Thompson Rivers University

Student supports step up during pandemic

November 17, 2020

TRU is ensuring thousands of students are continuing their university education, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally, there have been bumps in the road. But there have also been unheralded successes and unnamed heroes who have given TRU students the help they’ve needed during a time when everyone is living with uncertainty.

“Thompson Rivers University has stepped up its tutoring, advising, counselling and other supports to provide both virtual and in-person assistance,” says Sara Wolfe, who was acting dean of students as the university initially responded to the pandemic. “We are doing our utmost to ensure that students are achieving their goals.”

For students, the pandemic shut down classrooms, made some work placements uncertain, pushed courses online and halted face-to-face counselling and other in-person contact. It moved traditional university events like convocation ceremonies and open house tours into the virtual realm, and suspended other events entirely, such as the back to school barbecue and the 50th anniversary homecoming weekend. COVID-19 changed students’ university experience.

TRU faculty and staff pulled out all stops to ensure students were still supported, whether their needs were academic, financial, emotional or cultural. Here’s what some of those supports now look like.

What a TRU student experiences

Jane Smith (Jane is fictional) registered for TRU after attending a virtual open house event. She signs up for Fall Orientation so she doesn’t miss out on life as a TRU student, even if it is by distance. She gets a fuller picture of services available to her, then checks out the TRU Student Union Virtual Clubs Information Night so she can find other students who share common interests.

Her online classes are about to begin, and she’s already taken Student Success 0600 and Learning Without Walls, two courses that showed her how get the most out of Moodle and other online learning fundamentals. But Jane still has questions, so she sets up a virtual appointment with an advisor to get answers.

As classes start, she gets her book lists and orders through the bookstore online, then drops by the pick up window when they arrive.

Through her online classes, Jane meets an Indigenous student who invites her to the weekly Virtual Soup Circle at Cplul’kw’ten, where Elders are providing virtual support to students and mentors and learning strategists are reaching out by email appointments. Jane is energized by the experience and has questions, so she makes a virtual appointment with an intercultural co-ordinator to deepen her understanding of Indigenous peoples.

While Jane settles into a regular study routine, she checks TRU’s student-focussed communications channels regularly, from the Student Life Facebook and Instagram pages to TRU’s YouTube channel to the Faculty of Student Development web pages and the TRU Newsroom.

One day, she isn’t feeling well. As she isn’t from Kamloops, she doesn’t have a family doctor in town. She self-assesses for COVID-19 symptoms, then gets in touch with the TRU Medical Clinic and makes a virtual appointment with a campus doctor. It turns out to be an allergic reaction, and soon she is fine.

Midway through the semester

Midterm exams are coming up and Jane is overwhelmed. She seeks help from the Writing Centre via virtual appointment and the Math Help Centre via Moodle. And because she experiences anxiety triggered by stress, she sets up a virtual meeting with Accessibility Services to discuss some accommodations for her exams.

With midterms over, Jane turns her attention to a research paper that is coming due. To get the information she needs, she submits an online request to the Library, which recently consolidated its resources into the Brown Family House of Learning. She orders a book through the Touchless Borrowing Service, choosing from three options: picking up her books, having them mailed to her with return postage prepaid or having sections of the book scanned to her email. She accesses other library materials through online resources after having a virtual meeting with a subject librarian who helps her figure out exactly what she needs. She also joins in an online workshop so she can use the library and its resources in the ways that serve her best.

As Jane’s final exams draw near, she again feels her anxiety rise. She makes an appointment for a virtual visit with the therapy dogs who are available on Thursdays to help students de-stress. While the furry friends help bring a smile to her face, Jane wants someone to talk to, so she virtually consults with the Student Wellness Ambassador Team and drops in for morning Tea Time at the TRU Wellness Centre. She discovers the Library offers a virtual stress-free zone during exams.

Her hard work pays off. Jane does well on her paper and exams, and looks forward to the end of the semester. She would like to get a co-op placement, so she makes a virtual appointment with a co-ordinator at Career and Experiential Learning to review her options and looks at taking Co-op 1000, a mandatory one-credit course for co-op students.

With her first semester behind her, Jane decides to work during the Christmas break so she can save some money. She has applied for scholarships and bursaries, but is hoping to earn some extra cash before diving into classes for the winter semester.

Staying tuned to students’ needs

These are some of the services TRU has adapted during the pandemic to support students now. As circumstances change, the university will remain flexible in how it delivers courses, programs and supports. TRU is leading the way by putting students first.

“TRU’s virtual campus and Open Learning have made us uniquely prepared to support our students. Our faculty and support staff are going above and beyond,” says Wolfe.

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