Real stories: Resilience rising in college students and parents

Derrick Webb, Fletcher Wade, Colby Taylor

Students and parents share not only how the coronavirus pandemic has changed the college journey, but also how they’re keeping positive over the summer and into the fall.

Read here about how some college students are finding creative ways to deal with the coronavirus pandemic’s disruption of their 2020 summer and fall plans.

Pre-med student stays productive and positive in self-isolation

He had envisioned spending his summer in a hospital, but Derrick Webb is still on the path to gaining any experience he can in the medical field. Derrick, a biology and pre-med major with a minor in chemistry, had applied for research opportunities and hospital internships for the summer.

“All of that came to a halt because of COVID-19,” says the rising sophomore at Dillard University, an HBCU in New Orleans.

Instead, Derrick is back at home in Montgomery, Alabama, in self-isolation. He’s trying to find opportunities to assist with chemical lab research at a nearby university. He’s also preparing for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and considering other online courses. While on campus, Derrick had tutored at-risk students through a work-study program, So he’s also considering offering his tutoring services online. He’s staying productive and finding time to unwind, he says.

“This is the best time to apply for scholarships,” he says. “Pick up a new book or go back to your old hobbies. Being a college student can be mentally and physically draining with classes, extracurriculars, and work-study.”

Since returning home, he’s had time to read his favorite books, watch TV, and listen to music.

“Maybe the quarantine is a time to unwind. There’s actually a lot for you to do. You just have to find it. As a college student, your head is always spinning,” he says. “It’s actually been therapeutic for me being in my own zone.”

Dillard announced it would operate on a modified schedule in the fall, so Derrick plans to return to campus in July to begin RA (resident assistant) training.

She’s trading the online classroom for the great outdoors

Ella Eskenazi is a planner. The high school senior from Indianapolis had the next four years of her life laid out. She would attend Pitzer College in Claremont, California, where she was accepted through early decision, and would study a curriculum related to medicine, sustainability and public health.

“COVID-19 has allowed everyone to pause, especially seniors,” says Ella. I decided if my school goes online next semester, I would like to take a gap year. Then I thought, even if it doesn’t go online, I still want to take a break.”

In the final months of their senior year, members of the class of 2020 have found themselves mostly indoors, doing schoolwork via online and other distance-learning methods. Ella feels a pull to get her hands dirty and breathe fresh air. She plans to do that by taking a gap year.

In the fall, she would like to work on some kind of organic farm. “I really want to get outside, and farms always need extra help,” says Ella. Then, for the second semester, she is hoping to participate in a backcountry experience like NOLS, where she can get certified in wilderness first aid.

To Ella, perhaps the most interesting part is that everything is tentative. “It may not work out exactly how I envisioned, but I am trying to work with more flexibility,” she says. “Often with high schoolers, there is this idea that you have to do [college] in four years and follow this specific trajectory, whether it is spoken or unspoken. You have to decide your major, etc. Being OK with changing my mind will be really awesome.”

Summer plans shift to staying home and helping his community

Colby Taylor and his friend had planned to travel to Portugal, Spain, France, and Germany this summer. They had been raising money for two years for this high school graduation trip. But Colby, a student athlete and graduate of Swain County High School in Western North Carolina, isn’t wasting time feeling sorry for himself.

He’ll spend the summer making a difference in his community. Colby is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and serves on the Junaluska Leadership Council. The council, which meets twice monthly, teaches communication and leadership skills to Cherokee youth by involving them in tribal government.

At the end of last year, Colby helped pass tribal legislation to bring solar energy to the reservation. The council members are currently working on seven pieces of legislation related to the environment and creating much-needed jobs for the area. The local economy there relies heavily on tourism and has been devastated by the pandemic.

The pandemic is also a major factor in his college decision. He’s considering the honors program of UNC-Chapel Hill or Columbia University in New York.

“It’s been a big part of my decision, because our community is so fragile around COVID-19,” he says.

He’s concerned about the health of the small number of fluent Cherokee speakers — many of whom are elderly.

“I don’t want to be the one to bring it [COVID-19] back,” he says.

Colby’s mother, Jenea, is proud of his resilience and positivity.

“It has been devastating to see his senior year of high school change in a way no one could’ve ever imagined — so many missed opportunities,” she says. “Colby has handled it so well; he just kept saying, ‘I just have to keep moving forward!’”

He’s helping students find remote and virtual internships

“My coping mechanism with anything is to busy myself with work,” says 19-year-old Fletcher Wade. “Usually schoolwork. Obviously, I haven’t been able to do that.” When Fletcher came home to Columbia, South Carolina, and learned his roommate’s internship was canceled, “it was clear things weren’t going to be the same,” he says.

Fletcher, who is double-majoring in business and finance, and computer science at Indiana University Bloomington started a five-day sprint to finish a website called covintern.com, which helps college kids find remote and virtual internships online, and provides lists of companies that are either canceling or retaining their internships.

“I put the first 20 positions on there so it didn’t look barren when I shared it with people,” Fletcher says. He initially looked for high-quality internship leads: something that’s paid or offers the student some tangible benefit. Now, he says, “I don’t limit it to internships; there are a lot of other good programs, like Google Summer of Code.”

Less than a month since its launch, the site has more than 150 postings, and counting. “I got a call a week ago from a startup accelerator that wanted to help me monetize it, and I told them that was never my intention for this project. That’s not in the spirit of what I’m doing here.”

Fletcher himself was hired for an internship through covintern.com, and while he hasn’t yet heard from other students who found internships using his site, he’s heard from some of the listing companies.

“I’ve received emails from companies that have put jobs up saying, ‘Hey we’ve hired for this gig,’ or, ‘We’ve received hundreds of applications; please take the listing down.’”

Fletcher hopes school opens again in the fall, and while he’s thankful his family hasn’t been affected by COVID-19 so far, the uncertainty about the future doesn’t freak him out.

“We have to recognize that we’re watching science happen in front of us. While that can be kind of scary, that’s also really cool,” Fletcher says. “The list of things that people can do to keep others safe, like staying inside, social distancing — these are what we need to do to help get things back on track. There’s no uncertainty there.”

It’s often said that getting to and through college is a journey, and during this time, the journey is not easy. But these students’ and parents’ stories show that resilience is needed for the challenges of that journey. We wish them, and you, every success, and we are here for you at CollegeSTEPS now and in the future with financial guidance.

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