Sacramento State Online Classes
Sacramento State Online Classes

Sacramento State Online Classes

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Sacramento State students have found ways to thrive and succeed while learning to navigate unprecedented detours caused by upheavals in society, politics and nature. (Sacramento State/Hrach Avetisyan)

Sacramento State Online Classes

Samantha Elizalde was just three months into her freshman year at Sac State in the fall of 2018 when unhealthy blankets of smoke from the Camp Fire north of Sacramento suddenly shut down the campus for two weeks.

The State Hornet

For the Class of 2022, who will participate in Commencement at the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento May 20-22, the past four years have presented an unprecedented rush of challenges. Chief among them is the still-active COVID-19 pandemic, which in March 2020 forced students into isolation for more than a year as most classes moved from face-to-face to online.

Samantha Elizalde was president of Associated Students Inc. during one of the most challenging periods in Sac State history. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Global and local events were also included, from the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd and related protests, to contested national elections, to summer skies filled with wildfire smoke, an annual reminder that students are graduating in a world forced to confront the effects of climate change.

“I feel like the people who started in the fall of 2018 at Sac State just had the weirdest experience,” said Elizalde, a political science major and 2021-22 president. Associated Students Inc. (ASI). “We had fires, we had a pandemic.”

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As COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of students, Sacramento State’s support programs have kicked in. Some were new, such as the nearly $90 million distributed to students through the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).

Additional assistance came through programs previously established as part of the University’s work to address basic student needs, such as the CARES office, which distributed additional grants through HEERF. Since fall 2020, the office has provided more than 2,600 students with nearly $3 million in additional support for basic needs such as housing, utilities and technology, and helped more than 100 find emergency housing.

CARES Interim Director Danielle Muñoz said she was “extremely proud and in awe” of the students who dealt with difficult challenges often beyond their control.

“Many of these students were navigating college as first-generation students and adjusting to a virtual learning environment,” she said. “However, our students never gave up, they persevered, asked for help, relied on each other and had hope.”

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Student use of Student Health and Counseling services remained stable during the height of the pandemic despite the campus being mostly empty. That robust use of the University’s key facility is due in large part to its rapid transition to offering virtual services, said Ron Lutz, director of advisory services.

A cyclist riding on the edge of the campus was another sign that the life of students is returning to normal after many difficult challenges. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

About half of the students who sought services did not attribute their needs to the pandemic, but those who did struggled with concerns about another individual’s health and well-being, an inability to stay motivated to study, loneliness and isolation, and grief related to the loss of a loved one, he said. Lutz. Furthermore, being at home with family was supportive for some students, but the extreme proximity was an added stress for others, he said.

Hector Rodriguez transferred to Sac State in the fall of 2020 and didn’t even graduate a year before the pandemic broke out. He said he lost his job, which gave him extra time to focus on classes, but “it also worsened my mental health (struggles), which affected my focus and engagement in class.”

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Rodriguez and his girlfriend have been in quarantine together, busy with video games, family video chats and new exercise routines. He said that while his overall experience with online classes has been positive, he misses socializing with fellow students on campus.

“As a first-generation college student, I feel extremely fortunate to be able to graduate, all things considered,” Rodriguez said. “I’m really glad I persevered in light of the pandemic and am moving to the next level towards my professional career.”

Micneisha Vaughn, who is working on her master’s degree in social work, took a leave of absence in the spring of 2020 after her son was born in April. She planned ahead and completed much of her fieldwork ahead of time, but returning to online classes a year later was difficult. Vaughn and other students have lost the opportunity to interact directly with each other, she said, and “nobody’s going to stay up late after Zoom and Talk.”

“I feel like the odds are against us with COVID and death and (the 2020 presidential election) and babies — so many different things,” Vaughn said. “Making up work, making up hours, sleepless nights and top projects, but in the midst of it all, I made it.”

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As president of ASI, Elizalde has seen firsthand the impact of COVID-19 on the student body. Everyone’s experience was different, she said, but “the biggest thing was isolation, the biggest thing was mental health.” She’s seen fellow Hornets lose jobs, salaries and even family members. The stress of the pandemic and world events exacerbated her mental health issues, and she relied on her family for support.

“It taught us how to learn differently, how to engage differently,” Elizalde said. “Some people really learned well in an online environment and preferred online learning,” Students also had new opportunities like “video chatting with someone across the US.”

She shares Vaughn’s pride in being part of the Class of 2022, students who persevered through what the world threw at them and earned the right to walk triumphantly across the graduation stage.

“We can tell future generations that we went through the pandemic, that we got our degree during the pandemic,” said Elizalde. “We are literally proof that it is possible.”

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Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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The biology student was among the few who continued to attend classes on campus during the pandemic-induced depopulation of Sac State. Other students have adapted to learning options such as online classes. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

As classrooms closed their doors and the campus emptied last year in concession due to the growing coronavirus, Sacramento State was plunged into uncertainty.

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Many faculty members did not teach an online course. Few staff have mastered Zoom meetings. Some students went home to cramped quarters, outdated computer equipment and unreliable Internet services.

“We were still trying to figure out what impact the pandemic would have on us,” said Ed Mills, vice president for student affairs. “It was a pretty chaotic situation.”

Nevertheless, the University eventually emerged from the chaos, managing its “new normal” in development so that today it can claim many successes in the face of unprecedented challenges.

Classes that the University has decided must be held in person have been convened in various locations, including outdoors. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

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A year after Sac State shifted to virtual work, study and teaching environments in the interest of security, its enrollment remains strong. Fewer than 100 students dropped out of school during the pandemic period. Course load and GPA remained stable. In this way, the University seems to be bucking the national trend.

Sac State’s spring 2021 enrollment of 29,557 students was just shy of the record enrollment set in spring 2020. Furthermore, the Hornet Launch scheduling system, first used in fall 2020, is credited with keeping the course load at about 14 unit for incoming freshmen. Also encouraging, Graduation Czar James Dragna said he believes the University will continue to improve on its rising four-year graduation rates.

“I’m really proud of our faculty and staff,” said Steve Perez, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “They worked very hard in very difficult circumstances. We learned how to turn around and move forward.”

By fall, if the virus continues to subside and vaccination rates continue to rise, the campus, which normally houses more than 30,000 people, could be operating at about 50% capacity, President Robert S. Nelsen said.

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“It seems like we can finally see the light at the end of this terribly long tunnel. That’s still a long way off, of course. But there it is.”

Strict security measures are likely to remain in place, including mandatory face coverings and physical distancing, Perez said, adding that he is cautiously optimistic that “we’ll be much more populated in the fall, and then we can move toward normalcy.”

Perez and others recalled not only the anxiety and uncertainty they felt a year ago

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