SFA University


Dr. Jamie Humphries, associate professor in the Stephen F. Austin State University Rusche College of Business, uses data visualization to convert complex data sets into usable business intelligence.

May 11, 2020 - This semester’s special-topics class in a business communication at Stephen F. Austin State University started out as a crash-course in data visualization, with students tracking financial and logistics information as well as the occurrence and location of wildfires, both nationally and in Texas, using Tableau software.

A data junkie who has made a career out of turning opaque statistics into usable business intelligence, Dr. Jamie Humphries, associate professor in the Rusche College of Business, is at his best when tracking something big, something arcane that can be polished, packaged and brought to the conference-room table.

So, it was no surprise that when COVID-19 emerged as an all-consuming pandemic generating a global avalanche of data, that Humphries would realize the opportunity for his students. Quickly plugging into the public Johns Hopkins University database, continually updated with correlated data from 30 global sources, Humphries asked his students to create custom, interactive COVID-19 dashboards.


Under the guidance of Dr. Jamie Humphries, associate professor in the Stephen F. Austin State University Rusche College of Business, students created interactive dashboards to track and interpret COVID-19 data.

Once the basics were in place, students were asked to be inventive, to start benchmarking and tracking adjacent data like Wall Street trading to see which stocks crash and those that sizzle during a pandemic, fever charts for hotel stays and, of course, the virus’ curve and its associated death and infection rates. The more granular the better.

Though the COVID-19 project was not on the syllabus at the beginning of the semester, it’s going to be a graded assignment. And it’s also providing a golden opportunity for students to experience what it’s like in the private sector post-graduation.

“You have to pivot,” Humphries said. “You have to find something new.”

Creating customized dashboards to track a virus the size of COVID-19 has been great for the three business and two forestry students enrolled in this semester’s class. By the time it’s over, they should be qualified to take the Tableau software exam for desktop specialist and be halfway through their preparation to qualify as a certified associate, both sought-after credentials in multiple disciplines.

Humphries, in only his second semester at SFA, said the COVID-19 project has tapped into the best impulses of his students.

“These students are a lot smarter than what we give them credit for, and they can be creative,” Humphries said. “You don’t have to ask them to do it. They just do it.”

Once COVID-19 transitions into recovery and the data becomes historical, Humphries said it will still have a great deal of value for students learning the foundations of data visualization. He plans on returning to the pandemic issue, and introducing new topics, this fall.

Regardless of the topic – pandemic, the stock market, wildfires or the opioid crisis – the goal of data visualization is always the same.

“Take data and turn it into a story,” Humphries said. “No one wants to look at a spreadsheet.”

To see Humphries discuss his COVID-19 tracking process with business students, visit bit.ly/2Ll697W.

By Richard Massey, marketing communications specialist at Stephen F. Austin State University.

May 8, 2020 - Classrooms at the Stephen F. Austin State University Charter School are frozen in time. Incomplete drawings and books with marked pages rest in students’ cubbies.
 
“When we said goodbye for spring break, my students and I didn’t get a chance to savor the moment because we thought we would be right back,” said Alyssa Landreneaux, a fifth-grade teacher at the school.
 
Since March 16, the Monday after spring break in Nacogdoches, SFA Charter School’s 250 students in kindergarten through fifth grade have been sheltering in place at home with their families due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
“As a teacher, your instinct is to be in the classroom learning with students each and every day,” said Madison Taylor, a first-grade teacher at the school. “The loss of this time together is hard to grasp, not just for the loss of in-person academic learning but also for the time and relationships between students.”
 
Lysa Hagan, principal and chief executive officer of the charter school, said the empty hallways and classrooms in the Janice A. Pattillo Early Childhood Research Center initially made her sad.
 
“Then it came to me that I knew exactly where to find everyone; the children and teachers were just in a different place,” she said. “I simply opened Seesaw, and there they all were laughing, talking and learning with one another.”
 
When schools around the state closed, the more than 30 SFA Charter School teachers sprang into action to provide high-quality online instruction through a remote learning platform called Seesaw.
 
Teachers use this platform to post videos of themselves teaching lessons and giving instructions for student work. In return, students can record themselves completing their work verbally or submit written answers. Then teachers assess student work and provide feedback to each student all within the same online area.
 
“Although all the teachers are using the Seesaw platform, each class is unique,” said Natalie Cardenas, SFA Charter School academic coordinator. “We are still able to assess each student’s needs, differentiate lessons for them and continue with the curriculum we have always used.”
 
Landreneaux said SFA Charter School teachers in the upper grade levels were already familiar with Seesaw and guided the other teachers in transitioning online. In the span of a few faculty meetings, expectations for learning were set, and a tentative curriculum calendar was established. In just days, many classrooms were up and running, and students were logging in and enjoying the lessons.
 
“Teacher instruction and learner response have been amazing!” Hagan said. “When everything else seemed uncertain in our world, school was the normal our students could count on.”
 
