By: Renata Salazar
Austin Community College has continued virtual learning during the global pandemic for over an academic year, as of now. As we approach another semester of online education, it is easy to become overwhelmed during the school year when navigating online classes and might often feel discouraged from the lack of every day interaction with classmates and staff. ACC provides more than education, as students continue to develop relationships and interact with each other through student organizations and events. From Arts and Crafts with April Seabourn, to online advising, ACC continues to provide several virtual events and resources that allow students to unwind between classwork, and tips to stay on track with online courses.
ACCENT spoke with student Katheryn Pharr, an active member in the Student Life community, Vice President of ACCess Autism Iva Millsap, and Todd Snow, a student pursuing studies to qualify for a bachelor’s in software development at ACC to learn how student organization can be another resource for peer support. Three students with varying perspectives share their take on the perks and disadvantages of ACC’s online presence and what the school and student organizations can do to improve them.
Pharr feels that in-person events are more casual and provide a sense of community that virtual events lack.
“Student life is doing a great job making sure we can still connect with each other even though we’re all isolated and spread out” Pharr says.
Pharr attended Arts and Crafts with April Seabourn, a recurring event within Student Life. One thing Pharr appreciates from virtual events is the ability to go back and review the event with recordings. Pharr is open to the potential virtual events possess with the fact that abilities such as recordings and screen grabs, allow students to utilize the information from events at any given time. Regarding school resources, Pharr primarily takes advantage of online advising and the ASL IT Lab online.
“I appreciate that even though we are not able to be in-person on our respective campuses, that these services are still available. Although helpful, there is something lost by not physically occupying the same space,” Pharr says.
She added that it is easy to become distracted during online advising, whereas “in-person the advisor can probably tell when the student loses focus.”
The increase of virtual events in student life has made some student organizations get creative and implement new perspectives into their events. Vice president of student organization ACCess Autism, Iva Millsap believes the new virtual platform has driven them to find new ways to make events more interactive by implementing new concepts.
“We had an event where our members would create artwork on how their autism affected them in sensory ways.,” Millsap says.
Though Millsap feels she has been equally involved during the pandemic similarly to in-person events. She still prefers attending events in person due to the sense of community that in-person events can bring to some students.
Virtual events may seem more complicated than a casual in-person event, but ACC’s online platform has encouraged some students to give Student Life a try. Snow shared that his involvement with Student Life became more frequent once Student Life events began going virtual. What kept Snow from getting involved with in-person events prior were factors such as commutes and personal obligations, which can be the case for many other students.
“Virtual events have been great for me. These events have allowed me to explore aspects of SL and ACC that wouldn’t normally pique my interest or just would not have been a priority,” Snow says.
Proving virtual events do present advantages towards students thanks to their accessibility. Snow aforementioned the knowledge they have provided him and how much more understanding he is of what ACC offers to students. Adding he believes the benefits are definitely there when contrasting to in-person events, hoping that “any events in the future conducted in-person maintain a virtual component.
Virtual events and resources prove to have both pros and cons. Though students seem to prefer in-person events as they present a sense of community that can’t be rendered through a screen, they have managed to adapt and make amends with the pandemic and restrictions we abide by during this era.
Some students are even benefiting from this virtual environment and are becoming more involved with Student Life at ACC for the first time, just like Snow.
“I have a much broader understanding of campus operations and the ACC mission. Virtual events have shown me great opportunities for apprenticeships, internships, and have fundamentally altered how I look at my career and academic choices.”