College student leaders from across West Virginia share excitement, ideas, concerns about returning to campus this fall

CHARLESTON, W.VA. – Approximately 50 student government leaders from colleges and universities across West Virginia gathered virtually today for the West Virginia Student Leadership Conference, which is hosted each year by the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission (Commission) and Community and Technical College System (CTCS). Discussions focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their education and how they, through their leadership roles, can help as institutions plan for the fall semester and beyond.

Sarah Armstrong Tucker, Interim Chancellor of the Commission and Chancellor of the CTCS, kicked off today’s conference by asking the students to share their experiences in switching from in-person to online classes during their spring semester, as well as their thoughts about potentially returning to campus this fall.

“I know how challenging these last couple of months have been for all of you. Your spring semesters were interrupted. You and your professors had to move quickly to online classes. And the picture of your upcoming fall semester isn’t perfectly clear,” Chancellor Tucker said. “That’s why, today, I want to hear from you. I want to make sure that the decisions we’re making at the statewide level reflect the real experiences of our students.”

Students’ thoughts about the fall semester were varied, with some, like Alexis Carder, a rising junior studying strategic communications at West Virginia University at Parkersburg, sharing an eagerness for returning to campus.

“I’m very excited to get back to the WVU Parkersburg campus,” Carder said. “I focus better there than I do at home.”

Others, like Annalisa Hall, a rising junior studying business administration/marketing at Fairmont State University, shared positive experiences with online courses.

“One of my professors did a voiceover to his class PowerPoints and then did chapter quizzes after,” Hall said. “Hearing him explaining everything and not just reading was extremely helpful.”

The Commission and CTCS are coordinating efforts across the state’s public higher education institutions to ensure they have access to personal protective equipment, including masks, and other safety items for when students return to campus. The agencies are also working with state leaders and institutions to address issues related to broadband connectivity to help strengthen online course delivery.

The West Virginia Student Leadership Conference is typically held each year at Jackson’s Mill. Due to COVID-19, this year’s event was held via Zoom. Today’s sessions addressed combating stress and mental health concerns, as well as tools for student leaders in this time of change.