Survey finds seniors satisfied with University’s response to COVID-19

By Cara McCarthy, Associate Editor
By Brennan Atkins, Arts & Features Editor
By Maia Almeida, Staff Writer
By Kaitlin Burch, Staff Writer

In an annual survey conducted by The Gatepost, seniors reported they were satisfied with the University’s response to COVID-19, their major departments, and internship opportunities during their time at FSU.

One-hundred seniors participated in the unscientific survey from March 5 to April 1.

Despite students’ approval of the University’s response to COVID-19, 56% of seniors reported remote learning negatively impacted their motivation, and 78% believed they did not learn as much remotely as they would have in person.

Of the 100 respondents, 29% were residents, 71% were commuters, and 23% were transfer students. 

Sixty-four percent of survey respondents identified as female, 31% identified as male, and 5% identified as non-binary.

Fifty-two percent of senior survey respondents reported they did not find a mentor during their time at FSU.

Additionally, 51% of senior survey respondents said they will be attending the University’s virtual graduation for the Class of 2021, 19% said they will not attend, and 30% were undecided.

Most seniors satisfied with University’s response to COVID-19

Eighty-five percent of senior survey respondents thought the University responded effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Several respondents commended the University for implementing weekly testing for resident students and commuters and social distancing campus wide.

One senior Gatepost survey respondent said, “They did everything they could to make our school safe and stay operating through this unique time, and I appreciate that.”

Another senior survey respondent said, “The school did well in organizing weekly COVID testing for students and ensuring a safe environment for everyone.”

Senior communication arts major Sam Wayson said, “Many of the restrictions put in place may not have been fun, but they were certainly efficient.”

However, despite their satisfaction, respondents did criticize the University for what they thought could have been improved.

One survey respondent said, “They needed to put bigger repercussions for those who were not listening to social distancing [rules.]”

Other survey respondents said they wished the University had responded more appropriately to parties occurring both on and off campus.

One survey respondent said, “I think they’ve done well with testing and making dorm life safe. They didn’t do much to stop off-campus parties that still occur, and they definitely could have had more on-campus classes considering our low positivity rate.”

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Dean of Students Meg Nowak Borrego said, “We have been able to maintain a very low rate of positive cases among our residential students. We have policies in place to address student actions which impact student safety and to date feel that we have been successful in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in our residence halls and on campus.”

Missed opportunities due to COVID-19

Some survey respondents said they were upset COVID-19 prevented them from taking part in internships, extracurriculars, and senior activities.

Forty-five percent of the seniors The Gatepost surveyed reported not having an internship during their time at FSU.

Some students reported their internships ended early or continued fully online. Some lost the opportunity to undertake an internship this academic year.

One senior survey respondent said, “I would have loved to be able to attend my internship in person because I think I would have learned more.”

Another respondent said, “When COVID got bad, I stopped getting interviews for an internship. I ended up doing a summer job just for money and not the experience.”

Sixty-nine percent of senior survey respondents reported they had to stop attending extracurriculars – including sports and organizations – due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One senior survey respondent said, “This was my last year to run track and I was given the captain’s position at the end of my junior year. This would have been my first season being the captain, but with COVID and car troubles, it has been making it hard for me to take part in extracurricular activities.”

Of the 100 senior Gatepost survey respondents, a wide majority said the one aspect of pre-COVID-19 campus life they missed the most was the social interaction.

One survey respondent said, “[I miss] being able to hang out with my friends. I felt very isolated this semester and it took a toll on my mental health.”

Biology major Sarah Parker said, “I was not able to sign my friends into the dorm, so socialization was harder this year.”

English major Olivia Banks said, “I wish we could still attend events in person because events on Zoom don’t have as much engagement from the audience.”

English major Jared Graf said, “The biggest loss this year was the social experience. I was really looking forward to being on campus and having fun with friends as a senior, but instead, I had to conduct my last year of college from my bedroom at home.”

One survey respondent said they missed being able to socialize and was upset they didn’t have the college experience they wanted.

Another survey respondent and member of the Hilltop Players said, “My own play that I wrote and was given the chance to direct in the spring was cut short, and it never got to see the stage.”

Many respondents also reported they missed the environment of the library as a place to study and relax.

Living on campus during a pandemic

Of the 100 seniors The Gatepost surveyed, 29% were resident students this academic year.

Senior residents said the COVID-19 pandemic presented many difficulties for living on campus.

One survey respondent said, “I was very lonely and starved for social interaction. I wanted to see my friends, and I don’t feel comfortable meeting new people. It [COVID-19] leaves me alone with my own thoughts for more time than I’m comfortable with, which was something I never thought I’d ever say.”

