Faculty & Staff

Dr. West

Pay it 1964ward – Union graduates are problem solvers

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Union’s Pay it 1964WARD Campaign is underway to make a difference in the lives of our students. At UI&U, 100 percent of funds designated to scholarships go directly to the student. Throughout 2020, we will feature a number of Union donors – alumni, trustees, friends, and others – who support Union and our goals to transform lives and communities. Please join them through Changing the Faces of Education – Pay it 1964WARD today.

Below Dr. Charles A. West, Ph.D. 2000, reflects on Union’s unique mission to graduate problem solvers, a skill sorely needed in today’s world. Read more about Dr. West and his career as a catalyst for economic development optimization and his decision to invest in Union students below.

Dr. WestQ. You are paying your degree forward by investing in Union and its students. Why do you choose to invest in Union’s students?
A. My career soared during and after obtaining my Ph.D. from Union. That is one of the reasons I am paying my degree forward. Other reasons include the Union model that offered flexibility so that a working adult with four children could obtain a Ph.D. Not only did my degree enhance my skills but I found myself in a setting that nurtured my skills. I was able to gain experiences I might not have gained elsewhere.

I can’t say enough about the faculty encouraging me to reach heights I didn’t know were possible. I also became close to my classmates and learned so much from them.

Q. What did your degree and your Union experience do for your career?
A. I doubled my consulting fee the day I completed my degree. I am in a very competitive business, the consulting business, and there is no doubt in my mind that having Ph.D. behind my name says to clients I am more qualified. Having the Union stamp and experience put me miles ahead of the competition.

Q. Union is known for its commitment to social justice. Does that aspect of the university influence your decision to invest in Union and its students? If so, how?
A. I saw social justice firsthand at Union. For the most part, absent were gender and racial bias. What impressed me most about Union was the chance to be listened to and to express my opinions freely. I had the chance to hear other viewpoints and I was strengthened because of those viewpoints. I have traveled and worked all over the world and the broad-based education I received from Union prepared me to be successful.

Q. Union’s goal is to transform lives and communities. Can you share how this goal may have impacted you and your career?
A. I work in economic and community development in many of the areas that have been devastated by economic and climatic destruction. My training at Union improved my ability to help these communities. I worked for seven years to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina with the Kauffman Foundation and auto suppliers in Detroit after the Great Recession. Today I am working with the DeBruce Foundation expanding pathways to economic growth and opportunity.

Q. What else would you tell prospective donors about why they should give to Union?
A. I would tell prospective donors that investing in Union is an investment in their future by supporting an Institution focused on problem solving . Union develops individuals that are problem solvers. They are committed to improving the quality of life for all. Union graduates bring insight and understanding and a commitment to unorthodox ways so needed in today’s world.

Support the next generation of leaders with your donation.
Changing the Faces of Education – Pay it 1964WARD today. Click here to donate.

About Dr. West.

Dr. Charles A. West believes that a more innovative integration of economic development, workforce development and entrepreneurship could profoundly impact individuals and communities across this country. He is ecstatic to be a part of The DeBruce Foundation team that is committed to tackling the same issues that are dear to him.

Dr. West is a catalyst for economic development optimization because of his multifaceted experiences. From the halls of academe, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in accounting; an M.B.A. in finance; and Ph.D. in entrepreneurship. He honed his experiential base in the laboratories of the streets where he managed economic development and workforce development programs. After leaving, Dr. West served as an economic development consultant to federal and state agencies as well as nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Dr. West exposed young minds to entrepreneurship and was challenged to demonstrate the efficacy of his teachings while a college professor. Partially as a result, he spent several years heading a management group that bought, grew and sold franchises. Afterward, Dr. West began the journey of integrating his knowledge and experiences into the most successful training program for entrepreneurs in the country. The program served several thousand individuals and had a sizeable economic impact. Dr. West has authored or co-authored books in each chapter of his life to provide learning experiences for others. These books include 7 Secrets of the Gig Gurus: A Toolkit for the Freelance Gig Economy, LESSONS. (A contemporary African-American novel), How To Understand and Secure a Surety Construction Bond, Tonight You Can Be in Business for Yourself, and Black Enterprise, Inc.: Case Studies of a New Experiment.

