“Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle.” This inevitable job interview query allows candidates to show how they respond to a challenge. And those who are heading to university this fall are learning the soft skills they need to rise to the occasion.
The current reality shaped by COVID-19 represents such a challenge. It is understandable that many university students are unsure about attending in the fall term. The prospect of adapting to remote learning or multi-access learning models might initially seem tricky to navigate. However, this is exactly the sort of challenge where adaptability becomes highly relevant.
In business and industry, change takes many forms: new technology; evolving markets; and varying patterns of consumption, to name a few. We are living through an era of immense change, even without the additional challenge of a pandemic. Having the critical-thinking skills to understand the bigger picture, to recognize broader goals, and having the confidence, knowledge and flexibility to pivot puts you in a good position for success.
At Trent University, our professors and instructors have been shining examples of adaptability, as they reconstruct their courses in response to these new modes of remote access, while maintaining academic excellence. The nature of university education is one that has always relied upon a great deal of self-discipline. University learning is not rote learning. Lectures do provide information, but more importantly offer models of how to use information, as professors demonstrate and apply ideas gained from readings and research. Students then have the opportunity to test the limits of their knowledge, whether it is in seminar or tutorial discussions or in laboratories.
The shift to a more remote term does mean that accessing those lectures, and those demonstrations of ideas will be different, while discussion and application may take place in locations such as online forums or Zoom seminars. Many labs and some seminars will still run at some institutions, including my own, but with social distancing and other protective measures in place.
The core of learning, independent work, guided by the expertise of professors, seminar leaders and with the supports of advisors, counsellors, academic skills experts and other staff, will remain. This is a unique and evolving mode of access and engagement and an endeavour that will help produce new skills and innovation in higher education.
Students can find reassurance in this chapter. The events brought about by the pandemic will represent but a portion of your time in university. As we move towards a new normal, and as we return to more face-to-face interaction, remote learning will have been part of the mosaic of your university education, and will equip you with tools to succeed.
With improved bursaries, scholarships and other financial supports, there are other incentives to help students return to classes this fall. Here at Trent University, where we were already number one in bursaries and scholarships among primarily undergraduate universities, we have dedicated even more resources to assisting students. This has included a remote learning initiative, where community and alumni donors have contributed funds to ensure that students in need will have access to the technology required to successfully complete the term.
I encourage students to consider a return to campus this fall. Certainly on my own campus, at Trent University Durham, we are ready to welcome you, both in person and virtually, and are always here to support you on your journey. There is actually much to be gained from either starting or continuing your postsecondary journey now. While there is no extra credit given for the ability to adapt to the challenges of COVID, when today’s students are faced with that job interview, and the inevitable questions as to how they have responded to a challenge, they will undoubtedly have the answer.
— Scott Henderson is the Dean and Head of Trent University Durham GTA
This article originally appeared in Metroland.