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Staying Connected During COVID

Haley West, Senior Communication Major


HW: First tell us a little about you!
HK: I came to UC as an international student and graduated from Communication bachelor’s program in 2012. In 2013, I enrolled in the UC MBA and MS-Marketing programs and graduated in 2016. In the final year of my graduate programs, I started working at the UC College of Engineering and Applied Science (UC CEAS) as a Special Events Coordinator! I’m thankful to have found a job that fit my personality and one that I had an interest in!

HW: What made you decide to create the CEAS Virtual Staff Lounge?
HK: I decided to create this with three other CEAS colleagues – Madeline Bible, Mandy McLaughlin, and Mercia Tawiah – because, to put it bluntly, I needed to regain some sanity. When we first started remote work, I enjoyed the flexibility and being able to manage professional and personal life in a new way. We were extremely fortunate to be given the ability to work from home, considering the circumstances.

HW: So, what event made you have this need to regain sanity as you mentioned earlier?
HK: About three to four weeks in, I started to feel the impacts of the lack of in-person interactions. As an Events Coordinator, I went from working with and seeing people all the time to virtual interactions only, which offers a different set of interaction dynamics. The thoughts of “am I doing enough?” and “what if I'm not doing enough” became a narrative I recycled in my head. Pair that with what was going at that time, which was university-wide conversations about layoffs and budget cuts, and you’ve got anxiousness at an all-time high. At that time, I was cognizant of the consequences if I got laid off, which would’ve included giving up my life here in the U.S.

When I searched online for articles on managing and adjusting to COVID in higher education, I found many that discussed what that would look like for students and faculty, but none really, for staff. For a long time, the thought that I was the only one feeling the impact of isolation made the experience more isolating; but I eventually realized there must be others who could relate. So, I called up Mercia, Mandy, and Madeline, and through our conversations, the idea of the virtual staff lounge was borne.

HW: What platform did you choose to have meetings?
HK: We chose to use Microsoft TEAMS since most of our colleagues are familiar with the platform.

HW: How often do you meet with the group?
HK: We usually meet once a month.

HW: What does the group talk about in these meetings? How do you decide the topics?
HK: We have had four episodes or meetings and they covered topics like Remote Work Routines, Parenting During Remote Work, Food, and Post-election Wellness.

HW: Have the goals of the group changed since inception?
HK: Yes, I would say so. At first, one of our ideas was to make a podcast with four of us being hosts, so people could listen to the episodes anytime they wanted. Since we weren’t professionals and didn’t have the equipment to guarantee success, we decided to have this idea mimic a live podcast. After a couple of episodes (we’re still calling it that), we realized our colleagues were active and willing to participate, so now we always set a portion of our time aside for interactions where people unmute their mics and share their experiences. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that this is a space where people come to share, listen, and connect.

HW: What was the result of creating the group and holding meetings?
HK: For our staff colleagues, I would say the result is increased connectivity among all of us and quick mental recharges we get each time we meet. But for me personally, and I think the other three hosts would agree as well, I feel like I've gotten to know them so much better and now have built a friendship that extend beyond the professional relationship. It feels really good to know that we were able to build something together even in a remote environment!

HW: What advice would you give to students/alumni who are realizing the ongoing fatigue of COVID, especially with the resurgence and how it's affecting the holidays?
HK: I think it’s important to recognize that this is temporary and embrace the fact that we need to make short term sacrifices for the long term good and gain of our communities. One nugget of advice I would give overall, is celebrate your small wins. For our graduates, it is truly a milestone you’ve accomplished, and no one can take that away from you.

I came across an article that introduced Christina Koch, the astronaut who was aboard the International Space Station from March 2019 to February 2020, and returned to Earth only to enter another phase of isolation. She talked about shifting her mindset from “It’s a marathon not a sprint” to “It’s an ultramarathon, not a marathon.” That was a perspective I found insightful and now try to adopt.

HW: Thank you for your time Hannah and good luck with the rest of the year! I am excited to see how your program grows!

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