Tangela Boyd, Ph.D. student

Pay it 1964ward – Doctoral student working to educate underserved populations in lactation

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The Changing the Faces of Education – Pay it 1964ward campaign is underway and is already making a difference in the lives of our students. At Union, 100 percent of funds that donors designate to scholarships go directly to the student.

Scholarship recipient Tangela L. Boyd is passionate about using her Ph.D. to help bring about change for more perinatal education for black women. Her vision is to see black women gain more access to breastfeeding programs.

Tangela is an affiliate faculty member in the UI&U Maternal Child Health in Human Lactation degree program and a graduate of Union’s Master of Arts degree with a major in Health & Wellness and a concentration in Human Lactation. In addition, she is an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC), Certified Lactation Educator (CLE), Certified Childbirth Educator (CCCE), and Certified Postpartum Doula (CPD) who has a passion for working with breastfeeding mothers. She also is a member of United States Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA) and International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA).

Tangela Boyd, Ph.D. studentIn the Q & A below, Tangela discusses her plans to use her Ph.D. to transform lives and communities by helping to eliminate maternal mortality among black women.

Q. How has the scholarship you received impacted your academic career?
A. My scholarship encourages me to keep moving forward with my education. It confirms my investment in Union and Union’s investment in me.

I’m the mom of four sons, a senior at West Point, a freshman at the University of Central Florida (UCF), and 14-year-old twins, so obviously, the scholarship is a blessing.

Q. Union’s goal is to transform lives and communities. Can you share how this goal impacts you and your community?
A. I want to use my Ph.D. to help transform the breastfeeding rates for black women.
Unfortunately, in the black culture, there are not a lot of women who breastfeed. If it were the norm, I do believe more women would consider breastfeeding. It can be hard promoting something that you really do not understand and live. There are negative perspectives such as a lack of support and a lack of confidence that affect the decisions of black women to breastfeed.

My goal is to create a lactation curriculum/program for the underserved population. Lactation education advancement is a key to changing this outcome. I want to create podcasts and work with HBCU’s to help change this disparity. Education and support can make a huge difference.

Q. Union is known for its commitment to social justice. How will social justice be interwoven in your career plans?
A. Union’s commitment to social justice is interwoven through the curriculum and faculty. Union brings out inequality issues. As a student and faculty member in the Maternal Health degree program, I am encouraged to discuss social justice issues with students and colleagues. As I continue to pursue my career, I plan to use what I learn at Union to provide support for increasing breastfeeding rates among black women and shed light on racial disparities and lack of access to good health care.

Q. What are your plans after you earn your degree?
A. I want to use my degree to develop lactation curriculum/programs to educate underserved populations, especially black women.

You can learn more about Tangela and her work at her web site Mommy Milk & Me Inc.

Support the next generation of leaders with your donation to the Changing the Faces of Education – Pay it 1964WARD campaign today. Click here to donate.

graduates smiling

Union President Announces No Tuition Increases for New Academic Year – COVID-19 Emergency Grant Established by Alumni Association for Struggling Students

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Union President, Dr. Karen Shuster Webb, has announced that there will be no tuition increases for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs for the 2020-2021 academic year beginning on July 1, 2020. In addition, the Ph.D. residency fee has been waived for this upcoming academic year.

This news comes at an opportune moment when many of Union’s more than 1000 students are struggling with the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Webb noted, “While Union’s model and legacy of distance, low-residency, and online learning has served our students and the university well during this time, we fully understand and acknowledge that our students’ lives have been impacted in countless ways. This is something we could do to ease their stress and their financial obligations.”

graduates smilingTuition and fees for each program can be found at this link.

