Lessons Learned: How virtual learning helped to reinvent the College of Pharmacy’s approach to accessibility

With the pandemic, there came a lot of change within the College of Pharmacy. In a short amount of time, students, faculty and staff had to learn new tools and technologies to manage with the transition to online learning. Switching to entirely virtual modalities brought previous problems with accessibility to the forefront and it became even more important for staff and students to remain connected.

Information accessibility has always been a high priority for the College of Pharmacy outreach team, but finding new and inventive ways to reach students became imperative once lockdowns began. Finding and reaching out to students who would thrive and excel in the program takes effort on all fronts whether it be marketing resources, event planning, or even the expenses and time prospective students must sacrifice. With the pandemic, it was more difficult to create connections with potential students and provide them with information about the College of Pharmacy.

Within the College community, the regularity of faculty and students meeting in person - whether it is sitting down at office hours or seeing one another in the halls - came to a halt. Communication became fully virtual and many of the in-person events that helped to foster the community were no longer viable.

LuzMaría Hernández, an outreach and recruitment specialist with the Office of Student Services, had a unique experience throughout the lockdown as she had to re-imagine a way to cultivate a sense of community for current and prospective students. Events big and small had to be redesigned to maintain proper health and safety measures and many events were moved to a virtual format. But amidst all the changes were opportunities to learn and adapt.

Tools such as negotiation and perseverance were strengthened during her time reorganizing. Hernandez mentioned how she felt unafraid to speak her mind and advocate for students even at such a high institutional level.

“One really had to assess what matters most. And that was defending our students and protecting them,” Hernández explained.

Due to the shift to virtual modalities, the inclusivity of the College of Pharmacy’s outreach increased significantly.

“It allowed our net to be wider. We could cast our net out to more prospective students than ever before,” she explained. “It forever changed the way we’re going to be doing our outreach moving forward.”

Prospective students no longer needed to worry about travel expenses and other things that would’ve affected their ability to reach the College of Pharmacy. Hernández feels that these challenges fostered a lot of creativity which in the end made the program more efficient and more accessible. Moving forward, the college plans on providing both in-person and online options for events such as open houses so that they can fulfill the needs of more students.

In-person traditions such as White Coat and Convocation were reinvented to be held virtually so that the college could continue to celebrate the accomplishments of students. This required immense effort and hours from herself and her team. One challenge of creating these events was that they were happening in real-time and practicing and perfecting  weren't an option. Hernandez described this feeling as,”building the airplane while it’s in the air.” It taught her a lot about adapting to situations and coming up with solutions as problems arose.

“Everyone was doing their job and more. I was not the only one, I wasn’t alone,” described Hernández. “That just empowered and energized me to keep going.”

Despite the negative impacts that resulted from the pandemic, all these hardships helped to cultivate a collective learning surrounding virtual communication and learning.

“We learned where we’re at, who we are, and what we can do when we stand together”