the same time. I think that’s actually a pro because I get to step into that early.”
Speaking from experience, Hallman believes that the remote learning option is hugely beneficial and should be retained in the long term.
“I think it creates a lot more flexibility for people to be a part of the Messiah community if they have their own engagements and can’t be on campus,” he said. “And also, that’s the way everything is going. I mean, everything is headed virtual, and I see the merit in Messiah being a leading edge in that. Instead of being reactive to it, they’re being active with it.”