In addition to no increases in tuition, students can petition the university for a small emergency grant, made possible by an allocation of funds from Union’s International Alumni Association. Faculty and staff have also contributed to this fund, allowing for one-time $300 grants to students in need.

To contribute to the COVID-19 Emergency Fund, click here and scroll down the designation dropdown options.

President Karen Schuster Webb

Union Institute & University President Karen Schuster Webb Named to ACE Board of Directors

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Union Institute & University President Karen Schuster Webb has been named to the Board of Directors of the American Council on Education (ACE).

President Karen Schuster Webb

President Karen Schuster Webb

ACE is the major coordinating body for colleges and universities in the U.S. Dr. Webb’s term with the Board will continue until March of 2022. Currently, Dr. Webb serves as chair of the ACE Women’s Network Executive Council (WNEC) and is a presidential sponsor for the ACE affiliated Ohio Women’s Network.

“ACE’s mission is to mobilize the higher education community to shape effective public policy and foster innovative, high-quality practice. Now, more than ever, we are fortunate during this challenging time for our students and institutions, to have leaders from across the diverse landscape of American colleges and universities who are committed to helping us achieve these goals,” said ACE President Dr. Ted Mitchell. “I deeply appreciate Karen’s dedication and willingness to serve in this role.”

Dr. Webb has been president of Union Institute & University since July 2018. She brings to the ACE board more than 20 years of executive leadership experience in higher education, most recently as Midwest Campus President (Yellow Springs, Ohio) for Antioch University. Prior to her work at Antioch, Dr. Webb served as founding dean of the California School of Education at the Alliant International University System.

Read more about Dr. Webb and her leadership philosophy at this link.

Yolanda Villa

Mental Health Check-in – Free Webinar Wednesday, May 13

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Union Institute & University is pleased to present a free webinar on COVID-19 and its impact on mental and physical health, Wednesday, May 13 at 8:00 p.m. EST/5:00 p.m. PST.

Host Yolanda Villa, LPC, Union alumna and faculty in the M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, will facilitate a discussion centered on these questions:

  • What is the state of your mental health during the quarantine?
  • Have you or someone close to you been impacted?
  • What are some coping methods you have used to deal with the stress and anxiety you may be experiencing?

The presentation will be presented through Zoom call and limited to the first 50 participants. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting on May 13. Registering is fast, easy and free

Date: Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Time: 8:00 pm EST / 5:00 pm PST

Host: Yolanda Villa, LPC - Union Clinical Mental Health Counseling Faculty

Where: Zoom call limited to the first 50 participants. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting May 13.

Registering is fast, easy and free.

Meet the host

Yolanda Villa, M.Div., LPC (or Reverend. ‘Yo,Yolanda Villa’ as she is affectionately called by some) is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and licensed psychotherapist. She earned her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Union Institute & University. She combines her love of teaching, consultation, and training in the health sector, academic and corporate settings, as well as religious organizations. Her areas of expertise include compassion fatigue/burnout, neuro-counseling, addiction/substance abuse, co-dependency, trauma, informed parenting, women and children sexual assault, spirituality and the journey to overall well-being. Her private counseling practice is in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her work leads individuals, couples, families and groups to a fully embodied awareness of what it means to embrace healthy, holistic living. Learn more about Yolanda Villa at this link.

Stay Connected: Union alumni respond to COVID-19 (Second Edition)

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Welcome to the second edition of Stay Connected where we share how Union students and alumni are responding to the pandemic.

Criminal Justice Management Grad on the Frontlines of COVID-19

Sgt. Leonard La France speaking at a virtual Eureka City Council meetingSgt. Leonard La France is serving on the front lines of the COVID 19 pandemic, working to prevent a potential coronavirus outbreak among the local homeless population in Eureka, California.

As the leader of the Eureka Police Department Community Safety Enhancement Team, La France and his department are “working with the homeless community to get individuals connected to resources” he said in a recent interview with the Times Standard.