Another survey respondent said, “COVID restrictions have made campus life more difficult. Last semester, I was quarantined because my roommate got COVID after Thanksgiving break even though I was never in a room with her for more than five minutes.”

Several survey respondents also reported they were residents for much of their time at FSU, but due to COVID-19, decided to spend much or all of their senior year as a commuter.

One survey respondent said, “I lived on campus the first three years I was there. Due to COVID-19, I didn’t live on campus for my last year.”

Another survey respondent said they tried living on campus the fall 2020 semester, but decided to commute for the spring. 

Seniors reflect on the quality of their education

Survey respondents were asked to rate the education they received in their major departments on a scale of 1 to 5 – “1” being very dissatisfied and “5” being very satisfied.

A wide majority of the 100 students who took the survey reported they were satisfied with the education provided by their major departments. Thirty-five students rated their education a “5,” 34 a “4,” 23 a “3,” 4 a “2,” and 4 a “1.” 

One senior biology major said, “The faculty in the biology department are dedicated to making sure students learn, not just memorize, and that makes all the difference.”

English major Nicole Viera said, “The strength of the English department is that every professor is really passionate about the work they’re doing and the material they’re teaching. It really helps the students start and continue discussions if the professors are just as into the discussions as they are.”

Another survey respondent praised the sociology department for having a well-rounded and diverse faculty. She said the department’s faculty “allows students to experience education from people of all different types of backgrounds.”

However, some survey respondents shared criticisms of their respective departments. 

Several education majors expressed their dissatisfaction with the education department’s course requirements.

One survey respondent said, “The content [in some courses] was unrelated to educating students at times and didn’t seem to help me feel more comfortable or confident in the classroom.”

One senior criminology major said they wished the department focused on more real-life crimes and policing injustices.

A finance major suggested some faculty members in her department had not fully adapted to online teaching.

“Some professors don’t know how to teach online and we have been remote for a full year. I understand it may have been difficult last spring, but they have had a whole year to adapt and some haven’t.”

Survey respondents were also asked to rate the education they received in their general education courses on a scale of 1 to 5 – “1” being very dissatisfied and “5” being very satisfied.

Survey results for FSU’s current general education model were more divided, with more respondents reporting a less-than-exceptional experience. Only 10 students gave the current general education model a “5-star” rating. Thirty-one seniors rated the general education model a “4,” 38 a “3,” 15 a “2,” and 6 a “1.”

Some of the criticisms seniors offered concerning the general education model included calling for fewer courses, more options for classes, and more courses that are connected to their majors.

One survey respondent said, “Art should not be required and there are some classes that I feel are a waste of money and time.” The respondent added fewer general education courses “could give students extra time to take more classes geared toward their major.”

One finance major said class projects in their general education courses related to their major was helpful. “I took a physics class where we did a project related to our major and the concepts we learned about physics,” they said.

Amanda Simons, biology professor and chair of the Special Committee for General Education (SCGE), said there are two main aspects of the general education model to take into consideration when creating the requirements for students: What FSU has to do to stay accredited and why general education is important when obtaining a bachelor’s degree. 

Simons said the most important part of a student’s journey through their undergraduate career is “learning a little bit about a lot of things” in addition to what they learn in their major.

She added the agency responsible for accrediting the University, New England Commission of Higher Education, requires the University’s general education program to be at least 40 hours, which translates to 10 courses. 

Simons said the one element of general education she knows cannot change is the 10-course requirement. However, she said “the rest is under discussion” by the committee. 

The SCGE will be disbanded at the end of the spring semester. However, Simons said this is “only the beginning” of changes being made to the general education model. 

Seniors struggle with online learning

Fifty-six percent of survey respondents said online learning has affected their motivation “a lot,” 30% said it “somewhat” affected their motivation, and 14% said online learning did not affect their motivation at all.

Ashley Sousa, an early childhood education and sociology major, said, “I think not being in the classroom is making it harder to complete work and participate. I think that if I was learning in a classroom, I would have learned a lot more. I think this because I am a more hands-on learner. Being online makes it harder to retain information.”

One survey respondent said, “The difficulty with the COVID crisis was that assessments and assignments became a lot more difficult because it was expected that students were using outside information. I wish there was a way that assessments did not have to become as difficult as they are.”

Additionally, 78% of respondents thought they did not learn as much online as they would have in an in-person class.