Following Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards, the teachers prioritized math and reading lessons and integrated science, writing and social studies curriculum throughout those lessons. Also, just as they would in their physical classrooms, teachers responded to individual student needs by modifying lessons and providing extensions.
 
“Our exceptional teachers are so grounded in our constructivist philosophy of learning that the how and what to teach were not even a discussion,” Hagan said. “We simply had to support one another to make the curriculum fit into the online platforms we had available. The instruction teachers are providing online is exactly like what the children experience in the face-to-face classroom.”
 
SFA students working toward teaching certificates also have successfully participated in the charter school’s online instruction.
 
“Our teacher candidates are still providing TEKS-based lessons following the same structure as when they were live in the classroom. They teach, assess and reteach just like before,” Hagan said.
 
Physical education, art and music lessons are posted each week to promote physical and creative growth, and students can choose which day of the week they want to complete these.
 
“Some teachers post fun how-to videos, such as how to catch a mudbug at the creek or bake a coconut meringue pie,” Landreneaux added. “Our goal is to have 100% student participation schoolwide, so teachers are working hard to keep the learning engaging.”
 
Students have taken advantage of the online platform to respond to their lessons in new ways.
 
“The creativity students are able to express through the different modes of communication on Seesaw have allowed for their thoughts to shine,” Taylor said. “The option to type, write, voice record or even video themselves has opened up a line of communication for students to express their thoughts on the learning in an interactive and engaging way.”
 
Landreneaux believes teachers will continue to use Seesaw even after the school reopens to provide more opportunities for differentiation, small group learning and at-home enrichment now that families are familiar with the platform.
 
In addition to Seesaw, charter school teachers are using their workshop approach via Zoom to continue fostering classroom communities and help students maintain their relationships with each other through real-time instruction. Zoom activities include book groups, small-group specific skill instruction, whole-group community meetings and large blocks of independent work time during which teachers give individual students feedback.
 
“Seeing the joy that lights up students’ faces when they see a classmate on the screen or begin to understand something more clearly through a small group lesson is something that every teacher is living for in our time online,” Taylor said.
 
Without the leadership of SFA Charter School administrators and her fellow teachers, Taylor said her online lessons would not be as successful.
 
“Something that is so amazing about the SFA Charter School family is that we are just that, a family — a family who works together, supports each other and encourages each member,” Taylor said.
 
Students’ parents and caregivers are a big part of the charter school family, too. They have been the teachers’ biggest allies throughout the online learning transition, according to Taylor.
 
“They are truly a partner in this process. Their support and involvement in the online lessons and activities have played a huge role in the learning of their children,” she said. “Not only are they an outstanding component of at-home learning, but the support and words of encouragement they have expressed for their teachers are appreciated more than they know.”
 
Landreneaux said the parents are working just as hard as the teachers. “They’re asking questions and making suggestions for improvement.”
 
Hagan added, “Our parents had to be the information technology department for a while. As students became more fluent with the learning technology, I think parent anxiety tremendously decreased.”
 
She said a grandmother of two charter school students shares her home-schooling experiences through Instagram posts.
“The learning appears to be exceptional under her watch,” Hagan said. “I am certain this is going on in many homes.”
 
Though this new online teaching and learning format has been successful in many ways, it still presents challenges, Cardenas said.
 
Some SFA Charter School families do not have internet access, so they must pick up a packet of materials every Monday when they return the student’s work from the previous week.
 
“Determining which children have access to technology and which need a paper packet for the week has been one obstacle,” Cardenas said.
 
So far, less than 5% of the students have needed or chosen the packets, and they receive real-time feedback from their teachers through phone calls.
 
Accountability also has been a challenge.
 
“Holding students and families accountable in a time like this is difficult,” Cardenas said. “Every family has a different situation, and expecting them to fulfill their own everyday needs and assist with their child’s lessons can be tough. Parents are doing their best.”
 
Despite these challenges, charter school teachers have been able to gather the data needed to provide progress reports for each child.
 
As the end of the school year draws closer, Landreneaux’s biggest concern is that her fifth-grade students won’t get to experience the customary charter school send-offs before they head into middle school.
 
“There will be no fifth-grade talent show or celebratory pool party,” she said. “I won’t get the chance to read one more book to them on the rug or hug them as they walk across the stage in our traditional graduation ceremony. Virtual learning just can’t replace these personal moments.”
 
The charter school is hoping to provide some closure to the 2019-20 academic school year by holding two graduation vehicle parades — one for the kindergarteners and one for the fifth graders — featuring mortarboards and tassels. These parades will celebrate students’ achievements on the last day of school in the ECRC parking lot.
 
Taylor also feels the loss of in-person moments, but she, Cardenas, Hagan, Landreneaux and the rest of the SFA Charter School family are making the best of the current situation and looking toward the future.
 
“Children are resilient, and they are learners,” Taylor said. “I know with the hard work of our teachers, the support from families and the love of learning from Junior Jacks, we will start out next year just as positively as we leave this one.”

