The Poole community returns to campus more resilient and more driven to connect than before the pandemic.
By Ashley Rabinovitch
The doors of Nelson Hall are open once again. As the dormant space transforms into a buzzing hive of activity, there is a nearly audible sigh of relief from students, faculty and staff members who have been waiting for this day to come. From the familiar murmur of hallway conversations to the wafting of freshly brewed coffee, you could almost believe that nothing has changed. But for the people who learn, research and create at the Poole College of Management, everything has changed. A year and a half after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our community returns to campus more resilient and more eager to connect than ever before.
The Evolution of Poole Programs
If we were to take a photo of each act of resilience, great and small, in the Poole community over the past year and a half, the scrapbooks would fill Nelson Hall.
In the Career Center, resilience took the form of creativity as Christina DeBerardino, assistant director of career development for undergraduate programs, and the career development team discovered innovative ways to keep students and employers engaged. Through reimagining signature events and introducing new offerings, including a virtual employer insight series, DeBerardino found that many students actually gleaned more value from one-on-one sessions enabled by a virtual format than they did from in-person events. These virtual events, particularly the fall career fair, proved so successful that Career Services will pioneer a hybrid mix of events throughout the semester.
Rob Sandruck, director of global programs for the Poole College of Management, has been similarly committed to creative problem-solving. “My team and I were determined to make lemonade out of lemons, so we took advantage of everyone being virtual to find new ways for students to engage globally,” he says.
In addition to facilitating a variety of virtual international internships, Sandruck and his colleagues worked with international business schools to create single course exchanges instead of requiring a full semester exchange. They also created a new global seminar series in partnership with universities in Argentina, Israel, the UK, and Austria; as well as a podcast called Global Here and Now. “While we are starting to see students travel abroad again, the silver lining of the pandemic has been the opportunity to develop these virtual, evergreen programs that would never have been on our radar before,” says Sandruck. “We’re excited to expand how we define global engagement.”
Connecting the Student Body
For upperclassmen like Isaiah Akridge, returning to Nelson Hall feels like coming home after a long, difficult journey. Akridge had never thought deeply about mental health issues, but the isolation he experienced taught him the importance of prioritizing his mental health and going beyond surface-level relationships to form deep connections. “During lockdown, I realized that maintaining relationships is more than checking in every once in a while,” he says. “It’s about being there for someone at every step of the way, particularly when our world turns upside down. This season has inspired me to prioritize impactful relationships above anything else.”
This season has inspired me to prioritize impactful relationships above anything else.
This sense of connection is exactly what Tedd Szeto, assistant dean for undergraduate programs, is determined to cultivate. From positioning staff members in the halls to help students navigate an unfamiliar space to connecting each student with a tailored team of advisors, Szeto and his colleagues are constantly pioneering new strategies to provide a holistic, personalized student experience.
The iconic Poole Party, hosted in the courtyard of Nelson Hall on August 25th, played a central role in Szeto’s efforts to foster connection through introducing more than 1,000 students to a wide array of clubs and organizations. “A lot of student clubs and organizations went dark during the pandemic, so we’re working closely with student leaders to revitalize them,” says Szeto.
Simran Kapoor, this year’s president of Poole Council, is one of the student leaders who is dedicated to helping her peers connect. The senior business and accounting student joined Poole Council her freshman year out of a desire to maintain the warm, generous atmosphere that had made an impression on her as prospective student. “Back when I was looking at schools, Poole stood out to me because of how welcoming other students were to me before and after I was admitted,” she remembers. “I wanted to have a similar impact on someone else.”
Under Kapoor’s leadership, Poole Council acts as a liaison between the student body and the Office of Undergraduate Programs. Throughout the year, Council members plan to set up tables in high-traffic areas to document and relay student perspectives on how to improve their academic and co-curricular experience. “Providing a safe, affirming space for every student starts with listening,” Kapoor affirms.
Kapoor recently attended the semester’s first presidents’ roundtable, a regular gathering that gives presidents of student club and organizations an opportunity to support each other and exchange ideas. “Last year, it was difficult to stay involved in student organizations in a virtual capacity,” she acknowledges. “Everyone had Zoom fatigue, and being part of a club started to feel like one more thing on an already full plate. But now, all of the student leaders are so excited to do more now that we’re back in person. Poole is starting to feel like the community it was before the pandemic.”
More than two thirds of Poole students are experiencing the daily rhythms of life in Nelson Hall for the first time. Sara Roe, a former ballerina with the Carolina Ballet, hung up her slippers to pursue a career in marketing when the pandemic hit. She enrolled at NC State at the beginning of 2021, but she is only just now learning her way around campus.
A “huge extrovert,” by her own description, Roe is excited to plant roots in new soil. “For the first time, I’ll get the chance to meet people on campus I’ve only ever communicated with virtually,” she says. “As someone with a more nontraditional background, I’m looking forward to a traditional college experience.”
Virginia Grey Newton, an upcoming freshman, is relieved that her college experience will begin in person. “It was primarily the fun and welcoming environment that drew me to NC State, so I was incredibly happy to hear that we would be on campus for my first semester,” she shares. Newton is looking forward to getting involved with groups like the Student Alumni Association as she settles into campus life.
There’s nothing like the energy of being together in person.
For their part, faculty and staff are equally excited to welcome students back to campus. “Over the course of the summer, we hosted several in-person orientations at Nelson Hall,” says DeBerardino. “It was amazing to welcome them, answer their questions and shower them with swag and Howling Cow ice cream to celebrate a new year. “There’s nothing like the energy of being together in person.”
With the Delta variant on the loose, the Poole community must balance excitement with caution, Szeto acknowledges. “We’re a bit leery, to be sure,” he says. “At the same time, it’s wonderful to witness the energy that is generated by being able to do everything in person, whether it’s meeting with a career advisor or collaborating with a group of fellow students. There’s a definite buzz in Nelson Hall. We’re finally back.”
Explore more photos from the Poole Party held on Aug. 25 inside and outside of Nelson Hall.