Psychology major Abbey Battanini said, “It’s tough to say if I would have learned more in person, but at the end of the day, I honestly believe I would have. Although I have learned so much in my remote classes this year, I think that being in person is definitely my preferred learning environment where I could make the most of the academic experiences.”

Communication arts major Hanna McMahon said, “I think it’s hard to get through class when you’re online because there are some things that can happen that can be distracting – for example, people not muting their microphones, technical difficulties, distracting backgrounds, and more. I think we would learn more in person than online, but with the time that we are in, we want to keep everyone safe.”

Rupal Bhatt, assistant director for the Counseling Center, said, “There are eight different learning styles. So by removing in-person learning, you’ve just taken away one way in which a lot of people are able to absorb information.

“I would imagine motivation levels are affected with the change in learning styles and this physical barrier of the screen,” Bhatt added.

Other seniors said adjusting to remote learning was a challenge, but added they thought they learned the same amount online as they would have in person.

Jenna McMahon, a communication arts major, said, “I think that I learned as much remotely as I learned in person because I was still able to look at lectures on screen and talk to my classmates through Zoom in discussion boards or breakout rooms. It was hard at first, but I was able to adjust as time went on.”

English major Banks said, “I like learning remotely more than I initially thought I would. I feel like professors are more understanding during the pandemic – and because I’m a commuter, I have a bit more free time. I kind of like doing school from the comfort of my bedroom.”

Seniors ask for more action on diversity issues

Overall, many survey respondents said the University does a good job of being welcoming to students from underrepresented groups. 

However, respondents also said there are areas for improvement, such as hiring more diverse faculty, requiring courses focused on diversity, highlighting diverse clubs on campus, and playing a more active role when it comes to combating social injustice. 

Constanza Cabello, vice president for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement (DICE), said the University is hiring a DICE Faculty Fellow for Recruitment and Retention.

The fellow, who will be a current faculty member, will receive one “course release” and in exchange, will aid in the University’s effort to “bolster” retention and recruitment efforts for faculty of color.

The position will report directly to Cabello and collaborate with Academic Affairs.

One senior said the University’s response to incidents that occur on campus needs to be improved.

“It [The University’s response] shouldn’t just be an email with a Zoom. These need to be on-going conversations,” the student added.

One respondent said, “Placing more emphasis on courses about underrepresented groups, even making them required, would be a good step.”

Ariel Dean, a criminology major, said, “One thing FSU could do differently is to be more proactive than reactive! When issues arise, they almost seem preventable and as a student, I want to feel like the administration is putting in effort ahead of time so that damage and pain isn’t caused later. Often, it feels like the students are trying to be more proactive than the professional staff.”

Another survey respondent said, “We have a lot of inclusive and diverse clubs, but they aren’t promoted or talked about enough. I think that showing people these clubs can help, and encouraging people to start new clubs for any groups that are not currently represented.”

One survey respondent said the University needs to “be more vigilant about security,” and “invite more underrepresented voices to speak and educate.”

Cabello said, “I think we do have a lot of diverse speakers on campus. But there is always room to grow more.”

She added, “Particularly some of our academic departments have really done a good job of looking at their programming and incorporating diverse voices.”

Seniors thank their mentors

Fifty-two percent of senior survey respondents reported they did not find a mentor during their time at FSU.

Despite the majority of survey respondents reporting not finding a mentor, several seniors shared who they thought was the most influential professor they had at Framingham State. 

One survey respondent said Sociology Professor Kaitlyn Selman was her mentor during her time at FSU.

Jared Graf and Soren Colstrup, both English majors, said English Professor Desmond McCarthy was their most influential professor.

In addition to McCarthy, Graf named English Professor Liz Banks as another mentor.

“Desmond [McCarthy] and Liz [Banks] are two of the most compassionate, helpful, and knowledgeable people I’ve had the privilege of getting to know,” Graf said. “Without Liz and Desmond, I think my experience at FSU would have been completely different – and a lot less memorable.”

Margaret Gillis, a mathematics major, said Mathematics Professor Sheree Arpin showed her what it meant to be a woman in mathematics.

“She may have kicked my butt in the classroom, but she made me a stronger student. Her intelligence and drive are really inspiring,” Gillis said.

Biology major Sarah Parker praised Biology Professor Aline Davis for her dedication to her students.

“She forms amazing relationships with students and will go out of her way to help anyone who needs it,” Parker said.

Psychology major Noah Zahn said he had several professors who influenced him during his time at FSU.

Most notably, he acknowledged Biology Professor Walter Lambert and Psychology Professor Mirari Elcoro.

