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The power of access: How York College is making sure students are supported in remote learning

February 23, 2021
A man posing in front of bookcase
Ilya Yakovlev, Chief Information Officer at York College of Pennsylvania

Ilya Yakovlev, Chief Information Officer at York College of Pennsylvania, and his team have helped students access laptops, hotspots, and library materials to ensure that learning continues on- and off-campus.

Ilya Yakovlev has a stack of books and a list of digital articles that are heading out to York College of Pennsylvania students this week. Whatever a student needs to continue learning, he’ll try to get it to them, he says, packing up another mailing sleeve.

As Chief Information Officer at York College, Yakovlev’s work has always revolved around connecting students to the tools and information that will help them advance. In a pandemic, how he does that has simply shifted. “We’ve had to get creative in how we make sure faculty and students can still meet their goals,” he says. “We’re doing whatever we can to help.”

New ways to learn

It was nearly a year ago that York College sent students home for remote learning as COVID-19 impacted the Southcentral Pennsylvania region and beyond. Like a lot of people, Yakovlev thought it would be a brief hiatus. But, when that wasn’t the case, his team worked quickly to make sure the tools were in place for lectures, projects, and overall learning to continue.

The big thing, initially, was laptops for faculty, he says. From there, those faculty members and advisors worked to communicate with students about their needs at home. Faculty then collaborated with Help Desk staff to get technology into the hands of students who needed it to connect remotely. About 30 laptops and 10 hotspots were loaned to students for the semester. Many who were graduating in 2020 were given mail sleeves to return the equipment at the end of the school year.

On-campus computer labs that were suddenly unavailable had valuable programs on them that were imperative to some classes, Yakovlev says. His team worked quickly, which made the ability to remotely access that software immensely easier for faculty to teach and students to keep up with their coursework.

While Schmidt Library was closed, Yakovlev and the Help Desk staff worked to get students the materials they needed to continue research projects or learn from home. Those digital articles and mailed hard copies of books continue to be sent today for students who continue learning remotely.

Making a personal connection

Many students fall in love with York College the moment they step onto campus. There’s a personal connection the College is known for exuding, and Yakovlev wanted to convey that in a virtual way. For hybrid classes, his department installed high-definition cameras and microphones to bring the classroom experience to those students connecting remotely, allowing the class to participate in class discussion. They also worked with faculty to ensure they could maneuver the uptick in remote testing software.

The Help Desk also set up an ongoing live Zoom call, so that someone who needs support can log into the program at any time and see a friendly face ready to help them.

Aaron Miller ’21, a Cybersecurity Management student, has worked with the Help Desk since his first year at York College. A big part of his job was helping get the word out to students that there were resources for them.

“There was a lot of unfamiliar territory with hybrid classes and coming back to campus while the pandemic was still going on,” he says. “I was really excited to be back in a physical classroom, and I know that was the case for a lot of other students.”

Even though learning looks different, Miller says, he’s grateful the College is taking a proactive approach in making sure students advance. “I appreciate how thoughtful everyone has been in getting us back to campus,” he says. “It hasn’t been easy, but there’s a lot of good things happening here.”