Open for Business: A Wide Range of Online Services Ensures St. John’s Students Remain Engaged during Global Health Crisis

St. Johns Queens Campus Gate
March 27, 2020

As the world delves into uncharted waters coping with COVID-19, St. John’s commitment to ensuring student success for its more than 21,700 students is stronger than ever.

When the University decided to transition to an online learning model for the duration of the Spring 2020 semester, it made certain that critical services remain available to students. One of the first responsibilities for the University was to vacate the campuses and move students out of the residence halls on incredibly short notice.

“Our biggest challenge has been assisting as many students as possible with getting home safely and quickly,” said Kathryn T. Hutchinson, Ph.D., Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs. Student Affairs has been coordinating many of the University’s student outreach efforts during this transitional period. “Fortunately, we have an incredibly collaborative team that has risen to the occasion and responded to students’ needs by answering thousands of questions, helping calm stressed families, and assisting students from across the nation and around the world return home to their families.”

A Call for Help 

According to Lucy Pesce, Executive Director for Mission and the Vincentian Institute for Social Action, the University received a surge in the number of visits to the St. John’s Basic Needs page, which helps students who experience challenges in meeting their basic needs, such as food and essential personal items throughout the year.

“Several students are just looking for someone to speak with about all of the sudden changes that they now deal with, from their course work to their living situation,” she said. “However, some seek resources that they may never have needed before, like having enough nutritious food or water to get through the next week or two.”

She continued, “Unfortunately, our ‘normal’ approach of offering dining dollars to be used on campus is not an option right now, and some of our off-campus recommendations, such as food pantries, are not available either.”

An Assist from Alumni

Mindful of the financial burdens suddenly facing students and their families affected by the virus, many St. John’s alumni are reaching out to the University, asking how they can help. In response, The Emergency Fund for St. John's Students was established. Similarly, the St. John’s Law Student Emergency Fund was established with a $10,000 donation from an anonymous School of Law alumna. To date, the funds have raised $104,123 from 254 donors.

Emergency funds will be used to help students navigate through a wide range of issues, ranging from unexpected travel expenses, to Wi-Fi access, to offsite storage for personal items that could not be taken home on short notice.

“The funding provided by our generous alumni and donors allows for greater flexibility to support these students at a time when many of them need it the most,” said Ms. Pesce.

A Healthy Mind, Body, and Soul

During this unprecedented period of uncertainty, many students also need personal and emotional support. Although face-to-face counseling sessions have been suspended by the Center for Counseling and Consultation (CCC), the Center remains a source of support for St. John’s students. Those interested in scheduling a telehealth appointment can complete an Informed Consent Form for CCC Clients for access to services. Once the CCC receives a request, a counselor reaches out via phone or email to discuss next steps. As always, their help line can be reached any time at 718-990-6352.

While public Masses at St. Thomas More Church have been postponed per the directive of the Diocese of Brooklyn/Queens, the Vincentian priests of the University are offering daily prayers for the entire St. John’s community. Anyone with a special intention or prayer request can visit the Virtual Book of Prayer.

Academic Support for Students

Since students engaged in Online Learning still have to submit papers for their classes, the University Writing Center is open online for students seeking consultation sessions. The Center currently offers services via either live online chat sessions with tutors/consultants, or through e-tutoring, which involves the student writer uploading written work, with a consultant returning feedback within a short time frame. Students seeking services from the Writing Center can simply book a session online.

“With students completing courses online, they are doing more writing for courses than they had planned,” said Kathleen Lubey, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Interim Director, University Writing Center, explaining some of the concerns that students will likely have this semester. “In addition, they do not have in-class time to brainstorm, plan, and draft papers or written projects.”

Similarly, the University Learning Commons continues to help students online by offering peer tutoring and other academic resources (including coaching and workshops) in a wide range of subjects, including accounting, biology, government and politics, math, and more. To schedule an appointment, students can visit the University Learning Commons and follow directions on the “Making Tutoring Appointments Online” drop-down button.

Learning in an Online Environment

While the Office of Online Learning and Services primarily works with faculty, they offer a valuable resource for students who may be new to online learning: Blackboard Online Student Orientation, which is available on the Blackboard page on MySJU.  

“Any student can take this course, which is not graded, to learn more about learning online in the St. John’s University Blackboard environment,” said Elizabeth Ciabocchi, Ed.D., Vice Provost for Digital Learning and Executive Director of Online Learning and Services. “We encourage students to explore this course, especially if they have never taken an online class prior to this semester.”

Even though University Libraries are not physically open right now, many of their resources and services are readily available online, including databases, online journals, and library subject guides. In addition, now through the end of the semester, textbook providers RedShelf and VitalSource Technologies LLC are offering students free access to textbooks.

Similarly, the Rittenberg Law Library is open online; a wide range of resources are available for students and faculty. Librarians and staff are also available via phone and email.

Career Ready, Willing, and Able

University Career Services has been working with students by phone, WebEx, and email to assist them as they explore their career paths and develop their career readiness. Their team has also been collaborating with employer partners to connect students with internship and career opportunities.

“We are actively in touch with employers and refining new ways for them to share their opportunities and to ‘meet’ these students,” said Paulette Gonzalez, Executive Director of University Career Services.

“Last week, Protiviti Inc. hosted a Virtual Employer Info Session for students, and our first Virtual Just in Time Career Fair will take place on Thursday, April 16.”  

According to Ms. Gonzalez, the growing list of participating companies includes familiar names such as AmeriCorps, Broadridge, New York Mets, NYU Langone Health, New York Life Insurance, and OZY Media. 

Career Services continues to offer a wide range of online resources that are available 24/7, including Handshake, Vault, GoinGlobal, and Big Interview.

No Offseason for Athletics

While the BIG EAST Conference canceled all spring sports competitions, the Department of Athletics has provided a variety of remote services to its nearly 350 student-athletes, with the campus being closed. For example, the strength and conditioning staff provides student-athletes with programs for voluntary workouts to conduct at home during their time away, while the sports nutritionist provides Red Storm athletes with programs and educational opportunities remotely.

“During this unchartered time in history, we quickly adapted and are now committed to enhancing the online support services provided to our St. John’s student-athletes,” said Mike Cragg, St. John’s Director of Athletics. “Our coaches, administrators, and staff remain in regular contact with our student-athletes in a virtual environment to ensure they receive the resources necessary to perform at a high level in the classroom and eventually in competition.”

On the academic front, the Student Development for Athletes staff provides online tutoring and support services for student-athletes. St. John’s Athletics External Relations team continues to engage student-athletes remotely in order to promote their accomplishments over the course of the year on digital and social platforms. 

The University’s administrative offices transitioned to a fully remote workforce beginning Sunday, March 22, following Governor Cuomo’s signing of NYS Executive Order 202.8, which stipulated that “all businesses and not-for-profit entities in the state shall utilize, to the maximum extent possible, any telecommuting or work from home procedures that they can safely utilize.”

Moving Forward

As the world adjusts to new challenges surrounding COVID-19, St. John’s continues to explore new ways to engage the entire University community during these unprecedented times and ensure students’ welfare and future success. Stay tuned for breaking news, insight, and information.