Graduate students share their reactions to COVID-19-mandated changes

Baylor graduate students are also feeling the impact of changes due to COVID-19 on campus. Cole Tompkins | Photographer

By Clara Lincicome | Reporter

Baylor’s graduate programs are represented by “over 2,400 students in more than a hundred academic programs across the humanities, arts, and sciences.” These students, like undergraduate students, have been forced to earn their degrees in a different way than normal.

The graduate students are also required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, where they must report to a specific testing site on campus at a certain time.

Amarillo graduate student Caroline Hamilton is in her second year at George W. Truett Theological Seminary and is pursing a Master of Divinity degree. In response to the weekly testing requirements, Hamilton expressed that she is grateful that COVID-19 testing has been readily available to all students on campus.

“Baylor is an expensive school,” Hamilton said. “It’s nice to know they are using a lot of the money for testing.”

In terms of changes in the classroom, graduate students have adapted to a mix of in-person, hybrid and asynchronous and synchronous online classes on a smaller scale than undergraduate classes.

“Last semester, all my classes were in person and I felt very fortunate to have that experience,” Kingwood graduate student Donny Lawrence said. “Because the graduate program is smaller than undergraduate programs, they were able to accommodate all of us.”

Lawrence is in his last semester in the Hankamer School of Business’ joint bachelor’s degree in business administration and Master of Accountancy program.

Now, having taken a class using the online format, Lawrence said he still feels connected to his classmates and professors.

“Even though we are meeting over Zoom sometimes or are face-to-face in masks, you still get that personal connection,” Lawrence said.

The online format is also available to graduate students if they do not feel comfortable attending classes in person, or if they need to quarantine.

“Truett has been really careful. We are able to adapt really quickly,” Hamilton said about the flexibility of changing to an online format if necessary. “It’s not hard to go online for a week or shift to online if you don’t feel comfortable.”

Hamilton and Lawrence both commented on the fact that graduate classes are mostly discussion-based.

“[COVID-19 precautions] make it less open for discussion,” Hamilton said.

On the other hand, Lawrence has appreciated the shift he has experienced in regard to class discussion in his negotiations class. What was once a graded discussion in the classroom is now an assigned discussion outside of class with a classmate, where he then writes a reflection of the interaction to turn in for a grade.

“I feel like that is really helpful because there’s a lot of pressure to get a good grade, but here it’s a low stakes environment, so you really get the full learning experience,” Lawrence said.

Hamilton and Lawrence are both graduate assistants at the Wiethorn Undergraduate Admissions Center. In terms of being an on-campus worker during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hamilton said that the office morale has remained high and student workers have been eager to comply with COVID-19 precautions so that tours at the Visitor’s Center can continue. Hamilton said the “fun part of the job is having people on campus” and following the necessary precautions is the way to continue doing so.

Hamilton and Lawrence have witnessed how their on-campus jobs have evolved during the pandemic. A job that was once focused on planning a weekend and football game experience for athletic recruits has transitioned to arranging online and virtual tours.

“That’s the best part, that we’ve been able to adapt in different ways,” Hamilton said.

Despite all the changes graduate students have experienced in the past year, many have said they still feel they are getting the most out of their Baylor education.

For Lawrence, his priority right now is studying for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam in March. Lawrence said, throughout the pandemic, his professors have been able to help him adjust to the changes this new way of life has brought. Hamilton echoed that sentiment when discussing her experience at Truett.

“They haven’t done things too quickly or too slowly,” Hamilton said. “They’ve been doing their best in a very quickly changing situation.”