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Psychology Department Chair builds website to help students find resources during uncertain times

May 05, 2020
Graphic for YCP Heroes stories during COVID-19

When news started to spread about the COVID-19 outbreak scaling in southcentral Pennsylvania, the faculty in the Psychology Department at York College of Pennsylvania got to work surveying students on the technology resources they had at their disposal should they have to move to online classes. Jennifer Engler, PhD, Associate Professor and Department Chair, says that intuition to think of the needs of students has continued as the College navigates changes.

“Our training makes us sensitive to diversity in our students, of the financial and emotional needs they may face, and we wanted to make sure everyone was going to have access to what they needed,” Engler says. “It just comes down to thinking about and caring about people. Anyone is capable of thinking about what others need when there is uncertainty, and I’ve seen examples of that across departments and schools at York College.”

Much credit for initially identifying some potential resources goes to Cheryl Smith, Administrative Assistant for Psychology and Applied Behavioral Sciences, Engler says, because she was put to the task of scouring the internet for resources that would help students navigate the changes they may be facing as they headed back home and adjusted to online classes. Those resources were collected and put on a website that Engler initially created for Psychology majors, but then realized could be applicable to students throughout York College.

“We wanted to help students who are not only dealing with the stress of COVID-19, but we wanted to help seniors who are having to grieve a final year that didn’t go the way they planned, or help students learn self-care and self-compassion so they can be kind to themselves during this time,” she says. “The needs of the students are going to vary, but what stood out to me is how we can help them make some meaning out of this situation.”

What’s on the website

While the website provides links to guided meditations, good news stories, and other topics related to self-care, Engler was drawn to a prompt she saw that encouraged people to write things down during this time. While the idea not only documents a time in history that may be of interest to the children and grandchildren of current students, it’s also a way for students to lean into that idea to make meaning out of their experiences.

Even Engler’s son, a fourth-grade student at York Country Day School, is practicing a similar exercise in one of his classes by working on an I survived book to talk about what he’s feeling and experiencing. “The idea of ‘making meaning’ out of these experiences is an important behavior we can learn, and to some extent it does come from that background in psychology,” she says.

‘Grace before grades’

One of the biggest struggles she sees students facing, especially first-year students, can be time management as they adjust to remote learning. She even helped one student who asked for an extension on an assignment find a way to prioritize her calendar and assignments so she wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed by the tasks on her plate. Another student, who was now living at home with younger siblings also taking online classes and parents working from home, struggled to find her own quiet space to work. Engler chatted with her to help brainstorm ways she could find some alone time, even if it meant sitting in her car to complete some work.

Anxiety is often the fear of future events, which may or may not happen, she says. There’s not a lot of good that comes from wondering about the ifs or buts of the future. “What I encourage anyone to try to do is focus on the present as much as possible,” she says. “You can control how you’re feeling, what you’re doing right now, and try to focus on the things you are experiencing in the present.”

While Engler has always had a sense of pride for her department, she’s been especially impressed with the resilience and support that full-time and part-time faculty have shown students. She recently heard the phrase “grace before grades,” and she finds it to be so important now in this unique situation to focus on the support of students and making sure they are taken care of.

 

To visit the website created by the Psychology Department, click here.

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