From the perspective of pandemic professors

Ferris staff members share their feelings on remote living and learning

Graphic by: Sienna Parmelee | Production A

Nearly fourteen months have passed since COVID-19 changed the lives of the Ferris community and beyond. While profes- sors were advised to be considerate of their students, it is time they shared their own thoughts and experiences.

The healing of the outdoors

Cindy Fitzwilliams-Heck has been teach- ing biology for nearly two decades. She is an avid member of the local watershed coun- cil, our state’s natural resource agency, and the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education.

As a passionate naturalist, Fitzwil- liams-Heck turned to the outdoors for help throughout the pandemic.

“I teach Nature Study. so I would kind of practice what I preached in my class… So, in a sense, I was doing what my students were doing,” Fitzwilliams-Heck said.

Nature Study is a fully remote course that required students to draw connections be- tween the many layers of the environment that surround them.

Because the effects of self-isolation can be so damaging, Fitzwilliams-Heck was hap- py to teach a class that encouraged people to heal through nature.

“All of my assignments were based on actual observations, making it real and rel- evant for the individual student, wherever they were. And so, I think that really made it meaningful and doable,” Fitzwilliams-Heck said.

After braving the elements of the Michigan wilderness, Fitzwilliams-Heck ensures sure her empathy is not made a casualty.

“[It helps] knowing that everybody’s trying to do the best that they can do. And some- times just being accepting, which I think I am,” Fitzwilliams-Heck said.

Even though she misses face-to-face interaction with her students immensely, Fitzwilliams-Heck is proud of how well she adapted to work in the era of COVID-19.

“I’m optimistic about just going forward, you know. I feel like I gained, a lot of skills over the pandemic in my classroom and in other aspects of my life, professionally and personally,” Fitzwilliams-Heck said.

Fitzwilliams-Heck is keeping her head and hopes high for a brighter future.

Dr. Groves gets his groove back

With the pandemic came a harsh political climate. Humanities, philosophy and reli- gions professor J. Randall Groves appreci- ated the diplomacy of his colleagues during this time.

“Philosophers are pretty low key; we’re so committed to proper argumentation.

We’re used to disagreeing with each other amicably and just logic shopping. I mean, if you’re trained as a philosopher, you know a fallacy from a mile away. So, we don’t try to get away with those with each other,” Groves said.

While he thoroughly enjoys his area of study, teaching is somewhat of a day job for Groves. Come summertime, he looks for- ward to playing live music for the people of Big Rapids once again.

Groves is planning several July gigs with his eight-piece blues ensemble called Key West Permafrost Blues Band. He is also a proud member of a quartet called Shan- non and the Professors.

“It’s kind of [an] all-purpose band that does classic rock, jazz, pop music and all kinds of stuff,” Groves said.

When looking to the future of campus life, Groves is most excited for the little things, such as in person, mask-less lectures.

“That’s the thing, getting back to all the normal rhythms of life. You know, going to talk to people, going to lunch with people, talking about ideas,” Groves said.

Groves also acknowledged the hardships his students have faced and commended them for their achievements.

“I’m glad I wasn’t a student during this time, you know, so my hat is off to the stu- dents that have gone through this… You guys handled it pretty well. There could have

been a lot of anger and lashing out and that sort of thing, but I didn’t see that,” Groves said.

To learn more about Groves’ musical per- formances, visit the Key West Permafrost Blues Band Facebook page.

Designing a new normal

When asked the loaded and nuanced question “how are you,” design professor Alison Popp gave an honest “fine.”

As an optimist and self-proclaimed te- chie, Popp stays focused on the advantag- es of working remotely in her field.

“I try to look at the bright side of things, I feel like there are things that I find beneficial because of the field I’m in,” Popp said. “De- sign has been very innovative in the way that designers have been able to work from re- mote locations. I worked remotely decades ago with clients that were far away.”

Some of Popp’s home learning technolo- gy felt even more advanced than her class- room equipment. She has preferred show- ing students quick designs via Zoom with her iPad instead of the classroom projector.

This mastery of new teaching methods was useful for Popp, as she felt a disconnect between herself and her virtual students.

“It was unclear to me what the students’ expectations were. So, I felt like I had to justify how I was going to deliver the class, even though I was really confident in my skills and abilities,” Popp said.

Having noticed strong pandemic fatigue from her students, Popp tries to keep those around her engaged whether she is teaching or parenting.

“I have young kids and I keep saying ‘I know you’re young, but let’s talk about how this is going and how we’re feeling because this is so historic. When you are a teenager, you’re going to talk about this time in your life. I don’t want us to forget about it.’” Popp said. “I think it’s really important for my stu- dents to feel that way too. Let’s not forget this, what are we going to learn from this?”

Being vaccinated herself, Popp encourag- es all students to contribute to herd immuni- ty in preparation for the fall semester.

“I’m worried that we might have some stu- dents who aren’t going to get vaccinated. So, I’m hoping that that becomes a clear goal for all of us,” Popp said.

Popp feels she did a good job making the most of the pandemic. Still, she is more than ready to begin a safe, new academic year.

The Importance of Relationships

English professor David Marquard will re- member this year as one of the longest in his life. To him, the most challenging aspect of the pandemic is maintaining relation- ships with his students.

“It’s hard to meet your peers. That’s what college is kind of for: building relations. And it’s really hard to build relations,” Marquard said.

Marquard appreciates the satisfaction of not only knowing his students but watching them succeed in their careers as well. Stu- dents know that he is always available for guidance.

“I have students from 10 years ago, 15 years ago that still email me, just asking how I’m doing. I always say at the end of the semester, ‘if you need anything, my office door’s always open, even after you gradu- ate,’” Marquard said.

Marquard has been able to make these connections by focusing on the individuali- ty of everyone he teaches.

“I treat my students like full human be- ings, for who they are, for their political view- points, their social viewpoint. They teach me, you know. I learn so much about life in general. And that’s not happening, so it’s dif- ficult,” Marquard said.

In order to push through these isolated times, Marquard reminds himself that every day is temporary.

“Even when I get really depressed or on the low, I know we’re gonna get out of that, it’s going to happen,” Marquard said.

In hopes of a safe and vaccinated sum- mer, Marquard is spending his days with his children and new cats.

“I have two kids, I have an 11 and an eight-year-old. What’s the psychological ef- fect on them? It’s gonna be interesting to watch that play out. I think they’ll be okay because kids tend to be very resilient,” Mar- quard said.

Like many other Ferris staff members, Marquard is keeping a positive attitude as the semester ends and is exceptionally ex- cited to meet new students in the fall.