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Rust College seniors adapt to virtual learning; commencement delayed

by Angelica Owens — 

Prospective graduates of the Rust College class of 2019-20 now know that graduation exercises set for April 26 are on hold, indefinitely.

A campus update sent out Friday says the decision to delay graduation was in keeping with Mississippi Gov. Tate Reed’s statewide coronavirus stay-at-home order, which became effective on Friday at 5 p.m. and stays in place until 8 a.m. on April 20.

“We will select a new date after the current Executive Order expires or is rescinded by the Governor,” Rust College President Dr. David L. Beckley said in the campus update. “Hopefully we can schedule a date in June or July. We will keep you informed as soon as the current close down is lifted for group gatherings in Mississippi.”

As the highly contagious COVID-19 virus continues its spread, students have been forced to abandon classrooms and take their instruction online. The Holly Springs, Miss. college ordered students to leave campus March 16 with the directive to complete the remainder of their spring semester courses online.

The Mississippi Department of Health, as of Friday at 6 p.m., had reported 1,358 cases of COVID-19 and 29 deaths since March 11. That included 19 confirmed cases and one death in Marshall County, which encompasses Holly Springs.

Rust, like most institutions of higher learning across the country, had cancelled in-room classes as a precaution. For many students, the sound of an early vacation seemed to be a wonderful thing. When students realized that they were not done with classes, their excitement quickly toned down.

Some students reported having technical issues with the online Blackboard software used to keep track of their assignments and attendance.

Terence Hampton, a senior English major, had difficulty in downloading all of the required software to complete his senior thesis. Others had difficulty as well.

Still, according to Dr. Debayo Moyo, the college’s Blackboard administrator, the resource has enabled a successful implementation of the transition to online learning for the faculty and students.

Malisha Donald, Miss Rust College 2019-20 and a senior majoring in education, said,  “Transitioning after college is never the easiest thing to do, but before COVID-19, I had time to figure it out.”

The transition to online classes had Donald concerned. “Personally speaking, I have never taken an online course and it seems like the hardest thing to do.”

Education majors at Rust College are required to perform student teaching at a local school in the Holly Springs area. Because of the restrictions, Donald and other future educators are worried about how they will complete their degree requirements.

Other concerns from students include miscommunication with their professors and the desire for face-to-face classroom interaction. Some students are struggling to find the discipline to stay focused on their schoolwork and not be tempted to surf the web.

Melvin Carey, a senior Mass Communication major, said the COVID-19 pandemic has forced him to “cut back” on his social life. And while Darian Stevenson, a senior Biology major said he’s having technical issues, his bottom-line is this: “I’m just ready to graduate.”

The New Tri-State Defender reached out to Rust seniors through a post on Facebook to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their college experiences. Most of the respondents, who were contacted before commencement officially was delayed, indicated their main concern was graduation.

“It has made my senior year terrible. I’m basically concerned about graduation and if there will be a ceremony,” said Kassandra Porter, a graduating senior majoring in Social Work.

“With the coronavirus spreading the way it is, there shouldn’t be that many people in one place so soon,” Hampton said.

Sharron Goodman-Hill, a radio broadcasting professor, said that the transition hasn’t been the smoothest.

“One of the most pressing issues is that most of the Internet systems seem to be overwhelmed with so much activity since all schools have gone online,” she said.

Although there still are difficulties adjusting, Moyo suggests the college consider offering online courses in their current degree programs in the near future

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