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Virtual Meeting Draws Faculty, Staff Together

      computer screen

With COVID-19 mandates calling a halt to social gatherings, SUNY Plattsburgh faculty and staff were left without an outlet to share their experiences during the college’s first-ever week of distance teaching.

So Drs. John Locke and Jessamyn Neuhaus came up with the next best thing.

The coordinator of Technology Enhanced Learning and distance education and professor of history and pop culture, respectively, launched “Virtual Happy Hour” Friday, March, a Zoom gathering designed to give faculty and staff a chance to see one another — even if only through their webcams — catch up on how their first online-only week went and to unwind with a beverage of choice.

Now, more such “gatherings” are planned, they said.

Some 40 faculty, staff and administrators — including President Alex Enyedi, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs David Hill — tapped into the debut hour-long conversation, some taking place on-camera, others taking place in a side chat box.

Dr. Jan Plaza, associate professor, computer science, set the tone when answering Neuhaus’ question, “How did everyone’s first week go?”

“As a computer scientist, I’m comfortable using this technology, but when I started my 9 a.m. class, it was surprise because the screen was blank,” he said. “I checked the controls for 15 minutes but couldn’t do anything. At least the audio worked, so we talked for an hour, and I said maybe it will be better next time. It was then I realized I forgot to remove the lens cover from my camera. These things happen.”

Of the happy hour itself, Plaza said, “It was really nice to connect with other colleagues; I enjoyed this as a lighter moment during days dominated by worrying about my family, about my students and about long-term consequences for the college, community and maybe even the world.”

Many of the happy hour participants shared tips and suggestions for colleagues who were seeing students in need, including altering the way information is disseminated or just picking up the phone.

Dr. Sharimila Ambrose, assistant professor, communication sciences and disorders, said she worries about her students.

“It helped when I took time to connect with each one of my grad students individually and allowed them to speak prior to starting our first lesson on Zoom. Knowing that others are also struggling and finding ways to make learning less stressful was helpful,” she said.

“I called each student one-on-on for 15 or 20 minutes,” said Erika Guay, assistant professor in theater. She said it took longer but for students with limited internet, it was very helpful.

Dr. Fernando Iturburo, professor in modern languages and cultures, told colleagues his week went well.

“I worked more, but students are happy. And the chances of one-on-one meetings with students are very positive for practicing a foreign language,” he said.

Hill congratulated faculty and thanked them “for all your amazing work in continuing instruction for our students under these circumstances. It is truly impressive. We made it through the first week; nothing can stop us now.”

Enyedi weighed in on behalf of those deemed “non-essential.”

“One aspect I’ve been mulling over is how to reach out at least once a week to those in non-essential roles,” the president said. “If you can, call them, ask if anything is going on, any challenges they’re facing in their home lives.”

As the happy hour wound down, Enyedi added, “I also wanted to express my deep gratitude. It’s wonderful to have you as my colleagues. Thank you again for everything.”

The event ended with participants saying they would enjoy making it a regular end-of-the-week feature.

“It’s good to talk to everyone,” said Dr. Kelly Theisen, assistant professor in chemistry.

“Thanks for organizing this,” said Kenneth Baldwin, associate professor in sport and wellness. “These virtual meetings are uplifting.”

The next Virtual Happy Hour will be held Friday, April 3 from 4 to 5 p.m. Log-in details will be provided at a later date.

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