His team works to ensure the homeless are getting free meal services while maintaining social distancing. They have added a handwashing station to the area and are handing out donated ponchos to the homeless. La France also understands the necessity to coordinate new protocols for sheltering the homeless who have recently been released from jail.

While the pandemic is affecting all populations, the homeless are particularly vulnerable under the best of circumstances. The incidence of psychological issues/mental health, and other underlying health issues exacerbates one’s vulnerability. Combine these factors with the lack of sanitary facilities and the impossible task of keeping six feet apart in crowded homeless shelters and camps, and the incidence of contracting the virus is multiplied.

The Eureka Police Department’s Community Safety and Enhancement Team (CSET) and St. Vincent de Paul are not letting COVID-19 stop their Free Meal outreach. Watch the video to learn more about how things have changed since the pandemic began.

According to WIRED, the homeless have little access to toilets, much less toilet paper. Those places where the homeless could often find shelter or use a bathroom—libraries, gyms, fast food restaurants—are largely closed. Community services like shelters and soup kitchens are running out of room and food, as well as workers, exacerbating the challenges the homeless already face.

Sgt. La France is a 2019 graduate of Union’s Criminal Justice Management degree program developed by and for law enforcement professionals designed to prepare officers to move up the ranks into supervisory, management, and executive positions within the criminal justice system. He is a current student in Union’s Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) degree program designed to prepare current and emerging managers to take a thoughtful approach to leadership and invent their own invaluable solutions to complex issues. Learn more about the MSOL.

Military Moms Share Breastfeeding Tips During COVID-19

Is it safe to breastfeed during the pandemic? Alumna Amy Barron Smolinski executive director of Mom2Mom Global and Breastfeeding in Combat Boots and her team of volunteers have collaborated with Mattos Lactation to produce a 3-part blog series focused on breastfeeding during the pandemic, pregnancy and birth during this time, and helping breastfeeding service members who may be activated, mobilized, or deployed in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Mom breastfeeding in uniform

Photo courtesy of Mom2Mom Global and Breastfeeding in Combat Boots

The organizations are the only national nonprofit organizations dedicated to information, advocacy, and support for breastfeeding military families.

Union Institute & University’s is one of the few universities in the country that offers an online degree in Maternal Child Health in Human Lactation at both the bachelor’s and master’s level. Amy serves on the UI&U Pathway 2 Lactation Studies Advisory Panel. She is also an Advanced Lactation Consultant and Certified Lactation Counselor. She is a graduate of Union’s Masters of Arts History & Culture major.

If you have a passion for lactation and counseling expectant mothers and mothers of young infants about feeding and caring for their children, be sure to check out the Maternal Child Health in Human Lactation degree.

Stay Connected during these challenging times by sharing information, helpful tips, and encouragement to your fellow Union students and alumni.

Send your updates, ideas, comments, and questions to: or to
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Dr. Chris Voparil

Faculty member supports students with donation to Alumni Association COVID-19 Emergency Fund

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Dr. Chris Voparil, faculty in Union’s Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies, was among the first donors to give to the new emergency fund established by Union’s International Alumni Association Board to assist Union students impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Grants of up to $300 will be issued to students in need. Read Dr. Voparil’s reasons behind his generous contribution.

Dr. Chris VoparilQ: Thank you, Dr. Voparil, for your substantial gift in support of Union’s Alumni Association COVID-19 Student Emergency Fund. Can you share what motivated you to make this generous contribution?
As we know, so many have been impacted directly and severely by the pandemic. Fortunately, I am, as yet, not one of them. I would be working from home anyway and, thankfully, have not lost my income. Imperfect as it may be, I am pleased that our government was able to pass a stimulus package to begin to address the enormous economic impact. After receiving a payment myself, I simply felt that there is no reason for it to go to me; it should help someone in need. The fund established by Union’s International Alumni Association Board is the perfect vehicle to get it to students who are being impacted.

