‘I have not been coping with this very well’: Students prepare for online learning in hands-on majors
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‘I have not been coping with this very well’: Students prepare for online learning in hands-on majors

USD President Sheila Gestring announced on Tuesday that USD and all South Dakota public institutions will finish the spring semester online. 

While universities across South Dakota and the nation make the switch to online learning, students in a variety of majors find themselves questioning how their studies would fit an online format. 

“We know it is frustrating to have uncertainty about the next few months on campus,” Gestring said in an email sent out to all USD students. “We appreciate your patience as we work together to find solutions that ensure our students continue to progress toward graduation.”

According to Gestring’s email, the extended spring break was a way to prepare for the transition to online learning. 

“I urge our community members to remember the extended spring break and temporary transition to online learning should not be treated as a vacation,” Gestring said. 

Dental Hygiene 

For students in the dental hygiene program, like junior Jessica Schuldt, she’s still unsure how online learning will work for her program. 

Schuldt said she’s worried moving classes online for the rest of the semester will put her and the rest of her class behind.

“This late into the semester, we are finally starting to go hands-on with more of the challenging things, like administering local anesthetic and nitrous oxide/oxygen,” Schuldt said in an email interview with The Volante. “We need to know these things for our summer rotations and not being in the clinic is taking this precious time away from us.” 

Faced with questions on what the future for her program will look like, Schuldt said she used her extended spring break to get ahead on homework. 

“Some instructors are wanting to do two weeks of course work at a time,” Schuldt said. “Our courses are very difficult and on top of every instructor doubling our work, we now have to teach it to ourselves essentially.” 

Jaida Anderson, junior dental hygiene major, said she’s worried online learning will put her entire class behind on the skills they need to be successful dental hygienists. 

“I am most nervous that I am missing out on the experience I need to gain the clinical skills needed,” Anderson said in an email interview with The Volante. “This program is extremely difficult.”

Anderson said she knows this was the right decision, but it’s still hard for her to process. 

Moving to online learning, Anderson said, will be challenging for her as she is someone who needs to be around people, but she knows the professors will help through the transition period. 

“I have not been coping with this very well … It is hard to step away from it all and think about happy things,” Anderson said. “I am stressed out, anxious, scared and sad … But I know the dental hygiene professors will have our back no matter what happens.” 

Art Students 

For Jenae Porter, a senior art major, her senior showcase has been canceled along with all other events on campus until April 30. 

Porter said she and fellow show-mates were devastated. After overcoming many obstacles in her college career — like multiple friends passing away, a studio accident that resulted in hand surgery and months out of the studio — Porter said she didn’t know if she would be able to graduate for while. 

“My thesis show was something I have put a lot of weight on, knowing that it was proof for myself that I could overcome all obstacles and defy odds,” Porter said. “Now, I won’t have that closure for myself.” 

Jessica Westerdahl, a fifth year ceramics major, said she knew there was a possibility their senior shows would be canceled, but when the possibility became reality she was devastated.

“I have been stressing over the anticipation of my senior show for five years now and then to have it canceled is hard to put into words all that I am feeling,” Westerdahl said in an email interview with The Volante. “I feel like my senior year has been taken away from me, but I also know that the university has made these decisions as a precaution for our health and safety as students.”

When she first read classes were moving online, Porter said she was disheartened and confused.   

“I think saying that I was upset would be an understatement. I was also very confused as to how the department would be able to accommodate classes for us,” Porter said. “For a second, I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to graduate because the requirements for my degree are hands-on and in-person.” 

Despite not having closure, Porter said she is trying to remain positive. The extended spring break, Porter said, gave her time to process what was happening. 

“Solitude can be a really great thing for artists and for personal growth in general, so that is something I can appreciate,” Porter said. “At first, I was really emotional, overwhelmed, and having a hard time. But the more time that passes, the more I have been able to process and make the best of the situation.” 

While she said originally she didn’t know how her classes would work online, Porter said she considers herself lucky — as a painter, she can take her work at home. 

Studio artists can’t work from home, Porter said, so she is trying to remain positive for people less fortunate than her. 

“It is a massive disadvantage for all studio artists. It is not realistic for any of us to find access to all of the equipment that we rely on for our education,” Porter said. “The art building is our source for dark rooms, welding and casting equipment, kilns, ventilation, printing presses, etc.”

Porter said students do not have access to the studios to grab supplies needed to work remotely. This, she said, puts them at an even larger disadvantage. 

While some majors can transfer online, Porter said she doesn’t think art is one of them. She also said moving classes online could put her and her peers at a disadvantage. 

She said she encourages people to support local artists through this hard time as many of their lives have been drastically changed because of COVID-19. 

“Only artists who have experienced the process of making artwork can deeply know the direct correlation to understanding life around us,” Porter said. 

Westerdahl said she is worried about how her major will finish online, but said she know the university is doing what they can.

“This is a really stressful time but the professors we have at USD are amazing and they are showing how much they care in this time of uncertainty,” Westerdahl said. “It’s important that professors are showing that they are here for us even though we aren’t there with them in person.”

This is a multiple part story. The Volante would like to feature a variety of majors who will be facing challenges as cases get moved online. If you have a suggestion on a major or would like to be featured please email The Volante at [email protected]