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Selkirk College Student Ambassadors Provide Insight for Peers and Public

Bob Hall
By Bob Hall
April 16th, 2020

In the uncertain times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, students at Selkirk College are leaning on each other for valued support.

Expectations have been significantly altered as those studying at the post-secondary level cope with the new reality thrust upon them in the last few weeks. Coursework and delivery methods have been redefined, summer job opportunities have disappeared, living arrangements are uncertain, and financial stress is at an all-time high.

The Student Ambassador Program is a student-led Selkirk College group that promotes health and wellness, inclusivity and connection, and support for students. As the entire student body deals with COVID-19 anxiety and stress, peer mentors are able to provide valuable insight into the current reality.  

“There will be challenges throughout our lives and this is a big one,” says Adrian Moyls, a first-year student in the Social Service Worker Program who is a member of the Student Ambassador team. “Using this as a piece to develop and conquer challenges will make us stronger when we get out of this particular moment in time. It’s not easy, but life is never easy. It shouldn’t deter students from getting their work done or taking on the challenges before us.”

As students hunker down in their new learning spaces away from the classroom, the operational success of the pivot to alternative methods of delivery does not guarantee an effective learning environment for many who prefer in-person instruction.

“It’s a big challenge trying to stay productive in a self-directed environment with the transition to online learning in comparison to the classroom lecture setting,” says Student Ambassador and second-year School of University Arts & Sciences student Grace Sabo. “You can’t easily have those one-on-one communications with your teachers, tutors and resources that were available at the school. At this point, it takes me twice as long to get assignments done.”

Another major barrier for some students is interruption to program practicums, off-campus learning opportunities, group assignments and co-op placements due to current physical distancing guidelines.

“In our program [Social Service Worker], that connection piece is pretty critical,” says Moyls. “They have had to revamp our program with more projects and most of those are group projects, so they are obviously virtual. Connection has been a staple of our program all year and now we are having to adjust. Interaction is what we are going to be doing in our career, so it’s difficult.”

The impacts of COVID-19 for students go well beyond curriculum. Though Selkirk College provides an affordable post-secondary experience, the careful budgets that learners execute to attain the education and training they desire has been scuttled by the pandemic.

“The biggest challenge that students are facing as a whole is the financial uncertainty,” says Sabo. “It’s very ambiguous as to when this is going to end and how long we will be in isolation. In the coming weeks, we will need to make that transition from the end of the semester to where we thought we would have jobs and it’s quite scary not knowing where your next paycheque may be coming from. You still have pay rent and buy food, so it’s a real challenge.”

To help lessen emergency financial pressures, last week Selkirk College set up the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund that is currently accepting donations from the community. The target of raising $30,000 from the community will be matched by the Selkirk College Foundation. The Student Ambassador team has been directing peers to the Financial Aid Office to access this fund where more than 380 have applied so far.

Many students have moved back to their homes in an effort to stay safe and offset the financial predicament. Used to being independent and away from parents, the transition is not always easy.

“Having to move back home because you can’t afford your rent is difficult for many students, it’s not what they expected and it is not always the best situation,” says Kira Stoochnoff, a Student Ambassador and second-year Rural Pre-Medicine Program student. “The financial stress combined with the family stress can be mentally taxing. Because of this, I am hearing quite often that people are taking a downturn with their mental health.”

Some students are unable to find alternative arrangements and Selkirk College continues to provide an on-campus student housing option for those unable to move out. The majority of those still living on-campus are from out-of-province or international students. 

“Staying at student housing, you face a lot of social and emotional challenges,” says Rahul Lohani, a first-year student in the Post Graduate in Business Management Program who arrived last year from New Delhi and continues to live at Castlegar Campus housing. “My friends have moved out and I am a long way from my family. On top of that, you have academics and it gets harder to make the transition for many people like me. I enjoy attending classes and it has been difficult to adapt.”

To help their peers cope with the challenges, the Student Ambassador team has been volunteering their time over the last few weeks in several capacities. One of the initiatives is a weekly video call to provide students with more connection. The calls cover different topics aimed a providing an outlet to converse and gather information. On Thursdays between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., students join the Zoom session to focus on financial aid, food supports, battling boredom and meeting new friends.

“Both as a college and the world, we are tackling something together and learning to support each other,” says Claire Hewson, Selkirk College’s Campus Life Coordinator who works with the Student Ambassador group throughout the year. “If you go into the spiral of feeling out-of-control, it’s not healthy. We all want control and that is natural, so we need to focus on what we can control.”

In a time when connection is more vital than ever, Student Ambassadors are taking a leadership role in helping peers overcome the challenges of COVID-19.

“Right now is simultaneously a terrifying change but an exciting new opportunity,” says Will Parnell, a Student Ambassador and second-year Rural Pre-Medicine Program student. “I try to be optimistic about it. I tell my peers to think about all the wonders that are available to us now. We need to use this opportunity to do the things that maybe we couldn’t do before.”

You can learn more check out the Selkirk College Student Ambassador Program.

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