May 7, 2020 - For East Texas students who look forward to participating in the Art Academy each summer at Stephen F. Austin State University, news that the current COVID-19 pandemic had forced the academy’s cancellation this year was disappointing.

But, to fill that void, SFA art education students put their talents to work creating art instruction videos that highlight art and cultural and historical art traditions.

Several videos were created immediately following spring break to launch the series of tutorials, and new ones are continuously being added as an alternative to the School of Art’s summer academy. Many of the tutorials require materials that can commonly be found around the house or easily obtained.

To access the art lessons, visit the YouTube channel: SFA Art Education Home Art Lessons.

April 27, 2020 - Each day for the past few weeks, Dr. Christina Guenther, professor of flute at Stephen F. Austin State University, accompanied by her husband, Dr. Ron Petti, director of collaborative piano at SFA, have recorded a video of themselves performing works that Guenther’s students are working on. The videos are posted to her flute studio’s Facebook page for students’ enjoyment and to help them learn the music.
 
“I hope it keeps everyone feeling like we’re still getting to be together … at least a little,” she said.
 
This is just one of many innovative ideas that fine arts professors at SFA have come up with to teach their students in the virtual world that COVID-19 has created.
 
While some college courses translate fairly easily to online content, teaching the fine arts – art, music and theatre – which have been traditionally face-to-face, hands-on instruction, takes extra creativity to make remote learning and interaction work.
 
Normally in the SFA flute studio, students periodically perform impromptu duets to work on sight reading, intonation, ensemble performance and adjusting. Because that was no longer possible after spring break this year, Guenther recorded duo videos – a Mozart duo, a Brazilian choro, a tango by Piazzolla – and provided corresponding sheet music for the students.
 
“They were to pick at least one duo to play along with  – I always play the bottom line – and then comment about their experience,” Guenther said. “While it is not the same as in person, it gave them a chance to have some quasi-duo interaction with me, and, because it was pre-recorded, they couldn’t stop to fix things like we can in person; they had to keep going. Some of their comments were about not being able to stop and realizing they need to work to be able to play along without a metronome and just feel the beat. Because they have access to these videos, they can ‘duo’ with me anytime they want.”
 
A particular challenge for art, music or theatre education majors has been trying to fulfill student teaching requirements when public and private schools are closed. According to Claire Murphy, assistant professor of music education, SFA music education majors who are clinical (student) teaching this semester have continued to work to grow and develop, despite the closing of schools.
 
“Our clinical teachers are working closely with their cooperating teachers to provide online instruction and learning opportunities for K-12 students in Texas,” Murphy said. “They have participated in Zoom sessions led by faculty and music educators across the state, in order to discuss teaching strategies, resources, concepts, etc. that would be discussed in a face-to-face teaching and learning environment. Our students are rolling up their sleeves to continue to grow and learn and work to help their cooperating teachers and students in every way possible. Our Lumberjacks are adaptable and resilient.”
 
With teachers across the nation no longer in classrooms, it has provided Dr. David Campo, director of bands at SFA, an opportunity “bring in” guest speakers online to share their knowledge with his music students.
 
“High school and middle school band directors from across the state have spoken to my band administration class,” Campo said.“ Last week, we had a visit with composer Quincy Hilliard. The biggest challenge for us is that there is no way to have ensemble rehearsals, and that is a critical component of the music education degree, not to mention that ensembles develop an important camaraderie that enhances the experience for all of us.”
 
Not all SFA music majors had the ability to shelter in place with quality instruments, according to Dr. Andrew Parr, professor of piano. “Our situations have run the gamut from beautiful pianos to none at all,” he said. “I found that any former complaints about the quality of SFA’s practice room facilities have disappeared completely! I also discovered that online lessons could still feel personal and productive, and that we were always glad to see each other again each week.”
 
Graduate and undergraduate students in the choral/voice area are taking advantage of the sudden and dramatic shift to music making by scheduling Zoom sessions with world-famous conductors, composers, authors and pedagogues, said Dr. Michael Murphy, director of choral activities at SFA. During normal times, the schedules and fees of getting notable music heavyweights for speaking engagements would be prohibitive, he said. 
 
“This disruptive event has reminded me how much we need and should value community in the act of music making,” he said. “Music is made more powerful when shared, whether it is with each other or for an audience. Our students miss authentic connection and community with their professors and with each other. To help  diminish this sense of loss of community, our alumni in the voice area have been writing encouraging letters to our current voice students.”
 
While the SFA theatre faculty is doing “an incredible job” adapting, School of Theatre Director Cleo House Jr. said these are not ideal circumstances for teaching theatre. “Our art form is rooted in human-to-human, real-world interaction, so there is a struggle,” he said. “But what this situation has done is forced a different kind of creativity and innovation that we probably would never have approached without the pandemic. While we miss the face-to-face time with our students dearly, I’m certain there will be takeaways from this time that we will all use moving forward.”
 
