ABAC students and faculty had the opportunity to attend the annual Georgia Sociological Association (GSA) Conference. The students that went to the conference all received a scholarship that waived the costs of being there. In turn, they all had to work shifts at the conference and aid as needed. Professors Dr. Jewrell Rivers, Dr. Shubba Chatterjee, and Ms. Melissa Harrell all participated in the conference by either presenting, being a panelist, or moderating.

Upon arrival, ABAC professors Ms. Harrell and Dr. Rivers were involved with the first workshop of the conference with other professors from different colleges and universities in Georgia: “Post-COVID ready Pedagogy: Teaching Strategies for the Transition Back to Normalcy.” The workshop was to discuss how COVID-19 affected the panelists from the start of the pandemic to the present time of the conference. They discussed the type of strategies they used to engage students in the classroom during the transition of being in-person to online.

The panelists discussed how they changed from the beginning of the pandemic through everything shutting down and becoming virtual. The common theme was that they had to adjust quickly and figure ways to engage their students. They held class sessions online via video conference and had discussion boards online. They discussed how they tried to make accommodations for students who didn’t have consistent internet access.

They discussed how during the peak of the virus communication, compassion, and understanding were critical, because of how much tragedy was in the world. They had to be more empathetic throughout this time. The understanding that there is a worldwide pandemic occurring, and people’s lives were at risk or taken away was necessary, and taking consideration of how to handle these situations was important.

They discused that as time moved forward, classes started to be back in person, but still had the greater influence of online and hybrid classes. The protocols for different colleges and universities was another thing to adjust to. Social distancing, wearing masks, and contact tracing were all considerations when attending classes in person — new guidelines to slow the spread. The panelists also had the challenges of their own safety; the main challenge was to stay safe and educate students.

The second day of the conference, Dr. Chatterjee presented “Embracing Self-love: Enhancing Wellness and Care.” Her presentation was about the importance of taking care of yourself. Mainly, how to integrate and gain self-care techniques within your life no matter the circumstance.

Student Laura Starnes and Professor Harrell did a presentation called “College Students: Substance Abuse Prevention via the Empowerment of Education.” It was about finding the best practices from research on substance abuse prevention in college students and the risks of addiction. With the context of substance abuse throughout grade school, the presentation provided information on how to set boundaries in social settings if there were illicit substances around.

The final day of the conference had more involvement from ABAC students. The workshop, “Student Engagement During the Transition from Pandemic to Post-Pandemic Normalcy,” hosted by the moderator, Dr. Rivers, and students Jordan Pittman, Zebony Davis, Torri Williams, and Ja’Mi Barnes of ABAC, and Alondra Guerrero of Kennesaw State University was about their experience of the pandemic. This workshop was the part two of the previous panel involving the professor’s viewpoint. There was discussion of the challenges that students faced throughout each phase of the pandemic. As well as, what students achieved while going through this unexpected time in history.

The panel included how they felt through the start of the pandemic and transitioning from in-person classes to online. The students discussed how it was a drain on them to keep up with the work assigned. Students had to adjust to participating in discussion boards, attending virtual classes, working on final projects and prepping for exams virtually. The biggest concern was learning how to adapt to the new reality.

The discussion transitioned to the stressors that was associated within the pandemic. The students discussed how not having face-to-face interaction had a negative impact on their mental health. The students lost motivation and had increased anxiety and depression. They discussed the social issues that were front-page news at the time, such as protests from the Black Lives Matter movement.

Afterward, the panel talked about the successes they achieved throughout the pandemic. They learned how self-care was a huge priority. Being in isolation, the students took the time to self-reflect, and take the opportunity to improve themselves. They realized that you need to allow your emotions to happen instead of pushing them off.

When classes first started again for students in Fall 2020, there was concern and excitement about being back in the classroom. The concerns were about being around fellow students and faculty. Plus, the concerns that people would not follow the CDC protocols in classes. On the other side, they were excited to be around people once again after months of isolation.

The end of the discussion was about how there was more compassion and understanding between professors and students. From all the changes and unforeseen circumstances, it was important to provide those components. It allowed a deeper connection between the professor and student with what was going on in the world.

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