Jenkins MAC Team Shows Its Strength as a Family During the Pandemic
By Lea Hart
The students, faculty and staff that make up the Jenkins Master of Accounting (MAC) program at Poole College of Management have a reputation for being like family.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic put some unexpected distance between those family members, the Jenkins MAC team quickly got creative in finding ways to keep students connected.
The Jenkins MAC team includes Jay Arrington, associate director of admissions, Kelly Hardy, associate director of student programs and career services, Jessica Moran, online program coordinator, Derek Welsh, student services specialist, Andrea Young, associate director of marketing for the Jenkins Graduate Programs, and is led by Scott Showalter, MAC program director.
While each had his or her own individual roles during the pandemic, Showalter noted the team came together as it always does with a singular focus on student success.
“The team has stayed very focused on the students the entire time, trying to anticipate the needs of the students and getting ahead of the curve,” Showalter said. “To accomplish this, they were constantly coming up with new ideas and helping each other to accomplish these ideas.”
Communication and connectivity were key themes throughout, as some of the MAC program’s biggest events went from in-person to online, including orientation for the incoming class, and Meet the Firms, the program’s largest networking and job search event.
It didn’t matter who was getting credit, everyone on the team was willing to suggest ideas and build on those ideas. At the end of the day, if the students are happy, that’s the reward and that’s what they’re looking for.
The team created new ways to help students stay connected as well, Showalter said. They held regular town hall style meetings to facilitate open communication and keep students informed. Students were broken down into small groups and assigned a faculty member who did a monthly check-in individually with each student in their group.
The MAC team began meeting once a week themselves, brainstorming during that time and keeping tabs on what they were hearing from students – trying to proactively address any needs that arose.
Where students used to gather for socials throughout their time in the program, Showalter said the MAC team found other ways to reach students and help them feel connected to the program and their peers. The team sent students a holiday card in December, and faculty recorded a video that went out in January to students prior to their return.
“It didn’t matter who was getting credit, everyone on the team was willing to suggest ideas and build on those ideas,” Showalter said. “At the end of the day, if the students are happy, that’s the reward and that’s what they’re looking for.”
A look at the team-centered approach
The work of the MAC team falls into a number of categories, and while this look at their roles only captures a part of that work, it provides a snapshot of just a few of the ways this small group of individuals working together made a big impact for students.
Admissions: As a former mental health professional, Arrington knew the impact the events of 2020 could potentially have on students. “I knew that many students were feeling a multitude of stressors like feelings of isolation, fear, anxiety, and loneliness,” he said. “I wanted to make it my mission that all students that were a part of our program didn’t just feel like they were ‘just students,’ and rather that they were truly family.”
Arrington kept up with students through calls, email and Zoom, walking them through the website and application process, offering virtual and in-person office hours, and focusing on each individual throughout. He kept track of how students were doing personally, what might be going on in their lives that was not necessarily school-related, and worked to provide resources to them however he could.
Student Services: Welsh found himself becoming even more responsive to applicants and incoming students emails, even after business hours. He said it was something that not only helped ease student anxiety during these uncertain times, but also helped him personally. “I found that rather than doom-scrolling all night on social media, keeping up on my inbox was far less stressful and actually helped me feel like I had control of a situation and was doing something to help,” Welsh said. At the same time, students received responses even more quickly, alleviating some of their stress and helping them feel connected from a distance.
Communications: Young used social media and partnered up with other MAC team members to produce videos to reach students. When the pandemic began, the current class was on spring break and did not end up returning to campus, while the new students had just been admitted. “We didn’t want to lose touch with anyone and soon realized how important video would be for students not only to hear from us but see the team and know that we were thinking about them during this unprecedented time,” she said.
The team created several videos throughout the year that included one from faculty and staff congratulating students at graduation, one for incoming students as a welcome that included important information so they felt prepared for the fall, and even a video sent to students when they left for an extended winter break.
Career Services and Student Programs: Hardy led the charge in taking some of the MAC program’s biggest events virtual. Meet the Firms is normally a four-night, in-person event where graduate students and internship candidates network and discuss careers in public accounting with firm representatives. The Corporate & Governmental Expo takes place at the same time, and is a similar event for students to discuss industry careers in accounting. When it became clear that these events could not happen in-person in Fall 2020, Hardy worked to move both to a completely virtual format with just a few months’ notice.
Similarly, student orientation for incoming students moved to a virtual format for the Fall 2020 semester. Though she was a leader, Hardy is quick to give credit to the team as a whole. “To be effective, each member of our team utilized their expertise to provide a sense of the “MAC family” and to provide important information for students,” Hardy said.
Online Programs: Moran is the newest member of the MAC team, and works with faculty to help them identify the best ways to engage students in an online format. When everyone else went online, she served as a liaison in helping faculty move to the 100 percent virtual teaching environment. “I was already doing a lot of these things, but the pandemic heightened the sense of urgency,” she said. From helping faculty who did not regularly teach online to ensure their course material translated to the virtual environment, to coaching them on ways to engage students virtually, Moran did her part to ensure a smooth transition.
Moran, who is also an alumna of the MAC program, brought her unique view as a former student and current staff member to the table as well.
“As far as that family feeling, and that network, I’ve lived it and I am it,” she said. “I was able to tell the students that we would be connected forever as alumni of the program.”