Amid the current global crisis, staff at CMU Silicon Valley (CMU-SV) have committed to continuing to provide the highest quality student experience to those now learning remotely.

When the first cases of COVID-19 began appearing in the Bay Area, staff and administrators immediately began meeting daily to create a plan for minimizing disruptions to student life, while ensuring everyone’s safety. From a tech standpoint, CMU-SV was already nearly prepared to go remote, with tools like video chat rooms for every course. The team decided one of the biggest goals would be to continue the schedule of events that students had come to expect, and maintaining the strong sense of community they helped foster.

Lauren Schachar, assistant dean of student affairs for Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley, meets with student, Xinyong Lyu, remotely.

Source: CMU Silicon Valley

Lauren Schachar, assistant dean of student affairs for Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley meets with graduate student Xinyong Lyu remotely.

Continuity, obviously, would be difficult, and they decided early on that the best choice would be to continue moving forward with student life events and activities as much as possible—albeit now virtually. They created and enrolled every student on campus in a new “Remote Student Experience” course. The course maintains recurring weekly events and resources, such as staff office hours, internship meetups, and career, academic, and student services advising. It also includes opportunities for staff and students to hang out, chat, and ask questions. Events like “Mindful Mondays” and weekly student meet-ups help relieve anxiety and connect students who may be feeling isolated into their community of peers.

This week students could also join in a remote yoga class taught by a licensed instructor. Plans like this have already inspired students to take their own community initiatives. One student reached out to Lauren Schachar, assistant dean of student affairs, to ask if there was a way to share their love of embroidery, and they’re now running a remote hand embroidery class every Tuesday and Thursday.

The overriding sense from the whole community is that there’s a lot of CMU-SV love going around.

Lauren Schachar, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, CMU Silicon Valley

Industry and networking events are also now making the jump to virtual. A tech trek planned to employer Juniper Networks office had to be canceled, but company executives were able to give virtual tech talks and answer students’ questions about the company. A meetup planned with an alumnus now working at Apple turned into a remote chat over coffee. 

When it comes to the highlight events of the semester, such as the Holi party, the team has had to get more creative. Traditionally an event of love and joy celebrated by the throwing of colored powder, students at CMU-SV logged in remotely to their Holi party last week wearing their most outrageous colors and shared an object or activity that brings them joy. Plans for future events include other ways to reach out to students in their homes, such as arranging meal deliveries for shared remote parties, and even a “special surprise” item for their graduation celebration.

CMU Silicon Valley staff stay positive during a virtual meeting.

Source: Lauren Schachar

CMU Silicon Valley staff stay positive during a virtual meeting.

Throughout everything, the student response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I just wanted to express how grateful I am that we have you two as pillars of our community. Both of you have not missed a step in empowering students and ensuring we have the best experience possible,” wrote one student to Schachar and Leigh Mason, assistant director of career services. “You are beacons of enthusiasm and good attitude in these difficult times and we all appreciate it very much.”

Schachar has already begun reaching out to check in with every student at CMU-SV individually, making sure each feels safe and included in these difficult times. Staff are coming together to share experiences and positivity, as well as feedback on how their work can further improve the student experience. Hakan Erdogmas, teaching professor of electrical and computer engineering, in collaboration with the Eberly Center, has created a similar group for faculty to share their own remote learning discoveries and takeaways.

It’s clear that recent events have only strengthened the commitment of everyone at CMU-SV—staff, students, and faculty—to the community-based student experience.

“The overriding sense from the whole community is that there’s a lot of CMU-SV love going around,” said Schachar.