Q: As faculty in Union’s Ph.D. program, you teach courses that bring into focus Union’s value of social justice. Did that play a role in your decision to give?
In the seminar I teach on Ethics and Social Justice, we were just reading about how in times of crisis it is natural to tighten our circle of moral concern to just ourselves and those closest to us. For understandable reasons, the first priority becomes ensuring our loved ones are safe. We see people hoarding supplies, personal protective equipment, even toilet paper! A social rather than individual approach to ethics demands that we also take active measures to extend care to strangers and people we don’t know. Even doctors and health care providers have reported that the pandemic has changed the practice of medicine from doing everything possible for the individual patient to having to conserve resources to take care of the whole community.

Q: Can you describe how your students are being impacted by the pandemic? How are the conversations changing within their studies?
It is hard to generalize, but for sure everyone is feeling the psychological strain of fear and anxiety, which reduces the intellectual bandwidth we have to devote to reading, thinking, and writing – all critical to the Ph.D. program. Amazingly, many students have been able not only to keep up with assignments but also to do some of their best work. Others have been rendered unable to study at all under the weight of emotional and financial impacts and caring for family members. At least one student likely contracted the virus but, without health insurance or savings, never sought medical attention. (The student is now OK.) Thinking about my students and all those Union students I don’t know motivated me as well.

Union’s Alumni Association COVID-19 Emergency Fund was established to support Union students in challenging financial or physical circumstances during the global coronavirus pandemic. To contribute, please give online and designate COVID-19 Emergency Fund or send a contribution to Union by mail to: Alumni Office/Union Institute & University/440 E McMillan St/ Cincinnati OH 45206. Questions? Contact Carolyn Krause at 513-487-1165 or

Dr. Gladys Hankins

Pay it 1964WARD – Dr. Gladys Hankins believes giving is a principle-driven act

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Union’s Pay it 1964WARD campaign is underway to make a difference in the lives of our students. At UI&U, 100 percent of funds designated to scholarships goes directly to the student. Throughout 2020, we will feature a number of Union donors – alumni, trustees, friends, and others – who support Union and our goals to transform lives and communities. Please join them through Changing the Faces of Education – Pay it 1964WARD today.

Dr. Gladys HankinsDr. Gladys Gossett Hankins is a Union alumna, Board of Trustee member, author, speaker, diversity expert, and global management consultant. In the Q & A below, she discusses why she invests in Union and explains why she believes in the principle of giving back.

Q: We are launching the Pay it 1964Ward campaign to raise $1,964,000 to support our students achieve their dreams. You are a trustee, an alumna, and have been a long time giver. Can you tell us why you give to Union? Why do you choose to invest in Union’s students?
A: I believe in the principle of giving back. That means giving monetary support to the educational institutions from which I received my degrees. I have done so annually since I received my associate degree from a two-year Catholic college. I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Rockhurst, a Jesuit university, and my Ph.D. from Union Institute & University in 1994. I was a non-traditional student for each one of my degrees, studying at night while working full-time, which makes me appreciate my alma maters even more.

I am so proud of the truly growth filled education I received at Union when studying for my Ph.D. As a trustee, it is an honor for me to join the commencements where I see the joy on the faces of the graduates, and I am always reminded of my own joyous Union experience and graduation. Union’s Ph.D. program gave me the chance to study, learn, and earn my degree while continuing my full-time job, when other schools in this area required me to be a full-time, non-working student. I feel my donation helps Union directly as it is applied to where it is most needed to benefit students. I would love all Union’s alumni to express their gratitude toward Union with an annual monetary gift.

Q: Union is known for its commitment to social justice. Does that aspect of the university influence your decision to invest in Union and its students? If so, how?
A: I care deeply and share Union’s commitment to address such an important and necessary issue. I have personally been able to use my Ph.D. focus in Organizational Behavior and Development to develop and conduct programs on diversity that have been attended by thousands of people in over 20 countries, with respect to social justice matters, particularly pertaining to organizational effectiveness and diversity and inclusion. I trust my contributions help other students with their goals.

