Gephardt News

Student Group and Community Engagement in the Time of COVID-19

As students return to campus this fall, community engagement looks different than normal. Student groups are challenged with shifting their plans to adapt to current remote engagement guidelines. “We had a few projects planned,” said Engineers Without Borders student leader Naasik Syed. “We don’t want to create new partnerships that don’t match what we do, so the challenge is figuring out how to stay true to what we do while remaining safe.” In the spring, Engineers without Borders formed relationships with EarthDance Farms and Operation Brightside to engage students at the local level. Projects included moving their children’s garden to a safer location away from the busy street nearby. When the campus transitioned to remote operations due to COVID-19, the project was postponed. Returning this semester, Syed realized that doing the project would not be possible due to the continued safety concerns. After a phone call with the Gephardt Institute and EarthDance, the group is considering making “Do It Yourself” hydroponic gardening kits for people to pick up and take home. With Operation Brightside, they are helping to add a feature to their website that will allow users to take virtual tours of their demonstration garden.

Other groups such as Campus Y have programs that were created as a direct response to the pandemic. One initiative, Learning Lodge, is for students across the United States to get help with homework given that many in-person tutoring programs have been temporarily postponed. “It was created by two Campus Y alums in March,” shared Sam Shonfeld, Campus Y’s Student Director. “I participated in the program this summer and ended up tutoring a kid in New York.” This fall, however, the WashU chapter is focusing specifically on St. Louis. “If a parent thinks their kid would benefit from homework help, we have students who are ready,” he said. Campus Y has six programs operating in the virtual space, and has also joined forces with the Brown School to start an equity book club. “We’re calling it a book club,” Shonfeld said, “But it’s really going to include videos and podcasts, too. It’s just a space for us to do some internal learning.”

The Gephardt Institute, Campus Life, and Campus Y are hosting a Student Leader Roundtable on October 6. Students will have an opportunity to connect with other groups who may be facing similar challenges this semester and discuss potential solutions. Students will also be able to seek guidance from campus staff and ask questions about guidelines and resources available. Interested students can register here.

Whether it’s internal or with a local organization campus, students are still figuring out ways to be engaged. The Gephardt Institute spent the last few months preparing to help students continue their civic and community work. One resource that was developed, ‘Guidance on Community Engagement during COVID-19,’ is a tool for students, faculty, and staff to use while adapting their community engagement efforts. “No matter where you are in the process—overwhelmed or digging in, we are here to support you,” shared Colleen Smyth, Student Engagement Coordinator. Local agencies have experienced significant changes since the onset of the pandemic and have a range of capacity and needs in this moment. Communication is key. “The most important thing is that people are engaging responsibly, and we would love to talk to you about ways to do it!” Smyth said. Students, faculty, staff, and community partners can connect with Gephardt Institute staff during Virtual Open Hours on Wednesdays from 3:00-5:00pm.