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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform.

Education Opinion

First-Gen Student Relates Challenges Faced During COVID-19 and Virtual Ed.

By Guest Blogger — August 21, 2020 3 min read

Aimée Eubanks Davis, the founder and CEO of Braven, takes over the blog this week. Previously a 6th grade teacher, Aimée has also led Breakthrough New Orleans and held various leadership roles at Teach For America over the course of her career. Aimée‘s work at Braven focuses on helping underrepresented college students develop the skills, confidence, experiences, and networks that prepare them for success after graduation. In the coronavirus economy, these things may be more important than ever. Today she is passing the mic to a first-gen grad who will share a bit of insight regarding what it’s like to jump-start postcollege life in the midst of the pandemic.


I am a first-generation college student from the Caribbean who took some time off from school to adjust to the culture of the United States and all it had to offer me. So it’s safe to say that receiving my first degree, a bachelors in health-service administration, is my proudest accomplishment by far.

I have dreamed of my graduation day for a very long time. I have been challenged and set back many times on my college journey—from my credits and classes that I completed outside of America not being accepted at CUNY, to medical trauma that required surgery, which slowed down my pace. I have cried and climbed my way to graduation for half a decade now. I envisioned embarrassing photos and family members yelling my name as I crossed the stage, nervous that I might trip. I imagined looking at my family and saying, “Yes, I did this!”

While plans have changed—and the perfect in-person celebration became a mere figment of my imagination—the experience was still memorable. I will one day look back on this moment in time and reflect on the challenges overcome, lessons learned, and how resilient I was during this pandemic.

Like many of my classmates, I found switching to virtual learning during my last semester difficult. While I had the convenience of going to class in my pajamas or taking an exam in bed, the experience was not the same. I missed one-on-one interactions and social cues from my professors and classmates that I was not able to get online on a Zoom session. I missed my professors’ avid love for coffee, the aroma that filled the classroom and the many recommendations for the best type—simple highlights during class time. I also missed the encouraging nods from classmates on Fridays after a rough week. Mostly, I missed the diverse thoughts we shared in person when working on group projects.

Online learning also challenged my time-management skills tremendously. Virtual classes create a false feeling of having all of the time in the world and forced me to be true with myself about my learning abilities at home. I downloaded an application on my phone, which tracked my location and reminded me of what was due every hour of the day. As soon as I got into the vicinity of my home, I was alarmed of all responsibilities at the sound of a chime and focused my attention to my academics.

Despite the challenges, there were many bright moments, too. I developed strong public speaking and presentation skills through volunteering in seminars and workshops. Not only did I master PowerPoint slides and audio during presentations but also how to speak fluently while reading from a slide, without having my eyes follow line by line. In a short amount of time, I developed the art of strong professionalism and comfort in being myself while speaking on my matters and giving opinions on current affairs. My passion has grown into departments of creativity I never knew I possessed.

My favorite part of the semester was being a part of a leadership and career skill-building program on campus known as Braven, which also transitioned to virtual. My “home away from home,” as I liked to call it, gave me the ability to connect with my newfound family members, near and far, at just the tap of a finger to my keyboard. In addition to our classes, known as Learning Labs, where we learned new job-readiness skills, my cohort and I were able to feel a sense of normalcy with the small virtual socials and game nights that were planned via video chat.

This experience has taught me to accept the good with the bad. While it’s not the ending of college I imagined, I’ve learned to find silver linings. So, for those who will continue to experience virtual classes, hang in there and celebrate the good moments. As the adage goes: “Ad astra per aspera (To the stars through difficulty).”

—Rishan Campbell

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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