The School of Theatre has not only adjusted the way classes are delivered, but also how it conducts auditions and interviews with new, incoming students. House said. A new approach was taken for the spring Theatre Day, which traditionally brings high school students from across East Texas to the SFA campus to talk with theatre professors, tour facilities and attend plays. “Our most recent Theatre Day on April 20 was a series of Zoom meetings with the different areas as well as creating YouTube videos that we used to give tours of the facilities,” House said.
 
As a professor of movement and acting in the School of Theatre, Dr. Slade Billew said it is a struggle to teach certain performance stills that “are best learned through direct interaction, and often with physical contact, in a context where people must maintain social distancing.
 
“I know many of the students have struggled to learn fight choreography and other movement practices via video and without a practice partner,” Billew said. “Theatre is intrinsically about liveness and humans together in a space. It is quite challenging to practice and teach this art remotely.”
 
One of hardest transitions from theatre classroom to online has been for Billew’s students who are learning clown performance. “Clowning is a skill that is all about relationship to the live audience,” he said. “We decided to try clowning by Zoom, and the students have been incredibly innovative with using the camera as a scene partner, and finding ways to build a direct connection to an on camera audience in a way that will continue to benefit them in this increasingly mediatized culture.”
 
Teaching hands-on studio art classes online inspired associate art professor Neal Cox, who teaches printmaking and alternative processes photography, to send hand-built supply kits to his students. The students emailed Cox files of images they wanted to print, and he printed them on transparent film.
 
“Neal spent over two weeks hand building supplies and preparing and shipping packages to students so that they could keep working,” School of Art Director Christopher Talbot said. “He prepared videos of his demonstrations from his own home to show students how to use things they might have around their house to complete the projects instead of using the facilities here at SFA.”
 
“I show my students how to expose their screens to sunlight and develop in their sinks,” Cox posted on one of the YouTube video examples he created for screen exposure development. “It's obviously better to have a nice vacuum frame exposure unit and an industrial developing sink, but when COVID-19 sends all of your students home, and you still have to teach them, you send them the basics and show them how to work from home.”
 
To view an example of one of Cox’s videos, visit https://youtu.be/xMsUbfUz8Ps. School of Art faculty and students have also posted teaching videos they created of various art techniques at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtbqUvPzKL16lvAFzR788Zw/featured.
 
While the pandemic has created teaching challenges worldwide, SFA professors say the forced distance learning has reinforced how committed and adaptable students can be.
 
“I said to students at the beginning of this that we would need to ‘improvise, adapt, and overcome,’” Billew said, “and I have been profoundly affected by how hard they have worked to do just that.”
 
“Not that we needed a global pandemic to reinforce this idea, but we have some very strong, adaptable and resilient students in our School of Music,” said Jacob Walburn, professor of trumpet. “Many of my own students are working part time, and in several cases, full-time jobs, to try and bring in extra income for their families. Many of my students are at home with both parents and several siblings, trying to manage computer/WiFi time. They are being forced to adapt to a situation none of us has ever been in, yet despite these difficulties, they are showing up, doing their work, and getting the job done. I hope our colleagues in other disciplines across campus are as lucky as we are to be able to teach such dedicated students.”
 

April 22, 2020 - From course content and format to internship availability, students and faculty members in Stephen F. Austin State University’s health science program are experiencing huge changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students in this field are preparing for a variety of careers in public health education and health promotion in settings such as hospitals, governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations and work-site health promotion programs.

In their careers, they will be responsible for educating the public and raising awareness about local health issues. They also will address the needs of communities by assessing statistical data and using their findings to create health programs that tackle challenges such as flattening the curve during pandemics like COVID-19.

This academic degree provides a solid foundation for students pursuing health care careers requiring additional education: chiropractors, medical doctors, occupational therapists, physical therapists, physician assistants, professors and psychologists.

But before they can graduate, SFA’s health science students need to gain valuable experience through an internship that requires working at one of the many types of health care and medical sites drastically affected by COVID-19.

“That internship has been impacted the most out of all our courses,” said Dr. DawnElla Rust, professor in SFA’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Science.

“Of the 28 students enrolled in this course this semester, eight of them were able to complete all the requirements at their original sites,” she said. “However, 20 of them were asked to leave their sites — hospitals, clinics and other, nonessential sites — before their required hours and assignments were completed.”

Rust worked with Victoria Wagner-Greene, an instructor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, to create alternative assignments for those 20 students, including writing a paper on COVID-19 and their personal experiences as health science interns.

Obtaining internship sites for the summer and fall 2020 sessions is also problematic, Rust said.

“Sites are not committing to internships, so we’re creating a range of solutions to accommodate individual students and ensure they can graduate on time,” she said.

Those solutions include writing papers, developing TED Talks and completing 50 hours of health science webinars.

Students and faculty members involved in other health science courses are adjusting to learning and teaching via online platforms like Zoom.

“I have never developed an online course, so it was all new to me,” Rust said.

But transitioning her face-to-face courses to online instruction also gave Rust the opportunity to tweak her course content.

“I tried to make each course COVID-19 relevant for the specific course and for the students.”

