Roxana Figiel, Celso Bahena Jr, Betsy Muñoz

Students in every sector of education have been affected by the pandemic – having to transition suddenly to online learning, and many university students having to return home, sometimes with only a few days’ notice. Like many of us, these students are worrying what next semester will look like, and they’re left wondering if this will affect the job market they’ll enter after college. We spoke with three current college students from around Arizona to get some ideas on what they’re thinking about right now and where they are finding hope for Arizona’s future. We believe strongly that student voices need to be heard and valued – so we wanted them to be the first people we spoke to for our Road to Attainment series. We also wanted to ensure we were getting a wide range of voices and opinions, so we spoke with 3 students from different backgrounds including an adult learner– a critical population to reach for the achievement of our 60% educational attainment goal.

Roxana Figiel is a student at Arizona State University working toward a bachelor’s degree in public service and public policy.

Celso Bahena Jr is an adult student currently studying Logistics at Pima Community College.

Betsy Muñoz is a first-generation Mexican American college student studying public service and public policy at Arizona State University.

What have been the main challenges you or other students in your community have faced because of COVID-19? 

Roxana: When we suddenly moved to online classes, I could see that my professors were struggling. One class ended up using Zoom, which was a completely new tool for that professor. At first, with the constant adjustments and new online programs, it was overwhelming to figure out how the requirements for the classes had changed. 

Celso: Communication is more subtle than it was before. But there are some positives – email and online methods have made it a little bit easier to get in contact with professors. At work, I’ve been in contact with more people because, instead of only interacting with my direct supervisor, I have to email others, and have gotten more acquainted with the chain of command.

Betsy: One of the greatest challenges for my peers and me is being disconnected from each other and not being able to learn, study, or be together. Video chatting does help provide part of that connection, but it is not the same as communicating in-person. Another challenge has been accessing jobs, internships, or career experiences since these have become more limited and their formats have changed. 

What are you talking about now that was previously not talked about in education? What does this mean for the future of education?

Celso: There’s been a lot of talk about virtual hangouts and virtual classrooms. The availability of virtual learning means people can learn from anywhere. The future will be heavily technology-based. 

Betsy: We are talking about remote learning and what that means. There are students who do not have access to a computer or digital device, and this has affected their learning beyond the inequities already present in the education system. The future of education will need to address these challenges and identify strategies or innovative solutions toward closing this gap in ways we haven’t done before. 

What has changed in education that you think will remain when students eventually return to classrooms?

Celso: Online teaching methods are being honed in and perfected. The kinks will be worked out. When schools re-open, these methods will be implemented into the mainstream public school system. 

Betsy: The use of technology and the increased use of digital learning. The use of technology will continue to increase, and students will need to be prepared and have technology resources available to them.

How do current students need to prepare differently for graduation and work given a recession? 

Roxana: Honestly, I am worried about what the future will hold for graduates. This recession won’t be over anytime soon, and the consequences will affect future graduates as well. They will be going out into a world that has new rules. Our internships were canceled, jobs weren’t providing enough hours, and businesses were closing, leaving us without the necessary experience companies look for in potential employees. 

Betsy:  Students will need to think about options they may not have considered before, because their education and career pathways may look different. This recession may discourage students from enrolling in courses that require hands-on training or encourage students to continue their post-secondary education beyond a bachelor’s degree. It would be beneficial for all students to try to gain career-related experiences wherever possible to better prepare themselves for the workforce during this recession.   

Who is inspiring you in this challenging time and why?

Roxana: I think everyone has been an inspiration in these times. Seeing how each person decides to help themselves or others provides insight into what we value as individuals and as a society.

Celso: One of the people that continues to inspire me is the author, Christopher Hitchens. He always spoke about humanitarian values, how we must oppose aggression amongst each other, and instead look for the good in people, while enabling others to achieve that as well. 

Betsy: Seeing my nieces, who are between the ages of 6 and 9, continue their education from home and adapt to their new reality has been inspiring to me. I am also in awe of all the parents who are working from home and are trying to teach their kids at the same time. Or the parents who are working from home with little ones. Seeing all the teachers and my peers adjust to this new environment has been incredible to watch. Teachers made adjustments to their classes in such a short amount of time and students pushed themselves to continue their learning.

What do you think will be the best way for Arizona to Achieve60AZ given our new reality? What is your greatest hope for education coming out of COVID-19?

Roxana: Many people don’t know that they qualify for help and support in obtaining a degree. Providing that information allows them to make long term decisions for their future. COVID-19 has brought many underlying issues to the surface with no way to sweep them under the rug. Inequities need to be addressed and adults will need to reconsider education.

Celso: Social media is now more indispensable than ever. Arizonans will hopefully be helped by social media and nudged in the direction of education.

Betsy: My greatest hope for education coming out of COVID-19 is for our education community to have the ability to provide more resources, identify strategies, and create solutions toward addressing the longstanding inequities in our system. There is no “one-size-fits-all” option for students.

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