The Associate Director of Financial Aid
COVID on Campus: KC Woods
A lot of the stuff that is now being forced because of COVID is stuff that I was trying to implement before this. So like, I was trying to commit virtual appointments, but because of budgeting stuff, we didn’t have the money to buy webcams, and we didn’t have the resources and the buy-in from everyone to start it. So now, we’re all set up for virtual appointments, and we can keep doing that going forward. Really the only difference between in-person and virtual is that we’re not sharing the same air. Otherwise, we can do all the same things that we could do in person. We just do it over the internet. It’s made us more accessible. Like, you can do it from your apartment, you can do it from home, you can do it from study abroad.
Things that people thought were maybe not possible, or maybe not that useful, absolutely are possible, and they can be positives. And maybe it’s kind of pushed us a little more progressive in that direction.
Also, I was pushing for our staff to have more remote days from home. Right before COVID hit, I had gotten approval for my staff to have one day of work from home because while we do meet with students and talk with students a lot, we also have a lot of behind the scenes reports we have to do. My idea was basically to let them have one day at home where they can just work through their reports all day and not have people coming in and out of their office. That would help increase morale but also increase productivity at the same time. But it was like a testing type period because before COVID hit, people weren’t super open to remote work. They thought it’s less productive or you can’t monitor staff as well because normally a manager’s job is a lot of personal relationships. Obviously, you can manage people from home because now we’ve just done that for, like, eight months.
We have our Monday morning meetings, but because of people’s situations at home, they don’t always have their cameras on. There are some people we haven’t seen for a long period of time. We haven’t seen their faces or haven’t talked with them, like person to person. When we’re in the office, you would run into people in the hallway or stop in people’s offices and say ‘Hi.’ I think it’s made it tougher to stay close as an office. I’ve tried to do those Jackbox games every Monday because they’re, like, 15 minutes. We play Guesspionage. Quiplash, too. Hopefully, it gets people having a good time and kind of connecting with each other. That part has been a bit tough.
You have to make sure that you keep your staff motivated, too, because you have to understand they’re going through the same issues that you are and that home has all those different distractions, having like kids in the background and crawling over them. You have to keep them motivated and connected with work and up to date with all those different things when you’re not in the same space because everything has gotten a lot busier. Like, we got way, way crazier.
Finances, even though they normally are the first or second most important part of the college decision, are just that much more important for the students. Then, the students coming back, who had a big change in their family income, are now trying to figure out if they can afford to come back to Syracuse. That was a major hurdle that we had to get over.
We make sure that students know what’s available — there have been different things for COVID relief, COVID emergency funding, knowing that you can appeal if something happened with your family and your ability to pay. We’re constantly trying to think of ways that we can support the students. We’ve got donor funding for emergency funding, we have CARES Act funding that we gave out for emergency funding, appeals. All of those things were new and different that we had to implement because of COVID.
We had a drastic increase in workload, from March, April, May, June, July. We have hour-and-a-half-long waits.
It’s really been like, whatever we need to do to get our students here, to keep them here, to make sure they’re successful and able to afford Syracuse. It’s the team environment. Everyone’s working for a common goal. It’s all about student success, and everyone is on that same goal.
I miss my staff. I miss the students. I’m definitely looking forward to moving back into the office at some point. I’m hoping that we can still be more flexible on remote because I think it’s a nice, big flexibility to have, but I definitely look forward to being able to open back up and have those interactions again.
This as-told-to interview is part of COVID on Campus, a series created by students in the Reporting classes at the Newhouse School in Fall 2020. COVID on Campus documents the experiences of students, staff, and faculty living through this extraordinary time.