Moore School undergraduate students in Brad Stratton’s fall 2020 Business Communication courses chose for their semester project to focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education institutions and students.
For the assignment, the research teams typically assume the roles of entry-level executives at a specific company, research a problem and craft recommendations for senior executives. Students in past years have researched everything from how BMW automaker can better connect to emerging markets to how a small startup can create new products from recycled plastics.
Stratton, the director for the Center for Business Communication, teaches two sections of the course and usually allows students to decide as a class what issue or company they want the class to study. This semester, students decided they wanted to use the research assignment to explore COVID-19 and how it has impacted universities and students.
“All of my students are very interested in COVID and how it has impacted colleges,” Stratton said. “It made sense to take advantage of that enthusiasm and let them run with it. Maybe they would take a different perspective than we do as instructors and administrators.”
Students conducted initial research individually then formed teams to review each member’s research and create a research plan. Each team subsequently decided how to define the problems and refocus their research. In their final papers, the four teams provided recommendations for how universities can address a host of COVID-related issues.
Junior operation and supply chain management student Byron Williams decided to focus his research around the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on students’ mental health.
“Mental health problems are prevalent in today’s society and have worsened recently, thanks in part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Williams said. “As a result, 89 percent of college students are facing mental health issues because of COVID-19.”
In his paper, Williams addressed the fact that mental health issues have increased among students since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more tools need to be provided to assist students to get the help they need.
“For this project, I came up with two recommendations: first, to improve the institution’s home website by adding more direct information regarding mental health and the services being offered here, and second, to introduce and utilize Kognito, an online simulation program,” he said.
Williams said that the main issue on most campuses is the fact that students don’t know about the mental health resources available to them. He suggests adding more in-depth information regarding mental health services to the university website, frequently hosting mental health fairs, handing out brochures with mental health services information, as well as having professors explain these services to students at the beginning of each semester.
“Everyone here wants a better, healthier Carolina, and to do that, we must first make sure everyone is made aware of everything we have to offer,” he said.
Williams also recommended incorporating the Kognito program as a mandatory simulation that all students must take before starting classes. He said it would be beneficial to teach students how to identify and support others suffering from mental health issues and to understand the resources that can help them.
“Kognito transports students to an online campus atmosphere where they learn and take lessons from students who are exhibiting various forms of mental health issues,” he said. “I have introduced this program because I can see its potential for successfully training our students to be very knowledgeable about mental health all around. To make its impact greater, I suggest that we introduce this to incoming students during their summer orientations and make this mandatory to complete along with our AlcoholEdu and Sexual Assault Prevention modules.”
Taking the pandemic into consideration from another angle, sophomore finance and accounting student Giselle Broughton concentrated her research efforts around the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on day-to-day college life, including meeting new people, living away from home, connecting with professors and enjoying extracurricular activities.
“One of our recommendations was inspired by an initiative at Boston University called the ‘New Normal Challenge,’” Broughton said. “This challenge encourages students to team up and submit ideas to improve campus life during the pandemic. Some of the ideas created by Boston University students included creating an Animal Crossing game tailored to the university, creating apps to incentivize small club meetings and even hosting online workout classes that gives the first few participants a small cash prize or gift card. The recommendations were voted on by students and faculty. Finalists were awarded a cash prize as seed money to help with the implementation of their idea. UofSC could create a competition like this and personalize it to its students and community.”
Broughton said that a challenge like this could create real positive change on campus by putting the responsibility of creating safe replacements for clubs, campus life and recreation directly into the hands of students.
“A reality that the university has to face is that students are going to socialize no matter what,” she said. “The best course of action would be to find ways to allow for and encourage safe, socially-distanced club meetings and activities.”
Both Williams and Broughton feel as though this project was a challenge that allowed them to reflect on the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their lives as college students. They also felt that this project encouraged them to gather their knowledge and skills to promote the future of a better, brighter Carolina.