Researchers are still working to understand the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts from the College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) discuss how the pandemic has changed their fields and provide insight into what’s next.
Youjung Lee, Director and Associate Professor, Department of Social Work
Q: What challenges presented by COVID-19 are you studying?
A: Children and families in rural communities have experienced long-term social isolation. Although access to mental health services has always been insufficient in these regions, the situation has been aggravated by the pandemic.
These challenges have become opportunities. CCAC Dean Laura Bronstein, PhD student Kelley Cook and I, with support from a SUNY Prepare Innovation Grant, worked together to develop a telemental health service, enabling us to offer services virtual mental health services to children and families, especially in rural communities.
Q: What were the results?
A: One client told us she felt more comfortable receiving mental health services because it was in a virtual setting. Getting to in-person sessions would have been a huge hurdle, and she was dreading trying it until she discovered our free virtual service. After a few sessions, she said she was more willing to try in-person services in the future.
Q: How were telemental health services perceived before the pandemic?
A: It has always been considered secondary or optional. But today, many researchers and practitioners see that it can be an innovative way of delivering services. I believe that future social workers should be trained in it just as they are trained for in-person practice.
Q: How would that help you?
A: We are beginning to see moves by government agencies to permanently remove geographic barriers, allowing clients to access telehealth services from home for the diagnosis, assessment and treatment of specific health conditions.
Therefore, customers who prefer multilingual support will be able to connect with suppliers online instead of having to physically travel. This will help promote equity and enable people to access meaningful resources.
Deborah Taub, Chair and Professor, Department of Student Affairs Administration
Q: What has been the biggest challenge of the pandemic?
A: The field of student affairs aims to bring students together. We are building a community. And then suddenly a big part of our job was to separate people.
Q: Why is community important to college-aged students?
A: It’s such an important time for development, and a lot of that development takes place in the context of community and relationships. It’s an opportunity to get to know people from different backgrounds with different points of view.
It is also important that their mental health is not isolated. As we continue to move closer to normal, we hear a lot about students feeling very alone.
Q: What will the next generation of student affairs professionals need to be successful?
A: The pandemic has shaken our foundation, but it hasn’t completely changed it. The next generation will need to be attuned to issues related to social media and student mental health. They will need to be flexible and open to new ways of doing things.
Q: What surprised you the most?
A: That we’re going to see the impacts of that for some time. The students didn’t just miss the classroom teaching and content. They missed key developments in areas such as social skills.
We will work with students who will have to develop skills that we expected of them. Also, the students have suffered so many losses and they don’t know what to do with those feelings.
Q: What is the long-term optimistic impact?
A: We will see how vital student affairs work is to the overall college experience. Much of the learning takes place outside the classroom. I hope the field is more human for professionals and finds new ways for them to achieve not only work-life balance, but also work-life harmony.
Loretta “Lucky” Mason-Williams, Associate Professor, Department of Teaching, Learning, and Educational Leadership (TLEL) and Director, Doctoral Program in Community Research and Action
Q: How has the pandemic affected TLEL?
A: This has strengthened our relationships with local school districts. We have been able to transition our student teachers to a residency program model, where our future teachers work in an expanded role and help fill some gaps in the workforce, while being paid. Our districts recognize the value of putting our students in a more active role and being part of their preparation.
Q: How will more technology in the classroom change things?
A: More and more teachers have learned to integrate technology platforms into their teaching, and we see them continuing to find creative ways to use them. Gone are the days when computers were only used for indoor recreation. For students with disabilities, teachers are increasingly using Zoom for Individualized Education Program meetings, increasing accessibility for parents and guardians who cannot make time to attend school for them .
It also has the potential to help service providers essentially be in multiple places at once doing activities like physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, instead of jumping between multiple buildings.
Q: What impressed you the most?
A: The resilience of teachers and their willingness to dig in, figure out what was needed and respond to it. I don’t know if we rewarded them enough.
Q: What is the optimistic long-term impact of the pandemic?
A: I think we’re going to take a deep breath and recognize that schools need equitable resources. I hope we recognize the value of teachers in a different way and rethink not only salaries, but also the cuts that have been made to benefits and pensions and begin to restore them.
We need a more national approach to rewarding our teachers because state-to-state inequities are not appropriate.
Thomas Sinclair, Associate Professor, Department of Public Administration
Q: How has going virtual affected local governments?
A: Who ever thought that local governments could work remotely? Many have seen their productivity increased. Town and city council meetings were being held remotely, allowing more people to observe what was happening as they did not need to be physically present.
Many municipalities have uploaded full videos of meetings instead of just the minutes. I think it will be a tool that governments will continue to use.
Q: Will it help modernize local governments?
A: It’s an interesting question. Many of the services they provide — zoning, planning, fire and police departments, for example — aren’t going to change much. What will change is the flexibility to meet the needs and demands of voters.
Contact between people and government is going to be more flexible, more 24/7, and not limited and tied to a specific office time and location.
Q: How has the federal response helped?
A: The federal fiscal response has made a huge difference. It covered a wide range of things governments could do, from raising the wages of essential workers to investing in water and sewage infrastructure. This helped protect and cushion them from lost sales tax revenue.
Q: Which governments have done the best?
A: Governments with strong networks are more successful in managing crises. Those with strong ties to their local United Ways or nonprofits can tap into those relationships to help solve big problems. We see this to be true in responses to natural disasters, and it has been consistent through COVID.
Q: What skills will future public administrators need to succeed?
A: Communication, flexibility and ability to make decisions with limited or ambiguous information.