For example, the Core Concepts in Health course examines physical, intellectual, career/financial, sociocultural, environmental, emotional and spiritual health. In this course’s first online exam, Rust asked students how COVID-19 has impacted each of those health dimensions.

“Their responses were from the heart and amazing to read,” Rust said. “I have made a point to include stress-coping activities like ‘take a nature sit’ and ‘write a gratitude journal entry’ in this course.”

Rust’s Social and Emotional Health course focuses on how other people and our own emotions influence our health outcomes.

“Everything about this course has been tested,” Rust said. “The question raised is, ‘Can people and our connection with them influence our health from 6 feet away?’”

Dr. John Stewart, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, added an online exercise to his Epidemiology and Core Concepts in Health courses in which students explored the global geographic distribution of COVID-19 cases, examined COVID-19 etiology and risk factors, and learned COVID-19 preventive measures.

For his Environmental Health and Ecology course, Stewart’s students explored the association between COVID-19 “lockdown” orders and lower air pollution levels.

“This learning exercise also identified COVID-19 as one of many infectious disease agents potentially present in health care facilities and other workplace environments,” Stewart said.

Rust is encouraging her students sheltering in place with their families to be “health ambassadors” by sharing what they’re learning in these and other health science classes with their families.

“Many of my students have indicated that they have family members on the front line, so they are well-versed in the safety procedures,” Rust added.

Students also are equipped with strategies to teach their family members how to tell the difference between fake news and real news. Rust has instructed her students to use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov/coronavirus as their news source for COVID-19.

As a “fix it before it’s broke” public health educator, Rust believes in primary prevention to help avoid disease and disability, such as getting enough exercise and eating healthy.

Secondary prevention focuses on detecting a disease early and preventing it from worsening, for example, controlling hypertension with prescription medication. Tertiary prevention reduces the negative impact of an already-established disease by restoring function, such as a heart attack patient participating in cardiac rehabilitation.

“I believe COVID-19 fast-tracked primary prevention and skipped to secondary and tertiary prevention,” Rust said.

She’s worried about a minority of the general public dismissing COVID-19 risks by not washing their hands, practicing social distancing and wearing masks.

“Some of the general public is obtaining their medical information from fake sources and not taking the risk seriously,” she added. “Tertiary prevention was not prepared for the need for medical equipment to restore health and reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Rust, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago, also is concerned for people with chronic diseases who have been working hard to control those conditions but, with the tightening of medical resources, are now unable or unwilling to seek treatment.

“These chronic diseases are progressing in people, which, in turn, makes those people even more vulnerable to COVID-19,” she said. “A patient with Parkinson’s disease is not categorized as part of the population vulnerable to COVID-19, but the anxiety generated by the spread of the disease doesn’t help the immune systems in those with conditions like Parkinson’s.”

Rust hopes that the general public adheres to the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and uses the pandemic as an opportunity to assess their own health and make improvements.

“This is the time for the general public to address health disparities and begin or continue healthy behaviors. Fix it before it’s broke!”


Stephen F. Austin State University Rusche College of Business graduating senior Annemarie Price is finishing out her college career from home in Katy. Photo Courtesy: Robert Breitenstein of Allthingsrnb

April 22, 2020 Nacogdoches - Graduating senior Annemarie Price is at home in Katy with her parents. She’s safe and sound. The coffee is good. And when she’s on the couch studying or taking online classes, she enjoys the company of her two dogs, a Great Pyrenees named Astro and a Golden Retriever named Travis.

Price, a Stephen F. Austin State University Rusche College of Business senior majoring in marketing and minoring in graphic design with a 3.8 GPA, is in the running for a national scholarship through the Washington Media Scholars Foundation. Having made it through two qualifying rounds to the finals, Price and her teammate, Wichita State University-based Tyler Heizelman, are vying for a share of the $18,500 award. Winners will be announced in June. Landing the scholarship would be momentous, but even if Price doesn’t take the top prize, she’ll consider it a win. Making the invite to Washington, D.C., was the original goal, and that’s already been accomplished.

All should be good in Price’s world. But it’s not.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated disruptions, Price is uncertain of the future, even if plenty is already known. Employers are taking a wait-and-see approach to hiring. Her walk across the commencement stage at Johnson Coliseum will have to wait until a date that’s yet to be determined. She may not get to say a proper goodbye to her classmates and professors. The virus dashed all that.

With her coursework all but done, she’s looking forward to SFA’s virtual graduation ceremony on May 30, which for her will include commencement-style robes for her pets. Not quite what she had in mind at the beginning of the year, but it’ll be fun.

And then there’s her family. Both of Price’s parents have underlying health issues, making them susceptible to the virus. And her sister, a ’17 graduate from SFA’s DeWitt School of Nursing, is in hazard’s way working at Memorial Hermann in Houston.

Indeed, COVID-19 has arrived at Price’s front door, and it’s knocking quite loudly.