Q: Union’s goal is to transform lives and communities. Can you share how this goal may have impacted you?
A: In the work I did at Procter & Gamble, as well as the consulting I continued to do after my retirement, my Ph.D. gave me automatic acceptance as an expert in the areas I have consulted in. I also authored a book on diversity, Diversity Blues: How To Shake ‘Em, that has been made available through the public library system globally. I believe that all Union graduates may have made equally substantial contributions to social justice in significant ways.

Q: What else would you tell prospective donors about why they should give to Union?
A: I would say to alumni, “You have a vested interest in the continuing success of this university. As long as UI&U continues to be accredited and ranked, you will always be able to be proud of the institution from which you graduated. Union is primarily a tuition-driven institution. But having the benefit of large numbers of donors, as well as people who bequeath substantial amounts, guarantees that Union can continue to exist and educate world-changing students.”

Giving is a principle-driven act. If every one of Union’s 20,000 graduates were able to give just $100 per year, that $2 million would ensure that Union will continue to serve students who are attracted to the benefits of our fine university.

Please donate today at this link Changing the Faces of Education – Pay it 1964WARD campaign.

About Dr. Hankins

Dr. Gladys Gossett Hankins is an author, speaker, diversity expert, and global management consultant. She holds a PhD degree in Organizational Behavior and Development. A former corporate executive and adjunct college professor, she is president of Telora Victor, Inc., a management consulting organization specializing in organizational effectiveness and diversity. Her clients have included the Federal Government, major corporations, small businesses and non-profit organizations. Gladys has coached top management on the issues associated with managing a diverse workforce. She has done extensive work in diversity and has consulted across the global community, creating and delivering workshops throughout North America, South America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Western and Eastern Europe.

A proven leader in designing breakthrough initiatives, her programs have been called life transforming and credited with changing organizational cultures and shaping their diversity initiatives. She has received numerous testimonials on her personal effect and impact on individuals and organizations.

An author, Gladys has four published works including a business book on diversity entitled Diversity Blues, How to Shake ‘Em, a best-seller that deals with racism and sexism in organizations, and what to do about them.

Her fiction works are mystery novels, written under her pen name, GiGi Gossett, and set in Cincinnati. By Any Other Name addresses race, privilege and betrayal, some of life’s most beguiling situations. Her most recent publication, The Midwife Factor is an international mystery in which past secrets are revealed as two girls, separated at birth attempt to find their way back to each other.

She collaborated with Yolanda Webb to write a “tween” mystery entitled A Twisy Girls Mystery: The Case of the Dropped Pearl. Gladys continues to write both fiction and non-fiction. All of her publications can be obtained from and other electronic booksellers. They are also available at public libraries.

She is a life member of the NAACP, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and The Links, Incorporated and has a long history of community service, currently serving on several non-profit boards.

Dr. Jay Keehn

So, this is where we are

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Dr. Jay Keehn, Union Institute & University’s Executive Director, Student Support Services, shares an essay reflecting what many of us are dealing with during these uncertain times, and some good news and advice for Union’s model of distance learning.
Share your reflections with your fellow Union alumni and the university community to or to or post your information on SHARE YOUR STORY.

Dr. Jay KeehnCOVID-19 has turned the world upside down and shuttered everyone in. Businesses are closing. Restaurants are literally starving for customers. Unemployment seems to have found the right conditions to thrive. Movie theatres, parks and playgrounds, barbershops, libraries, museums, etc. are all empty. Even churches and synagogues have shut their doors and developed policies for praying alone. The lights of Broadway are out. This virus has, with its global disruption, plagued society in a way where rebounding from it won’t be as smooth as the initial shot was.

