Online counseling, advising and tutoring become norm at UND

The services have helped thousands of students navigate the pandemic, UND counselors and faculty members say

At UND, many students use their phones to access the University’s extensive online counseling and advising services, staff members say. UND archival image.

In the “jar of life,” there’s time for everything. But only if you set priorities.

“You have a glass jar, and need to fill it with rocks, pebbles and sand,” said Academic Coach Jacoba de Boer about the classic analogy.

“College, health, your job, close family and friends are the big rocks. Pebbles are cleaning your apartment or room, a wider circle of family and friends, things you can postpone but can’t do without. And the sand is Netflix, Tik Tok, fun. If you fill your jar with sand first and then add the rocks, the important things may not fit. But if you fill your jar with the rocks first and prioritize the big things, and then add pebbles and sand at the end, there will always be space for sand and the fun things.”

De Boer and others are working to help students figure out that jar of life, a task that can be especially tough right now.

That’s why UND has expanded its online assistance for academic advising, counseling services, tutoring, and academic coaching.

“Everyone hits a hard spot at least once in their academic career,” said de Boer. “We can help students develop strategies to achieve their goals. We don’t want students to make a to-do list; we suggest an hourly schedule. If they have days to finish a paper, they may procrastinate.

“We encourage students to treat college like a full-time job. It’s like running your own start-up, both a blessing and a challenge. We encourage students to also eat healthy, play, and exercise. Those are big rocks.”

Angie Carpenter agreed. “As an institution, we’re always trying to keep up with students, know what they need, and provide it,” said Carpenter, director of student academic success. “In this time of COVID, we’re still doing that. We’ve just had to get more creative.”

Academic coaches note that as class structure changed and moved online, more students struggled with procrastination and planning their time.

“That foundation and structure of physically going to class is gone,” said Brandon Pokarney, tutoring coordinator and academic coach. “We help students create a new structure, build good study habits, and map out their class and study time.”

Pokarney added that as students experience “Zoom fatigue,” they wanted to make tutoring sessions more personalized and worthwhile.

“With appointment-based tutoring and our new peer-led review session format, we get to offer that,” Pokarney said. “In a one-on-one setting, students are able to connect better with tutors, while the peer-led review sessions enable students to review materials and study together. This offers more interaction and the chance to see a few more faces.

The UND website gives students many links to online counseling and advising services. Web screenshot.

Tele-mental health

Some students, however, are still struggling. And the University Counseling Center now offers a secure tele-mental health platform to help them, said Tom Solem, director.

“Students are working hard to embrace this, but isolation and loneliness can take a toll, especially for those facing mental health challenges,” Solem said. “There has been a steady utilization rate of students who are reaching out to us.”

Solem added that the University Counseling Center can still offer walk-in emergency appointments on campus, but many students now prefer using the tele-mental health portal given the current pandemic, which offers the convenience of speaking to a counselor from their home or residence hall.

“If students fall behind, they have an increase in stress, even more difficulty keeping up with class, and they can feel bogged down and overwhelmed,” he said. “I’m proud of our staff for assisting our students day in and day out, finding a new normal, and putting students first.”

The Counseling Center offers online groups and workshops for students, and added a counselor to work with students who are in quarantine and isolation.

The Center has also given presentations to faculty and classrooms, including a session on faculty wellbeing and a staff discussion.

“The collective whole is reaching out to help each other get through this,” Solem said. “There is a rich, collective consensus that we can navigate this together. It makes me proud to work for UND.”

Advising via Zoom

Academic advising has also moved online.

“We miss the human connection, but seeing students over Zoom is becoming the norm,” said Ashley Vigen, interim co-director of student academic services & career engagement. “We still talk with students and get to know them. We meet them as first-year students and take them through graduation. We get attached to students and cheer them on.”

Vigen added that a live Zoom registration drive, as well as an event where advisors across campus answered questions from students have been popular.

“We talk with students and help them overcome barriers, just like we did in person,” Vigen said. “Most students are doing well. They miss the social aspect, but advisors are proactive in reaching out. We can now text students, which has been incredibly effective. Most students prefer it. We can set up meetings, text them links, set availability. Advisors are still able to have meaningful conversations with students over Zoom.”

UND even offers drop-in Zoom advising and open Zoom hours during busy registration times to address student questions.

“UND really takes care of its students, and cares about the little things on the road to helping them graduate,” Vigen said. “We know our students by name. Not only do we help them pick classes and build a road for graduation, we build relationships, learn about their families and experience the highs and lows of their college career alongside them. The job of being an academic advisor is incredibly unique and fulfilling.