For the past four years, Willow Martin has flown to Florida and then driven her grandparents, who winter there, back to Michigan. But this year’s trip was anything but typical.
Near the end of Western Michigan University’s spring break, Martin’s grandmother called her and said they were ready to come home. Connecting with her professors beforehand, the senior human resource management major made arrangements and planned to check in with classmates on FaceTime to catch up on notes and other course essentials.
As she traveled to Florida, COVID-19 was spreading in the U.S. and critical decisions were being made—sometimes hour-by-hour. While Martin was in Florida, the news came WMU would be moving to distance education.
As she helped her grandparents pack, Martin took breaks for virtual classes and studying. During her labor relations course, which was conducted via WebEx with professor Paula Eckert, her grandparents made a surprise appearance, not realizing that Martin was in class, and the class could see and hear them.
“It made me laugh,” says Martin. “And they finally traveled into the living room and out of our group video chat.”
As a volleyball student athlete, Martin cites her experience with athletics as being extremely helpful in terms of time management during this situation.
“I am used to having to miss some class to travel for my sport. On the trip to Florida, I used the same techniques I do when our team travels. I wrote out exactly what I needed to accomplish during the week I was gone, working around when we left for the drive back to Michigan.”
Martin decided to make that drive straight through, to limit her grandparents’ exposure—picking up food for them and getting gas. The trip involved their three cats as well, complete with a litter box in the back of the vehicle.
So far, distance learning has been a bit overwhelming for Martin, but she says her professors are doing a good job of making the best of challenging circumstances.
“Dr. Palmer has started to do group chat through Elearning at normal class time to get participation points. This is nice because it retains some structure for the course,” she says. “Professor Eckert has been extremely accessible, which helps me a lot. I am pretty sure I have sent her at least eight emails asking her questions, and she responds so quickly with information that is explained very well. Dr. Stamper has been so great with creating a structure and communicating with us. I like how she is descriptive, but still straight to the point, so there is no confusion.”
Though time consuming, Martin has found the strategy that works for her is to watch the videos professors post about material, sometimes multiple times, until she understands the concepts. And she is learning how to effectively video chat with a large group in most of her courses, which is more complex than she first thought it would be.
For now, she is trying to strike the right balance between family commitments and academics.
“I am staying with my grandparents for a bit to help get them acclimated, going grocery shopping and picking up other things they need. I believe that family comes first in almost every situation, especially my grandma, who is my favorite person in the world. Having this type of balance between school and family requires you to communicate effectively. Being open and honest with your family members and professors helps both parties understand where you are coming from and allows you to make a plan that will work for everyone.”