FDU Staff Still Offers Student Support — at a Distance

By Jhoana T. Merino-Martinez
Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic forced abrupt changes in universities around the globe. Professors at FDU are expected to adapt their coursework to a new remote instruction. Though lessons and materials can always be adapted to some extent, it is unclear how non-academic departments in FDU are able to transition, if at all. 

The Equinox reached out to several staff members to find out how their jobs have been affected by the university shut down. 

Jessica O’Brien is the associate dean for student union and campus engagement and the go-to person for matters involving campus event planning and the Student Union Building (SUB). Her work revolves around hands-on tasks and constant in-person communication, so the switch to remote classes and events put this atmosphere to a halt.

“We are lucky to work in such an exciting and community-oriented place like the SUB, and a lot is lost when we try and recreate our formula remotely,” O’Brien said via an email interview. “We miss them as well, and miss being together as a staff every day.”

Of all the components affected, O’Brien says that she is fortunate for the communication part of her job to have as smooth a transition remotely as it did, along with the normal tech-oriented tasks like Trumba email Software. Canceling all campus events for the rest of the spring semester was definitely the most inconvenient for all parties involved, especially the senior students who were looking forward to their favorite events as a last “hoorah.”

Nevertheless, O’Brien’s department is trying to think ahead for the next semester, which means working to stay in contact now.

“Almost every office that we collaborate with has a modified or minimal operation,” O’Brien said. “We are doing our best to make sure we don’t forget any necessary communications.”

This is often the struggle with departments that are reliant on a contact-heavy environment.

Frank Devone, the EOF assistant director, counselor and financial aid coordinator, agrees. The Equal Opportunity Fund (EOF) program’s office is a tight-knit community that revolves around the notion of “family.” Members of EOF are encouraged to drop in during office hours to do their homework, ask questions or even chat with the familiar staff. 

“It had been a challenge to adjust to working remotely, as I enjoy talking with people in person,” Devone said via an email interview. Despite this disruption, Devone keeps his hopes high for the FDU community.

“I am hopeful that we are going to be able to get through this and have a very interesting story to tell future generations,” he said.

Student Veterans Not Forgotten  

Martha Garcia is the director of veterans services, an office dedicated to assisting the student veteran population at FDU. In addition to academic and financial guidance, the office in Dickinson Hall is open to student veterans to drop in and talk or do their homework in the Student Lounge. Garcia prides herself in the camaraderie that her department fosters. With the abrupt shift in the way of operation, communication is a crucial component that they are working to preserve. 

“Remote communication does not impact our regular communication with our student veterans or how we certify our student veterans with the Veterans Administration,” Garcia said. “Workwise, it is not easy not having our student files with us, but we are still able to do our job.”

Garcia is also responsible for making sure student veterans receive any educational benefits in accordance with the G.I. Bill. When the semester’s courses went online for the student veterans, it posed a potential conflict with their benefits. 

“The type of class a student veteran enrolls in, whether it be in person or online, affects their monthly basic allowance for housing,” Garcia said. “This is a really big deal and very important to student veterans.

“However, Congress passed a bill and President Trump signed it into law on March 21, giving the Veterans Administration temporary authority to continue G.I. Bill payments at their normal levels, uninterrupted, in the event of national emergencies.”

When it comes to adjusting to the shutdown, Garcia agrees with the measures Veterans Services took by canceling looked-forward-to spring events like the Veterans Gravestone Cleanup, Full Circle Alumni Event and Our Community Salutes of North Jersey.

However, Garcia hopes to find a way to reschedule veterans’ commencement in the fall to recognize the student veterans graduating this May. Until then, Garcia urges her student veterans to keep in contact via the FDU Veterans Facebook Page.

“I believe that this challenging work situation will make us better at our job and improve the way we communicate with our students and coworkers,” Garcia said. “This is the time to think about how we can make it easier for our students to get through this difficult situation.”

This is a common sentiment among these departments. The EOF Department schedules a weekly meeting for its students to keep in contact and relay important information relating to academics and the university as it unfolds. 

Jessica O’Brien also acknowledged that as the situation shifts, so will her department’s way of handling it. They are working to give students the opportunity to learn valuable coping and reflection skills during this time, in the form of virtual events and social media postings. 

“We understand that we still have a responsibility to serve students and stay true to our Student Union mission and objectives,” O’Brien said. “We know our students and their families have a lot on their minds right now, and we are here to help beyond our normal responsibilities” 

Their office is also committed to helping other departments that may need additional help, such as behind the scenes support on various projects. O’Brien encourages students to check their emails from Metro campus events each week and to stay updated with university accounts on the social media platforms of their choice. 

“I’m trying to focus on the opportunities, rather than the uncertainties,” O’Brien said. “I hope our students are finding ways to do the same.”





 Jessica O’Brien (left) and Martha Garcia: University staffers helping students in a new online era.