Life has changed. We did not ask for this. Sure, there were people, perhaps many people, who spent most of their employment hours fantasizing about being home. They said to themselves, “Why did I fight traffic to get to my office only to have phone/video meetings that I could have taken from my pool deck?” These same people are craving those moments when they meet their colleagues at the morning coffee pot and share the cuteness of their kids’ / grandkids’ talents, scrutinize each other’s weekend plans, moan about the horrible call their team’s manager made, or whether the Game of Thrones ending was bad or epic bad. Now, they are at their own Keurig wondering: “how much is this affecting the productivity of my work team? How much is this affecting my own productivity?”

Almost as soon as the words “social distancing” became embedded in our new lexicon, colleges and universities across the country started shutting their campuses. School administrators were rushed into the unenviable position of policymaker in times of health crisis. Sure, they had some policies for an outbreak on campus. But, no one alive has seen anything like this. What do they do with students from different states/countries who now reside in their dorms? What about athletic teams? What about commencement? And, most importantly, what about classes?

Millions of students (from preschool to medical school) are now acclimating themselves to a new educational landscape, one in which many are woefully ill-prepared. Some K-12 (public and private) have employed technology as part of their classroom experiences, and moving students online was an easy transition. But, most have not. Additionally, many children in low-poverty areas can’t afford computers or WIFI to be in their classes at home (some school districts should be applauded for supplying their students with laptops). Then, there are the questions around feeding children whose only viable meals come from school. Yet, to help flatten the curve during this pandemic, school systems across the country closed their doors, and the new educational landscape contains the contents being Zoomed directly to their bedroom.

Online education is not new in higher education. It is now decades since the Internet played the classroom role for many colleges and universities. The technological advancement of learning management systems has allowed professors to mirror the instruction they were providing in the face-to-face classroom. Consequently, the more traditional brick and mortar colleges now offer many of their classes online. For the past 15 years, I have been fortunate to work for a university that has been social distancing before it was trendy – or mandated. Since 1964, Union Institute & University has been perfecting distance education. As technology advanced from snail mail correspondence to fax machine syllabi deliveries to professor/student e-mail communication to our highly interactive learning management systems, UI&U has advanced along with these educational models. For 56 years, UI&U has been doing what many universities are now scrambling to do.

With the economic struggles accompanying the pandemic, many may be asking, “Now what am I supposed to do?” Many may be thinking, “I wish I had finished my degree. I would be in a better place to get back out there after this crisis passes.”
UI&U’s experience with distance education may be more vital now than ever before. Now, as we are being sheltered in place, jumping down rabbit holes of YouTube videos, getting stuck on our couches while watching Rocky I – VI marathons, or reliving our childhoods by setting up old model trains, perhaps the Internet can bring you something more valuable – a degree from Union Institute & University.

But, this essay is not meant to be a commercial for this stellar university. I want to look at one specific piece – student support services.

Once the instructional hours are appropriately rationed online, it would seem simple to also provide support online. Student advisors, academic tutors, career coaches, disability services, etc. can call or FaceTime the student for individual attention. For some, that is good enough. But, for most, this may very well be where the personal connection is missed most. Most universities have a tagline somewhere in their admissions literature emphasizing community – “be part of our community,” or “you are community here at _____U.” People want the community members who are supporting them through their college dreams.
In 2015, I had the privilege to be a presenter at the NASPA annual conference. The title of my presentation was: Connecting Students to Services and Services to Students in an Online Environment.

Since 1964, the way one would define “community” has changed significantly. There has been a sociological shift that has paralleled the academic shift. The tsunami of technological advancements has displaced the traditional notion of education. But, it is my stance that it also has made us more connected than ever before.

There are so many social media apps that universities can use to keep connected and to include in their services portfolio. Imagine a Facebook group only open to a specific class, where the professor can interact, post, and tag academic content. Imagine an Instagram page from a student advisor to share social activities such as book club or pet grooming. Imagine a Twitter feed from the library team or academic tutors that push out study and research tips. Imagine a LinkedIn page run by executive career coaches. All this assists with the sense of community, even when the members are spread across the globe.

