Campus News

'We Need to Check in on Our Family': UK Employees Call Students Amid Transition to Online Learning

Woman making a phone call.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 13, 2020) — All 30,000 University of Kentucky students are receiving phone calls from the friendly voices of university employees, checking in to see how their transition has been from in-person classes to remote learning. Students should expect a call anytime between now and finals week.

The initiative, led by Student and Academic Life (SAL) and the Student Government Association (SGA), follows the president’s announcement in March shutting down campus due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Within the last month, universities and colleges across the globe have ended in-person classes to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The outbreak has disrupted air travel, canceled major conferences and events and has led to the quarantine of entire communities. Now, it is forcing higher education institutions, like UK, to suspend traditional teaching practices in the name of public health.

Armed with resources, the university has provided students with a number of tools to ease their transition. From websites tailored to their unique experience to virtual wellness opportunities, UK is doing its best to help students adjust to what has become the “new normal.” Personal phone calls are just another way the university is working to ensure students are equipped with the tools to succeed. 

“These calls are very important to let the students know how much we miss them and want to make sure they are adjusting,” Assistant Provost for Student and Academic Support Adrienne McMahan said. “They are part of the UK family and we need to check in on our family.”

While calling tens of thousands of students is no small feat, through a partnership with Information Technology Services (ITS), SAL was able to migrate the division to Microsoft Teams, allowing calls to be made directly from the software on each employer’s computer. The project also received assistance from UK's Salesforce Call Center Campaigns as a means to make the calls.

With a mission to enhance the academic experience, SAL often collaborates with units across campus to create a supportive environment that provides opportunities for student learning, engagement and success. To pull this off, SAL did just that, working with employees from a diverse group of divisions. 

“Participating in calling students is important to me and my colleagues,” said Lance Poston, executive director of Inclusive Health and Campus Partnerships and LGBTQ* Resources. “It is a key way that we can reach out to our students to see how they are doing during these unprecedented times: listening to their experiences, discerning how we can connect them to resources and reminding them that we are here to support them.” 

For the first wave of phone calls, more than 150 UK employees are participating, all passionate about one thing — ensuring student success. Trained and prepared with talking points, SAL wants to reiterate the message that the university is there for them. 

“There is a script that everyone will follow,” McMahan explained. “First of all, we want them to know we’re reaching out because we know this has been an abrupt change to their normal college experience. Next, we will be asking students if they have any questions or concerns, are they aware of the Learn Anywhere website and in some cases, a reminder about priority registration.”

As the coronavirus continues to spread, higher education continues to face adversity. Students and professors are having to navigate a sudden shift in learning style, transforming the look of education across the nation. 

“We know that students are back at their homes and sheltering in place,” said Associate Provost of SAL Kirsten Turner. “Even though we have moved student support services online and are utilizing technology to stay in touch and engaged, we also really want to reach out to provide an additional touchstone to students.”

In the emerging and ever-changing COVID-19 context, UK is focusing more intently than ever on student success, particularly on four fundamental pillars: academic success, financial stability, wellness and belonging. As online learning endures, the university will continue to adjust, improving practices and resources available to campus.

While UK is mighty in size, it is also strong in heart. Outside forces can sometimes derail plans but nothing will derail UK’s passion for its students. And a major takeaway from this experience is that anything is possible when we work together.  

“I hope that every student we reach knows that UK cared enough to take the time to check on them and that we didn’t let the size of our student body deter us from this undertaking,” said Nancy Stephens, associate director of Student Transitions and Family Programs. “In my 18 years working here with new students and families, I have found that newcomers often seem surprised that UK feels like such a warm and welcoming place for a campus our size. This effort is just one of the personal touches that makes UK special.”

To stay up to date on the latest campus messages concerning COVID-19, click here.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.