Lessons in Resilience: Novos Adapt to Virtual Teaching and Learning

An artists's rendering of the Cook Library Commons area.
Artist’s rendering of the Cook Library Commons area

College life has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, impelling us to reimagine everything—from how we teach and learn to how we interact and innovate.
And though we may be living in a period of seemingly endless question marks, those of us at New College have found a way to create inspiring answers, solutions and momentum. That is just who we are. We adapt. We regroup. We set our sights on a boundless future, even when we don’t quite know how that will look.
We have watched our incredible students move forward with us, using their intellectual curiosity, self-reliance and resolve in the midst of chaos to make them better people (and to make the world better by being who they are).
Together as a campus community, we turned unprecedented dilemmas into growth opportunities. We demonstrated what adaptability and optimism look like. We learned. We evolved. We led.

Inventive Problem Solvers

No other college in the State University System of Florida has undergone the kind of transformation we have here at New College during the shaky spring of 2020. Of this, we are proud, as it speaks to our nature as inventive problem solvers.
New College moved from 100 percent in-person classes to 100 percent virtual classes in the span of a couple of weeks. We went from an almost entirely residential campus to a totally remote setup. It wasn’t easy. Nothing is easy at a time like this. It has been an on-the-fly, outside-the-box learning experience and a remarkable lesson in resilience. And really, hasn’t that always been the New College way? This is what we do. We are role models for this.
Not only has the campus, as a whole, masterfully adapted to a new way of teaching, living and learning, but the faculty and staff have shown how resourceful they can be under pressure. Director of Educational Technology Services Angie Fairweather crafted an advanced plan to make remote teaching an exciting, stimulating reality. Classes like art, marine biology and biochemistry—topics that might not necessarily translate well to a digital format—were reinvented flawlessly.

  • Kim Anderson, associate professor of art, worked with Cal Murgu (New College’s research, instruction and digital humanities librarian) to create a fully virtual thesis art exhibition for her students called The Embodied Mind. It was initially planned to have an in-person finale in the Isermann Gallery but was moved to an online format during the pandemic (and it was so high-tech that it was even viewable with virtual reality gear).
  • Athena Rycyk, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology and marine science, introduced her students to March Mammal Madness (an annual online tournament of simulated combat competition among mammals, which educated participants about interspecies interactions). The experience was completely online at a time when oceanic group research was not feasible.
  • Associate Professor of Biochemistry Katherine Walstrom, Ph.D., could not involve her students in onsite lab work, so she inspired them to conduct remote research on COVID-19 for their year-end grant proposals. She hosted virtual class discussions as students devised new field experiments and planned to test hypotheses.
  • Burçin Bozkaya, Ph.D., professor of data science and the director of the data science graduate program, brought his students to the very center of the virtual communications movement mid-pandemic. He partnered with Riff Analytics (a Boston-based tech company), and involved his students in researching ways to fundamentally improve telecommunication. The students’ findings could be instrumental in determining how people interact in a more socially-distanced world.

Every one of these courses embodies the New College philosophy of keeping class sizes small and intimate (whether they are held in a classroom or on a screen). No Zoom meeting with 200 students from a massive lecture hall class would ever make the impact these customized gatherings have made.
And not only did the professors provide compelling content for the students to learn, but they also engaged with them holistically, making sure they were progressing both intellectually and emotionally during the pandemic. The close connection between faculty and students, in many cases, grew even stronger during this shared experience of 2020.
The Counseling & Wellness Center (CWC) also ensured that students were taken care of in all aspects—mind, body and soul. Licensed psychologists Anne Fisher, Ph.D. (the CWC’s program director), and Duane G. Khan, Ph.D. (the assistant program director), moved all of their counseling sessions to a video chat platform called the Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) program. Additionally, the Student Success Center staff held virtual workshops and group chats, and offered personalized coaching via phone and Google hangouts.

Committed to Students’ Success

As the economy and the job market shift, to an often-uncomfortable degree, New College remains fully committed to students’ success (pre- and post-graduation). Novo Collegians receive the royal treatment when it comes to career resources, propelling them to prosperous futures by the time they leave. Here are some examples of New College’s career-centric opportunities that have recently been made virtually accessible:

  • Our Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO) has worked fearlessly to reinvent networking events (at a time when shaking hands and making introductions at large gatherings is forbidden). The CEO had planned to host a Reverse Career on March 26 in Sudakoff Conference Center, and to invite employers to visit student booths for recruiting. When COVID-19 hit, CEO Director Dwayne Peterson and his staff turned what would have been an in-person extravaganza into an all-virtual experience. It was a massive success that drew interest from 76 employers, and the New College students who participated were bombarded with job opportunities.
  • When global travel became a non-option for many students, New College staff encouraged them to pursue virtual study abroad programs and internships. Florence Zamsky, Ph.D., the assistant director of off-campus study/study abroad programs; and Duane Smith, Ph.D., assistant director of prestigious fellowships for the CEO; generated interest in these programs. Third-year student Ky Miller, for example, is now working remotely on an ethnographic research project about Costa Rica until she is able to physically travel there.
  • Three new certificate programs became available to New College students, giving them a leg up in career marketability: Bloomberg Market Concepts (which offers students a visual introduction to financial markets and the core functionality of the Bloomberg terminal) and Geographic Information Systems (equipping students with the tools to analyze geolocated data, explore datasets and design maps), as well as an affiliation with the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute (a professional association for investment management professionals that certifies and prepares students for the financial analysis field).

Life may have slowed down and to-do lists may have been put on hold due to the pandemic. But we have shown our students that working toward a fulfilling future never has been (and never should be) a back-burner item. To successfully progress as a candidate in this ever-shifting world, staying competitive and marketable is paramount.
“The pandemic has demonstrated, more than ever, the importance of an education—particularly a liberal arts education. The economy can change in an instant, as we have seen. Jobs disappear and new career opportunities emerge,” said New College Provost Barbara Feldman, Ph.D. “A good education and a college degree will make your economic stability and opportunities for growth much, much better. It is the best insurance you can have.”

A Renewed New College

As we have shown this spring, New College doesn’t shy away from a challenge. There will always be hurdles—new uncertainties and frightening new realities. Our students are in the middle of one right now as they move from high school to college, from undergraduate to graduate school, and from academia to the professional world. That’s scary enough, even without a pandemic in the picture.
But we want them to remember what we collectively learned during this unnerving era—how to move forward no matter what, to resist stagnation, and to ultimately rise.
Here at New College, we dare to learn bravely. We aspire to lead boldly. And now more than ever, we are ready for anything.
(Story by Abby Weingarten, New College alumna, and editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing)


Founded in Sarasota in 1960, New College of Florida is the state's only legislatively designated Honors College of Florida. New College prepares intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement by providing a highly individualized education that integrates academic rigor with career-building experiences. New College offers 45 undergraduate majors in liberal arts and sciences, a master’s degree program in data science, and certificates in technology, finance, and business skills.

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