This is useful for colleges to make their online students feel part of the community even when they are not on campus. They can livestream guest speakers, Snapchat from campus ceremonies, and YouTube sporting events.

This may very well seem too simplistic. No one needs to be told this. Everyone uses social media. Students who feel more connected, take advantage of services provided to them at a higher rate, and exhibit higher levels of success. That is why it is important to understand the sociology of education, and more so now, the sociology of online education.

What happens when our world returns to a sense of normalcy? Will businesses see that they did not lose vital productivity by having employees working remotely? Will universities feel the economic decline for months, years? Will more universities offer more courses online? Or, full programs? Perhaps, universities will look to have more pieces online. For example, student support services. Perhaps, not.

So, this is where we are.

Our sense of connectedness has weakened and strengthened at the same time. We all are taking the precautions necessary to get us past this Corona pandemic. Maybe that becomes a new reality. No one ever will shake hands again, and even when we return to offices, we will make sure to stand six feet away. We are all recognizing the heroics of nurses and doctors. They are truly amazing. All the time. Maybe we will always have that heightened level of appreciation.

And, maybe when the world returns to a new sense of normalcy, we might better understand what community means today. Both, the people who live nearby and can help with shopping and a comfortable face-to-face six feet away wave, and the people who you now connect with daily on Zoom.

And, for us, student affairs professionals, whether this is a new way of connecting or not, let’s use all at our disposal to connect with all of our students and ensure that they are safe and healthy and they are getting all the support they need. Let our policies (especially those surrounding assignment flexibility) reflect the seriousness of the pandemic we are experiencing. Students have come this far, it is our responsibility to help them to the finish line.

Yes, distance education is not new. It just seems new for many. It was common before “social distancing” was. But, we do not have to be distant. We can be connected now more than ever. It is when we can’t be together on campus and in offices, that our connections become much more important.

That’s just where we are.

Explore how UI&U’s distance education model can help you on your educational journey, by clicking here.

Stay Connected: Union alumni respond to Covid-19

By | Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Students | No Comments

In response to President’s Webb’s message to Stay Connected during the COVID-19 pandemic by sharing information, helpful tips, and encouragement, we are pleased to share how several Union alumni are responding to the new realities.

Dr. Christopher Nemeth Conducts Research to Mitigate a Shortage of Respiratory Protection Devices During Public Health Emergencies

Alumnus Christopher Nemeth, Ph.D. 2003, is working on respiratory protection devices (RPDs) in an effort to mitigate a shortage during a public health emergency. Dr. Nemeth has also written a paper in the Journal of Patient Safety on hospital acceptance of UV decontamination to extend the life of respirators.

Dr. Nemeth, principal scientist at Applied Research Associates in Chicago, studies human performance in high hazard environments (healthcare, military, aviation/aerospace, ground transportation) to learn about the effects of technology, and how technology can be improved in order to benefit human performance.

Read about Dr. Nemeth’s work here.

Free Nutrition & Integrative tips during Covid-19

Alumna Leslie Korn, Ph.D. 2006, is offering 10+ keys to prevention and to enhance the capacity of the body and mind to respond effectively to stress and Covid-19. Dr. Korn is a renowned expert in natural and integrative medicine specializing in the treatment of trauma, chronic illness and optimal wellness. Enroll for the free course here.

Poem for First Responders

Alumnus Dave Farson, Ph.D. 1977, shares the following poem in tribute to the first responders working endlessly during the COVID-19 crisis.

God sends angels to help us
along our way.
When we are in need
an angel is there.
When we are lost
an angel helps us
find our way home.
An angel is God’s hand in our lives.
Do not expect wings.
Expect warm hearts,
gentle hands,
authentic concern,
true courage.
An angel is not found where
the applause is loudest.
An angel is found where the need
is greatest.
Let’s praise the angels God sends!

Stay Connected during COVID 19 by sharing information, helpful tips, and encouragement.

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