by Annie Dubois

At the beginning of the spring semester, the Office of the Associate Provost of Undergraduate Education distributed a survey to gauge student experience with the landscape of virtual learning. What are students struggling with? Are they simply managing to get by? The survey results churned out an accurate picture of how students felt, and in the midst of unprecedented challenges, it also shed a positive light on what helped students thrive: faculty and staff at MSU.

As students faced unanticipated challenges in both their personal and academic lives, faculty and staff played a pivotal role in supporting students and helping them reach solutions to the obstacles they faced. In the student survey, over 3,000 faculty and staff were thanked for their support.

One student wrote that his professor was “Doing more and beyond to help us succeed, going out of their way to take time to meet us and learn our names even when it was behind a screen. They were always asking about our feelings, rewarding the course material, and making sure we were okay. They were very good at understanding that life happens. I felt comfortable by feeling vulnerable, knowing that my professor understands this vulnerability in such hard times.”

By facilitating a comfortable classroom environment and being understanding of personal circumstances, faculty and staff showed their genuine concern for student wellbeing and success.

“Faculty have often been that support point for students who are having a struggle and don’t know what to do with it,” said Renata Opoczynski, Assistant Dean for Student Success Assessment and Strategic Initiatives. “This could be mental health, technology, or health concerns. Faculty are going above and beyond in these roles.”

Academic advisors also stepped up in important ways to help students, no matter which time zone they were in. To accommodate international students and students living across the United States, advisors often met with students at odd hours so the students themselves didn’t have to stay up late for a meeting.

With most internships and experiential learning opportunities on hold, advisors also came forward to fill this gap by fostering conversations with students about career trajectory and ensuring that students align with the right major.

One student wrote that her advisor “Has gone above and beyond to answer any of my questions, ensure I'm on track, and provide me with any information/resources. His guidance and reassurance during my MSU journey have been extraordinary.”

Cultivating an online classroom in which students can learn effectively and be social is uniquely challenging. Teaching Assistants rose to this challenge and played a pivotal role in encouraging social connection between students while conducting class.

One student wrote that her Teaching Assistant, “Did a great job of making the online atmosphere feel like an actual classroom with easy and encouraged conversation between peers. I really appreciated that because I missed the social aspect of school a lot.” 

Much like Advisors, Teaching Assistants bent over backward to make circumstances easier for their students. Another student wrote that their Teaching Assistant “stayed up until 4 a.m. in Taiwan to help us all with our lab, and [was] one of the only instructors, professor or TA, who gave me specific valuable feedback that helped me earn a 4.0 in the class.”

Too often negative feedback is the only message delivered to faculty, staff, and students. Providing students with an opportunity to relay gratitude allowed well-needed positivity to flourish. With over 20% of the student body responding to the survey, the 3,000+ detailed thank-you notes directed toward faculty and staff are evident of a larger culture of care at MSU. 

“By and large our faculty care about our students and understand that these are unique circumstances, and they want to support students through these experiences the best they can,” said Opoczynski. “Faculty want students to be successful in their courses and at MSU. I think [the response] shows that so many people on campus play a role in a student’s experience and their success at MSU. We have so many people on campus who care about our students and want them to succeed and have gone above and beyond within this remote environment to help students. We hope that they know it and recognize it.”