“I think we’re used to feeling like we have some sort of control over our academics and our work and there’s obviously things that are out of our control, but we’re used to feeling like we have more control than we did in that instance, so that was frustrating.”
Kait Hollinger is the assistant director of the Promise Program at Merrimack College. The Promise Program is part of the Academic Success Center, with a mission to help incoming students transition into college. Hollinger has been working within the Promise Program since July of 2018. She teaches various classes that take place in the Promise Program suite on the third floor of the McQuade Library, including “First Year Experience” (FYE) for freshmen and other one-credit courses for peer leaders of the Promise Program. Hollinger also conducts one-on-one sessions with students in the program throughout the school year.
In the interview, Hollinger shares her first-hand experiences with teaching and getting through the pandemic at Merrimack College. The interview goes into various aspects of the pandemic–what life was like prior to COVID-19, all of the difficulties and changes that came along with teaching during the pandemic, as well as personal hardships and lessons she learned along the way.
Claudia Mirshak: Yeah. So we can start with getting into like what happened in March 2020 when things–this kind of–we didn’t have a choice about remote or not. So, can you describe the mid-semester transition in March 2020?
Kait Hollinger: Yeah. I think it was- it was a lot, it was heavy, it was hectic. You know my job in general is, you know, connecting with students, building relationships and just helping them navigate. And it’s academic focused but life impacts your academics and just you know talking with students and talking through like okay like you know–our students after spring break if they didn’t come back. So do they have all the materials they needed? Do they have an okay wifi connection at home? Do they have a quiet space at home that they could do work? Because everyone was home. Wifi wasn’t cooperating, you know, maybe your younger brother or sister’s in a Zoom meeting for their school, maybe your parents are on Zoom for work like, it’s a lot. It’s hectic and all of this is happening, while we’re going through something that no one has any idea what’s going on. We’re washing groceries, we’re like wearing gloves and masks in stores. It just- it was a lot. So I think from that perspective of like managing feelings and emotions, it felt really heavy from the perspective of like, the transition and support. I think that what–being able to pivot all of our classes and offer them remotely and change up curriculum, and be really understanding of life circumstances, that was something I saw across the board. You know, faculty really, you know understanding, and being so willing to work with students. And having you know their own as people, and as humans too their own stuff going and their own kind of challenges with wifi and Zoom and folks being home. Everyone really rallied together to support and be understanding. And take care of the students and each other and kind of really just make sure we- we made it through to May.
CM: Yeah, you kind of just touched on this, too. Was there a lot of things you had to change when it was online, for your curriculum and everything like that? And also for Promise were you still doing one-on-ones with students through Zoom during that time as well?
KH: Yes, so for my class it was a one credit class so it was definitely easier to transition into zoom obviously than a four credit class. But we changed up the curriculum a bit. We paused
our curriculum for the first week that we were fully remote and back. And we just talked about how people are feeling and how you know, we could best support each other. Really just trying to check in with everyone. But yeah, I had to rethink how I was delivering content. In general I don’t want to have a class like that- where I’m lecturing all the time, it’s really interactive. But it’s even- it’s even more- or it’s even easier to get distracted when you’re on Zoom right? Like it’s super easy. And it’s- I think it’s harder to interact with each other, even though we were lucky that we had had half a semester of building good relationships in the classroom. But it’s awkward to unmute yourself on Zoom, it’s not fun. And that was definitely something you could tell. We also, with like keeping your camera on because it’s such an interactive class, I asked students to keep their camera on. But I also was really understanding if for whatever reason it just like wasn’t going to work with the space they were in. And wasn’t going to pry or you know, take like- take points off. Like it just was whatever was comfortable. So that was hard too. If you’re talking to like a black box, like you can’t really read people. So I think that that was a huge thing of just trying to adapt how I could tell the class was going. And also just adapting to some of the activities, so you know breakout rooms, we still did some small group things. But we would do things where we would go around the room, and write on whiteboards and that was really hard to do. To just kinda rethink some of those pieces. For coaching, yes we were still absolutely doing one-on-one coaching meetings. I probably did even more coaching meetings than I would have done if we were in person, because how Promise works is, I work most regularly with our first-year students. And then as students, go on, if they, you know, are on academic probation or they benefit from checking in more frequently, we will check in more frequently. Otherwise it’s as needed or a few times a semester. So- but it was a huge transition, so far more of my upperclassmen students were reaching out to me. And one of the first things we did as program was really just made sure that we had, just a sense of like are all of our students like okay. Like have we heard from everyone and is everyone okay. So that was, you know, a lot more contact than typical.
The interview was conducted at the Royal Crest Apartments at Merrimack College and the Promise Program suite in the library of Merrimack College via Zoom. The interview was conducted on December 2nd, 2021, by Claudia Mirshak.
This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.