COVID-19 motivates Alberta students to lead initiatives and volunteer to aid fight
By Noel Harper, Staff Writer
The COVID-19 pandemic has required post-secondary students throughout Calgary to quickly adjust to an entirely new system of learning, in the middle of an ongoing semester. Despite this drastic change to their education, some are taking this initiative a step further by looking out for others, ensuring their peers are represented and even joining the effort against the virus.
MRU’s recent decision to amend the Grades & Examination Policy in light of COVID-19 will allow students to end courses with a letter grade, as per usual, or choose a new pass or fail option for their transcripts, according to an email from the Provost’s Office.
“These options will allow you the flexibility to select which outcome best suits your needs and it recognizes the tremendous impact that this pandemic has had on students,” the email said.
After the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta enacted similar changes to their grading policy for the winter 2020 semester, students at MRU began taking action to convince the university to take similar action. A change.org petition on the matter was signed over 4,100 times.
“It’s under unfortunate circumstances that I am forced to create this petition. I would like to formally say that the way that MRU staff and faculty have been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic is less than ideal. The way online “classes” have been executed is absolutely sickening,” wrote petition organizer Sean Bryant in his call to action.
A letter written by MRU student Ina Hadziefendic was directed to MRU President Tim Rahilly and SAMRU VP-Academic Nathan Lawley.
“The changes students are requesting are to have finals be delivered in a less stressful method such as a take-home reflective essay, and to additionally be able to have the choice of which course student would like to take their final letter grade in, or alternatively a pass or fail,” reads the letter in part.
Another petition, started by student Rosie Jones, asks for faculty to be considered in all of this, as well. The notion of allowing professors to change weighting of assignments and extend marking timelines has been endorsed by just over 100 people as of this writing.
Certain MRU programs have been put into difficult positions regarding practicums and other hands-on work. According to the university’s COVID-19 Q&A, “those who may be exposed to presumptive cases of COVID-19, such as nursing students, are not to be working on these cases or in situations where they are exposed to these cases.”
While nursing students cannot complete any more on-site clinical experiences due to the pandemic, members of MRU’s Student Nursing Society have started volunteer initiatives through social media.
The Facebook group “YYC COVID-19 Mental Health Promotion,” created by society President Shani Markus, has amassed 267 members. Its purpose is to serve as a resource for information, mental health assistance and connection to others during times of self-isolation.
Another group, “COVID-19 MRU Community Volunteers,” was started by nursing students Julia Gerritsen and Caroline Grippo, and aims to connect community members who are willing to volunteer with those who need assistance.
“We have not been called forth thus far by AHS to help on-sites, but I foresee this being a possibility in the future,” Markus said in an email.
One way that health students in Calgary, and throughout Alberta, are aiding the healthcare system is by helping with contact-tracing. This is a method of following the potential spread of COVID-19 from those who contract the virus, reaching out to everyone they may have contact with and ensuring that tests are given to those who are most at risk.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for medical or nursing students to be doing that from an epidemiological understanding of disease and how disease can be transmitted rapidly in the population,” University of Calgary provost Dru Marshall told CBC.
Students at U of C’s Cumming School of Medicine started a volunteer group to pair health care workers with student volunteers to help them with aspects of daily life, such as child care or pet care. The program was recently expanded to include students from MRU and SAIT.
“While we are unable to help in a clinical capacity, we want to do our part, and offer our time and support to those on the front-line in health care,” U of C medical student Brielle Cram said to the campus press.
SAMRU continues to offer emergency food hampers, financial assistance and other student services, as the campus keeps Wyckham House open.