“Although I had him [Lambert] for one class, I kept in contact with him over the years and he always managed to make me laugh. He taught me that being too serious and not finding humor in things is not useful,” Zahn said.

“Dr. Elcoro is one of the most caring and intelligent individuals I know. She is very open and always managed to put a smile on my face. She helped me gain confidence and, in many ways, is somewhat like a second mother to me,” he said. “She believed in me and always kept pushing me to do better.”

Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Ellen Zimmerman said the University can improve when it comes to connecting students with mentors because it “adds to the college experience.”

Zimmerman added, “I know faculty members work very closely with students and mentor them within their majors. But there might be other avenues for mentorship as well besides academic departments.”

Seniors torn on virtual graduation, worried about job market

Survey respondents were asked if they will be attending the virtual graduation ceremony for the class of 2021. Fifty-one respondents said “yes,” 30 said “maybe,” and 19 said they will not attend.

Many survey respondents said they were “disappointed” the University is not holding an in-person graduation.

[Editor’s note: The survey was conducted before the announcement of the class of 2021 Ram Graduation Walk.]

One senior survey respondent said, “They should have been more prepared for graduation ceremonies and refrained from making promises they could not keep.”

Many seniors suggested hosting the commencement ceremony at Bowditch Field.

Assistant Director of the Counseling Center Bhatt said, “There is a ritual when it comes to graduation – a ceremony. Being able to walk across the stage and get that diploma in your hand, turning to face the audience, having your picture taken, your supporters clapping for you, and walking off that stage.

“If all of your friends and family can’t be at your graduation, and you don’t have that same level of support, I feel like a lot of folks lose interest because they don’t have that pull,” she added.

Sixty-six percent of respondents said they were worried about getting a job after graduation, while 34% said they were not. Forty-six percent of respondents said they believe the University prepared them for the job market, 25% said they did not believe they were prepared for the job market, and 29% were unsure.

Fashion design and retailing major Amy Westlund said, “I could have definitely been better prepared to enter the workforce, but I do think I learned a lot of valuable skills to be able to problem solve and make it work. 

“I do wish that I had learned more applicable skills in my time here, though,” she added. “It’s really disappointing that my college experience was basically cut in half because of the pandemic. It’s sad to be graduating in this climate and missing out on the amazing senior year I hoped to have.”

Communication arts major McMahon said, “I think Framingham State did a great job preparing me for post-graduation. I did a program called “Suitable Solutions” that helped me go through the job process and had a mentor [Wendy Davis] to help me along the way, and it’s made me feel more confident about being an applicant for a company.”

She added, “Because of COVID, it is very hard to find a job right now, but I know that I’m doing all the right things as a candidate when applying to jobs and going through the interview process with no fear.”

Jill Gardosik, internship coordinator in the Career Services and Employer Relations Office, said, “Two of the biggest things to remember when you’re job searching – it’s not if you get a job, it’s when. You have to always remember patience. 

“The key really is persistence – keeping at it, keep applying, keep interviewing. You don’t want to stop applying and interviewing until you’ve been made an offer you’re willing to accept,” she added.

Gardosik said, “This year especially, it’s important to recognize that this was not what seniors expected or anticipated. If you are a member of the Class of 2021, you have proven you’re going to be successful in life no matter what you do.

“You demonstrated that you can successfully adapt to changing environments, continue to meet deadlines, and persist when things are challenging,” Gardosik added. “Most likely, you weren’t overcoming one challenge – you were overcoming many challenges, and those are life skills you’ve already started to build that you will be able to take with you down the road.

“I can’t say how proud I am of folks for sticking with it, and that also goes for students who may have a course or two that they are finishing up over the summer. The key to a lot of success in life is persistence. I’m very proud of this graduating class,” she added.

Interim Provost Zimmerman said, “I think all seniors should look back on this year and feel incredibly proud they are graduating because it has not been an easy year.”

Vice President of DICE Cabello said, “You should all be really proud of yourselves because not only did you live through a global pandemic, but you made the best of a really hard situation – particularly for our student leaders and the way you helped lead our institution through this time.”

President Cevallos said, “You have gone through some of the most difficult times that you will, hopefully, ever have to go through in your life. The fact that you persevered … shows that you have what it takes to be successful.

“I expect great things from the Class of 2021,” he added.

[Editor’s Note: Respondents were not required to provide a name when filling out the survey. Anyone who did not provide a name was anonymous. Jared Graf and Soren Colstrup are members of The Gatepost. Desmond McCarthy and Liz Banks are the advisors for The Gatepost.]