Price hasn’t been on campus since March, when she posed for her senior photos and collected a few personal belongings from her residence hall. She didn’t want to leave. But during spring break, as SFA and universities across the country shifted to online and remote learning, she knew she had no choice.

“I respect the decision, and I support doing what we can to make people safe,” she said. “I get it.”

While the transition to full-blown distance learning has been successful for Price, it’s not all together satisfying. Price is a people person. She’s an intern for the College of Business’ social media team, an officer with the Community Assistant Honors Council with Residence Life and an officer with SFA’s interdepartmental Advertising Club. As a senior, she was accustomed to seeing a lot of familiar faces in class and in the halls. The unceremonious separation has been acute.

“For me, one of the reasons I love SFA is that you can make close connections with professors and the people in your classes,” she said. “The years I have spent on campus were the best years of my life. I am deeply saddened that I won’t be returning to classes and spending my final days as a student in Nacogdoches.”

Even though the virus has upended the culmination of her college career, and even though her family remains under threat from the virus, she’s been able to keep everything in perspective. She’s adaptable and resilient. And though the job market could be tight, at some point an employer will recognize her passion and give her a chance.

For the broader public, a valuable lesson ­– one that could make the world a better place – can be learned. 

“People are going to hug friends a little harder, spend time with the people they care for more often, and be thankful for the things we took for granted ­– like walking through a grocery store with fully stocked shelves,” Price said. “The coronavirus has made it difficult to predict what the future will look like, or determine how to prepare for it; even so, we have to keep moving forward and face things as they come, and do it to the best of our ability.”

April 17, 2020 - When Stephen F. Austin State University moved all classes online due to concerns regarding the impending impact of COVID-19, administrators immediately began calculating the best way to reimburse students for the money they had paid for housing, food service, and on-campus activities that would no longer be accessible. The university refunded approximately $9 million to students.

“Refunding this money to our students was not only the right thing to do, it was essential in order to assist our Lumberjacks and their families during this very difficult financial time. We are a family, and families help one another,” said SFA President Scott Gordon.

As of now, the institution is facing a loss of about $12 million, due to refunds, lost revenue from canceled events and the cost of moving classes online. This amount will continue to increase as restrictions continue, especially if the fall semester is impacted.

Collectively, Texas institutions of higher education were awarded more than $1 billion of the $14 billion available from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, a part of the federal stimulus bill known as the CARES Act. 

SFA has been allocated approximately $10.5 million from the CARES Act and will distribute the entire initial allotment of $5.2 million to students, according to Gordon. The funds are mandated for use as emergency aid for students dealing with coronavirus-related disruptions such as housing displacement, job loss or other hardship.

“This initial allotment cannot be used to fill the financial holes of the institution as a result of COVID-19” said Gordon. “We are pleased that these funds will be able to assist students who have a demonstrated need and are experiencing significant financial challenges.”

As for the university, there is hope that a second allotment of funds will be able to help institutions recover from this pandemic. Even so, according to Gordon, the funding will not completely offset the financial losses incurred during spring and into the summer – or the losses that are expected if restrictions continue into the fall semester.

“Thankfully, we had reserves for a rainy day,” he said. “However, this is not just a rainy day, it’s a downpour and we have a great deal of work to do to rebuild our reserves to the previous level.”

Gordon said the university will be looking at a variety of ways to recover financially.

“We will make the necessary decisions with a focus on keeping the best interests of SFA students, faculty, staff and our mission in mind,” Gordon said.

The university plans to provide information and resources soon for students who have been impacted by COVID-19, who have demonstrated need and are facing significant financial challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

April 15, 2020 - The Counseling Clinic at Stephen F. Austin State University is accepting new clients and temporarily waiving all fees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though in-person appointments aren’t possible as SFA students shelter in place in their hometowns and residents in Nacogdoches County follow stay-at-home orders, the clinic is helping clients by phone and Zoom from 8am to 6pm Monday through Thursday. Appointments on Fridays and after 6pm Monday through Thursday also can be made by calling (936) 468-1041.

The Counseling Clinic is part of the Department of Human Services and Educational Leadership in the James I. Perkins College of Education at SFA. It assists SFA students and community members while training graduate students who are in the practicum and internship portion of their education. These graduate students provide counseling services to clients under the supervision of licensed counselor education faculty members.

Counseling Clinic services include individual, parent and child, couples, family, and group therapy, as well as career planning and development.

Clients contact the clinic for help with issues that include anger management, anxiety, career counseling, depression, divorce, employment-seeking skills, grief, life adjustments (for example, homesickness), marriage counseling, parenting, problem-solving, social skills, stress management, substance abuse, test anxiety and time management.

Despite the anxiety and stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer people are calling the clinic for help, according to Nashae Turner, director of the Counseling Clinic.

“We’ve seen a decrease in requests for services; however, I believe there is an increase in need,” Turner said. “Those who need it are not aware we are available or are unaware that we’ve found ways to work around barriers.”

These barriers include limited or no internet service, inexperience with video conferencing technology, lack of privacy as family members shelter in place together and share equipment, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations.

