Writing & Research Center met with challenges

COVID-19 restrictions create boundaries between students and in-person tutoring

Alyssa+Bileck%2C+consultant+supervisor+at+Gannon%27s+Writing+%26+Research+Center%2C+and+Nicole+Borro%2C+assistant+director%2C+sit+at+a+socially+distanced+table+in+the+center%2C+located+in+the+lower+level+of+the+Nash+Library.+It+is+open+Monday+through+Friday+and+Sunday+nights.

Nadya Makay

Alyssa Bileck, consultant supervisor at Gannon’s Writing & Research Center, and Nicole Borro, assistant director, sit at a socially distanced table in the center, located in the lower level of the Nash Library. It is open Monday through Friday and Sunday nights.

Madeline Bruce, Features Editor

COVID-19 and its impact on operations, both social and academic, at Gannon University have been a topic of conversation held by students and faculty alike since the students’ return to campus on Aug. 10.

Some impacts are obvious and more publicized, such as sports seasons being postponed, restrictions on face-to-face classes and a limited social scene. However, other impacts aren’t as obvious or talked about. The changes affecting Gannon’s Writing & Research Center (WRC) are one of those.

The WRC has always been a place that supports all students and welcomes them in with open arms, attempting to destigmatize the idea that tutoring is intimidating, Beth Kons, director of the WRC, said.

The student-led staff gets the word out as early as possible to freshmen – and to all students – that the WRC is a place they can rely on. This semester, however, has looked a bit different.

To ensure student safety, consultants sanitize between every appointment, and the number of in-person appointments are limited. There is also a plexiglass screen in the center at every table to separate the student and consultant. Instead of passing a student’s paper back and forth, the center is utilizing a platform called Conceptboard, which it used in the past for online appointments, so that the student and consultant can view the paper simultaneously.

Despite these changes, the staff is still just as committed to helping students, Kara Purpura, a senior student consultant in the WRC said.

“We’re still offering the same quality services we were before,” she said. “We still have online and in-house appointments, although in-house might look a little different.”

Despite offering the same services and level of care, the center has seen a significant decrease in the number of appointments this semester, in comparison with past years.

By the sixth week of this semester, the WRC had only seen 314 appointments. By the sixth week of the 2019 fall semester, it saw 892 appointments.

Even when it was located in Palumbo Academic Center, as opposed to its current location in the lower level of Nash Library, it had 596 appointments by the sixth week of the fall 2017 semester. So, what exactly has caused this significant decrease in appointments?

Most of the appointments are coming from past clients, Kons said. The biggest deficit is in freshman students, who may not be booking appointments out of fear or simply a lack of awareness of the services offered by the center.

A limit on large group gatherings has prevented the WRC staff from holding in-house orientations with freshmen first-year seminar classes and college composition classes, which generate most of the freshmen clients. Without this orientation, freshmen are less likely to seek help from the WRC.

“Without being able to hold freshman orientations, we aren’t able to have that interaction with the first-year students to explain what the WRC has to offer and show them that the first appointment isn’t as scary as it may seem,” Purpura said.

To combat this, the WRC staff turned to video, the new go-to in the pandemic era, to get the word out to freshmen about the services offered and the warm, friendly atmosphere at the center.

Their efforts started with trying to do an orientation via video, but a lack of feedback from professors led them to believe the video was too long, so they cut it into segments to make it more adjustable for the attention span of students.

There is a video on the center’s YouTube channel about the services offered, how to book an appointment and how to chat with a consultant via conference call, but, once again, not many students know about the YouTube channel, nor do they have the time to watch the videos.

To combat these issues, the staff decided to make a commercial, which was a lighthearted way to show students where the WRC is located, how to create an account, how to make an appointment and the services offered there. Overall, it was a way to show students what the center is really like.

“We’re really trying to get it out to the students that we like to have fun, and we’re not intimidating,” Kons said.

The commercial is available to watch on the WRC’s YouTube channel and on My.Gannon.edu via a link in the informational announcements tab.

Student consultants in the WRC stress how important it is to utilize the services offered there, as well as the steadfast support offered to all students by the staff of the center. Remote classes and the overall uncertainty surrounding the pandemic can make coursework even more difficult than under normal circumstances.

“I think students should take advantage of these services to support their academics now, more than ever, since remote delivery might be challenging to handle without support,” Claudia Herrero, a junior student consultant in the WRC, said. “The WRC has been able to adapt well to the new COVID-19 guidelines in order to assist students in both an in-person and online platform.”

Although encouraging students to visit the WRC and informing students about services offered can be a successful way to attract more students, the staff is making sure it’s covering all its bases when it comes to increasing student awareness about the center.

To promote themselves even further, they will be starting a raffle Friday. Every other Friday until the end of the semester, the staff will draw a random name from the list of students who visited the WRC during that two-week span. The student whose name is drawn will receive a $10 Starbucks gift card.

Even though efforts like the raffle and commercial should boost the amount of appointments consultants are seeing, Kons said her main concern is reaching every single freshman on campus.

“I want every freshman to get the message that we’re here and we can help at any stage of the writing process,” she said. “And we’re not just here for writing. We can tutor in any humanities course.”

Kons also added that this help isn’t limited to students. The WRC is open to faculty, as well, for any help they need in the humanities subjects.

“I think that everybody is stressed right now,” she said. “If we can help faculty with, say APA presentations, that takes a little bit off their plate.”

Overall, she wants the Gannon community to know that the WRC is open to help and will overcome whatever COVID-19 barriers exist to serve students and faculty.

“We’ve never had so many barriers between us and our clients,” Kons said. “But I don’t think their issues have changed, and if anything, I think people are more stressed out.

“Making sure that they’re still confident in their academics is important, and that’s our mission right now. We’ll keep searching for ways to overcome each barrier.”

Signing up for tutoring in the WRC is easy. Go to gannon.mywconline.com to make an appointment with a consultant in any field of humanities. Consultants are also available to read papers and help with the writing and researching process. To learn more about how to set up an appointment, view the WRC’s commercial at my.gannon.edu in the informational announcements tab.

The center is open in-house and online 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with online-only hours from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. It is also open from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. Fridays, and from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. Sundays, with online-only hours from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m.

MADELINE BRUCE