UMass Boston

UMass Boston Faculty, Staff, and Students Create Webinar to Help Latinx Students Excel During Pandemic

11/12/2020| Crystal Valencia

As the COVID-19 pandemic reached its first peak during the spring, and the university entered remote modality, a group of academic advisors and faculty began to see a troubling increase in Latinx students seeking emergency help and support.

Professor of Latin American & Iberian Studies Reyes Coll-Tellechea

There was confusion over e-learning modalities, difficulty communicating with professors, lack of technology and study space, depression and anxiety, loss of income, and many other issues reported.

While their combined experience showed that open, focused, and personal collaboration among students and their professors and academic advisors works well to identify, address, and prevent these issues, in the midst of a pandemic, these links became unstable.

“It was hard to seek help, hard to get help, and hard to try to help. The experience left us with a deep sense of urgency,” Professor of Latin American & Iberian Studies Reyes Coll-Tellechea said.

Coll-Tellechea, Academic Advisor Albis Mejia, and Director of CLA Advising Ana Frega have consulted and collaborated on individual student cases and needs for many years. As faculty and staff, they found themselves in emergency mode, consulting with each other about students outside of their classes or caseloads, and about topics outside of their specific areas. They knew they had to come up with a solution quickly.

Together, with the help of five undergraduate students, the group spent dozens of hours this summer creating a three-part webinar to help UMass Boston’s Latinx students survive and excel during the pandemic. The videos share their combined knowledge and experiences at UMass Boston, offering information, ideas, and strategies students can use to get through their academic experience during the pandemic— and beyond.

“We focused on anticipating obstacles, difficulties, and questions,” they said. “Then we identified resources, solutions, and strategies that could be used to sort obstacles, fix problems and light the way towards graduation.”

With the help of a mini-grant from the Gaston Institute, the university’s Instructional Technology team, and staff psychologist Ana Fernández of the UMass Boston Counseling Center, the team — now composed of 11 members — succeeded in producing the three-part webinar in less than three months. The three modules, in Spanish with English translation, are available at UMass Boston’s YouTube channel.

Summaries of each video are included below.

They said creating webinars specifically for the Latinx student population was important because “the dynamics surrounding many of our Latinx students is not always comparable to the situations of traditional college students.”

These Latinx students come from different cultures, they explained. English may be their second or third language, some may see their academics affected by their immigration status, many are immigrants or children of immigrants, which may affect their ability to work, and access healthcare, many work full- or part-time, and are caregivers.

Each module consists of a video introduction followed by a PowerPoint presentation narrated in Spanish by a student (with English subtitles). Modules also contain direct student testimonies. The first module addresses academic matters, the second module deals with financial matters, and the third module focuses on social and emotional matters. Learn more about the three modules and access the three-part webinar below.

“We tried to make it understandable and straightforward, easy to follow, and which broke down the terms and assumptions commonly used in the university,” they said. “We chose to narrate it in Spanish so that it would be more accessible to family members who didn’t speak English, as well as the students. Many Latinx students are also first-generation college students and/or immigrants, so their families are unfamiliar with the structure of a university in the United States.”

Student Henry Chavez speaks on the video.

They had wanted to provide work and income for some of the students the videos are intended to help, so they hired students from the Translation Studies program in the Latin American and Iberian Studies department to do the narration, some of the technology, and the translation. The students  — Lorián de la Hoz, Ferlisa Comas Soto, Darla Castaño and Henry Chavez — not only translated, but offered suggestions and comments, and told the advisors and professor when they were off the mark.

“Their work and input were vital since their peers and families would be the audience,” they said.

Hundreds of students have already accessed the materials. Some academic departments and advising programs have uploaded the webinars to their websites. Faculty members have incorporated the links on Blackboard, and Faculty Council representatives are circulating the information through the university’s several colleges.

Coll-Tellechea says that this unusual collaboration of students, staff, and faculty working together remotely on the same voluntary service project showcases the spirit of UMass Boston as well as the gravity of the challenges that our Latinx students are facing.

Virtual Seminar for UMass Boston’s Latinx Students

Module 1. Academic Success, Advising, and Technology

This module provides important information and strategies to help students succeed academically at UMass Boston, such as how the university is structured and organized; differences between community college, high school, and university; the importance and use of campus-wide systems such as WISER and the Degree Audit; the different types of courses and their expectations; what to expect about remote learning in Fall 2020; and the roles of professors and academic advisors. 

Module 2. Financial Aid Matters

Job insecurity and loss of income associated with COVID-19 are impacting the financial situation of Latinx students. It is more important than ever that students access clear, precise, and targeted information on the internal and external financial support available to them during the pandemic and how to access it successfully. Topics include sources of financial aid, CARES Act, food support, unemployment, and support for DACA/TPS and undocumented students.

Module 3. Emotional and Social Support at UMass Boston

This module presents strategies for team-building, so that Latinx students can build their own support network at UMass Boston. Topics include why, how, and where to find counselors and mentors; the role of peers, centers, and student organizations in students’ mental health; signs of stress; strategies to seek emotional support; and how to communicate with professors, advisors, and administrative offices.