“Because we are an instructional clinic, the sessions are all observed either live or on video,” Turner said. “Due to HIPAA regulations, we are unable to record Zoom sessions, so I or other faculty members must sit in on the sessions to monitor graduate students.”

Clients are informed of this policy when they attend sessions in person at the Counseling Clinic, but “they’re not actually aware when it is going on,” Turner said. “With Zoom, they can see when we are monitoring, and that can be uncomfortable for many clients.”

Turner wants to assure community members and SFA students that they can still get the help they need from the clinic.

“I am working closely with Dr. Robbie Steward, the department chair; Dr. Wendy Killam, the Master of Arts counseling program director; and Dr. Leigh Kirby, training director, to stay connected with our community member and student clients while assuring continued compliance with HIPAA and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs training standards during this pandemic,” Turner said.

“We have been able to continue services for most of our clients through Zoom, and we are pleased with the institution’s support in making all required accommodations associated with COVID-19 so that our service delivery might continue.”

Once the pandemic is over, the Counseling Clinic will return to its usual fee system. The first five sessions are free for students and community members. Starting with the sixth visit, costs for community members are determined using a variable fee scale based on gross family income and family size ($5 to $20 maximum per service). SFA students pay $5 per service.

For more information, call the Counseling Clinic at (936) 468-1041.

April 15, 2020 — In higher education, much emphasis is placed on transformative learning experiences. In fact, when administrators at Stephen F. Austin State University were drafting the university’s 2015-23 strategic plan, they assigned providing students with transformative learning experiences as the institution’s overarching goal.
 
Generally, these types of experiences are gained through internships, work study and study abroad activities in which students voluntarily participate. They provide the types of hands-on learning opportunities that help students acclimate to the world and their careers after graduation.
 
Recently, just about every college student worldwide has become actively engaged in a transformative learning experience as a result of the effects of COVID-19. Though there are many lessons to be learned from this pandemic, the lessons involving economics will be especially far reaching.
 
“Every person on the planet is making adjustments,” said Dr. Mikhail Kouliavtsev, department chair and professor of economics at SFA. “The uncertainty created by the virus is having a cross-cut influence on all sectors of the economy, affecting households, businesses and financial markets.”
 


Dr. Mikhail Kouliavtsev, Department Chair and Professor of Economics
Stephen F. Austin State University

With an estimated 67 million Americans working in jobs that are labeled as “high risk” for layoffs, Kouliavtsev offered some insight into several aspects of the world crisis, especially as it relates to economics.
 
Layoffs
 
Kouliavtsev recommends doing four things if you’ve been laid off.
  • Immediately file for unemployment. Most state unemployment offices are overwhelmed and understaffed, so delays are likely. The sooner you act, the faster you can get in the queue.
  • Talk to your landlord, mortgage lender, utility provider and/or credit card issuer. Many are offering some sort of bill “holiday” to help customers. If not, ask if they will be flexible. You won’t be the only one asking.
  • Focus on keeping everyone in your household healthy. Other expenses can be postponed.
  • Resist the urge to liquidate your retirement account. The penalty for early withdrawal added to the tax liability will eat a substantial chunk of your funds, which will be difficult to rebuild.

Stock Market

Kouliavtsev believes the stock market will continue to bounce around as long as there is uncertainty about the pandemic or until we have hit the peak of new infections and deaths from COVID-19, and the health care system can manage the flow of the sick. When we know there are treatments and a vaccine in development, we will have a better idea of the timeline of this crisis, and then the market can begin to stabilize.

Retirement Accounts

According to Kouliavtsev, those very near retirement likely already had most of their retirement funds out of the stock market and in something less volatile, like fixed-income bonds, before the crisis hit. For those who did not, postponement of retirement may be necessary to allow fund recovery. Kouliavtsev warns that panicking and selling investments now may have dire consequences, as those who have already lost due to the market plunge will miss the opportunity for fund recovery.

Stimulus Package

“It will help, but it also will not be nearly enough,” Kouliavtsev said. “Hopefully, it is a down payment on a much larger investment the government will have to make to help the American people.” For individuals approved to receive the $1,200, Kouliavtsev believes it won’t go very far; especially when the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the U.S. is about $1,100, and many people have already been without income for more than a month. Another difficulty Kouliavtsev sees is making the stimulus package work in its intended fashion — to stimulate the economy — when stores, restaurants and service industries are closed, and people are instructed to stay home.

Paying for Government Spending

Significantly increasing government spending — as this stimulus package requires — without immediately raising taxes will mean running a large budget deficit. While this debt accumulation typically is a major concern for long-term growth, interest rates are at some of the lowest levels in history, practically zero. When taking inflation into account, rates are effectively negative, meaning the government can essentially borrow at no cost. In other words, if there was ever a time for the federal government to spend freely and not worry about the debt it accumulates it’s now. Because of the severity of the pandemic, it is important to focus on the “public” before we worry about “public debt.”

Investing

Kouliavtsev said typically, a significant plunge in the stock market is a good time to invest, if the investment is made with the long term in mind. As far as real estate, mortgage rates are low, and we are headed into summer, which generally signify a favorable time to buy. However, it is not easy to shop for a home due to the actual steps involved in buying — attending open houses, meeting with bankers and real estate professionals, etc., due to social distancing guidelines.

Job Growth

Since many people have been in quarantine and isolated with only their computers and the internet to keep them company, Kouliavtsev believes the U.S. will see an increase in tech-related occupations, like coding and data science. He also said it will be interesting to see how health care will be affected. “It was already a sector that needed reforming before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kouliavtsev said. “But it was primarily the cost of health care and insurance coverage that were the main issues. We are now seeing that having adequate hospital and ICU bed capacity may be just as important, as is staffing, including doctors, nurses and other health care workers. We may see a concerted effort to invest in health care more broadly, and that will expand the job opportunities in these careers.”

Impact on Higher Education

With most institutions switching to an online instruction format, students are not physically on campus, and therefore there is less revenue being generated from housing, meal plans and fees students pay for things like the use of on-campus computer labs, recreation facilities, library resources, etc. SFA will be refunding approximately $9 million to students for services like these for the 2020 spring semester. This type of revenue loss will hit higher education hard, especially private colleges. Kouliavtsev said there are some bright spots. We typically see higher enrollments in colleges and universities during recessions because scarce employment opportunities during economic downturns make people want to attain skills, certifications and degrees to help improve their employability. And, to the extent students and their families may want to stay close to home in these uncertain times, regional institutions, like SFA, may be in a good position to fulfill their missions — serving the region. SFA, for example, may be an excellent destination for students from the East Texas area who planned to attend college in Austin or College Station, but now want to stay closer to home.

Student Adjustment

“I am quite impressed with how our students accepted foregoing their spring break, not being able to participate in study abroad trips in May and summer, and for some, not being able to attend their own commencement ceremony with their families,” Kouliavtsev said. “The transition to online classes is not easy — for students or professors — but it seems everyone understands the circumstances and is trying to make it work.”

Positive Outlook

Eventually, things will return to normal — although our day-to-day lives may be forever altered. And as difficult as the past several weeks have been, Kouliavtsev said there are some positives to take away. First, we will have learned a great deal about how to manage a crisis. They don’t come around very often, but pandemics do happen, and we will be better equipped to handle the next public health crisis, know how much and what kinds of stimulus packages are needed, and have a better idea of the timeline involved. Second, some of the personal hygiene habits we have been encouraged to practice — regular and thorough handwashing, covering a cough, being mindful of face touching — may help us reduce the spread of other illnesses, including influenza. This could translate into substantial savings to employers from fewer people missing work, less strain on the health care system and fewer lives lost. Third, people quarantined to their homes are spending more time with their families, cooking and eating together, possibly learning new skills and taking online classes. “There is definite value in all of these activities,” Kouliavtsev said.

April 14, 2020 - Art education students and faculty at Stephen F. Austin State University have created a series of YouTube videos designed to provide art instruction for students who are at home instead of in the classroom as a result of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
 
The tutorials, which range from lessons in drawing techniques and photography skills to the Raku firing process, were created to meet the needs of teachers and parents who are homeschooling art classes. The videos are accompanied by lesson plans that can be easily used by teachers/parents and students, according Dr. Maggie Leysath, professor of art education in the SFA School of Art.
 
“We decided to create this YouTube channel to help K-12 teachers who are now required to create video content for their classrooms,” Leysath said. “These videos can be used for sketchbook assignments or for unit artwork assignments. Really, these videos are great for parents to use as well, since the projects are relevant and so much fun.”
 
Creating the channel also helped to address the challenges art education students were facing due to the COVID-19 public health crisis, Leysath said.
 
“Since the curriculum for Spring 2020 included numerous opportunities for art education students to teach children in our local schools and at the Boys & Girls Club, which was no longer possible, it became clear that providing online instruction was now a necessary experience and skill for future art educators,” Leysath explained. “This channel and the content the art education students are creating is excellent experience for them in our ‘new normal’ world.”
 
The first two videos, portrait drawing basics and Raku firing, were created by Leysath as a way to get the channel up and running. The channel was viewed 708 minutes in the two weeks of March, when these videos were first available. And there’s more to come.
 
“The topics will be as varied as the art education students are themselves,” Leysath said. “Currently, there is a video for one-point perspective, one for creating dramatic photographs using your phone, and a really fun emoji lesson.” Videos will be added as students create them.
 
“We’ve discovered that quarantined and socially isolated people of all ages are thrilled with the opportunity to learn and grow,” Leysath said, adding she has received several self-portraits from her social media connections. “These videos offer a variety of ways to learn and try out art again.”
 
Art education students will continue to provide instructional videos during the month of June as an alternative to the two SFA art academy camps that were canceled due to concerns about COVID-19.
 
The art lessons are provided as a service and are not to be used for profit, according to Leysath.
 

Pages