Human Service Studies students craft podcasts to explore impact of COVID-19 on service agencies, diverse populations

Students had used podcasts to track semester-long experiences with local service agencies, and this spring have turned their attention to the impact of COVID-19.

Students in Human Service Studies courses are creating podcasts examining the effects of COVID-19 on community agencies and the diverse clients they serve.

With the pivot caused by an end to on-campus classes and in-person service learning at community organizations, faculty members in the department saw an opportunity to have students explore service agencies in their home communities. The goal is to gauge the effects of COVID-19 on agencies’ abilities to continue their mission for diverse clients and consider the disproportionate consequences the pandemic is having on disenfranchised and marginalized populations.

People’s needs don’t stop during a pandemic, said Adjunct Human Service Studies Instructor Monica Burney. “We want them to see these things not just as problems in communities near Elon, but to see how these issues affect people and agencies in their own areas,” Burney said.

Podcasts tracking semester-long experiences at Alamance County-area agencies are a regular feature of HSS introductory courses and senior year internships, begun by a CATL Diversity and Inclusion grant obtained by Assistant Professor of Human Service Studies Vanessa Drew-Branch. Through the recordings, students trace their growth from volunteers to invested professionals, Burney said. First-year students create podcasts with small groups. Seniors completing their internships create individual podcasts about their full-time internship experiences.

In Burney’s HSS 111 course, small groups of students originally assigned to work together at an Alamance County agency are meeting online regularly to discuss the needs of similar agencies in their hometowns. Those conversations allow them to think critically about similar situations faced in Burlington and Alamance County, N.C., and elsewhere.

“We’ve been impressed with students’ flexibility of thought and insight, which is the ultimate goal of teaching,” Burney said of the remote-learning transition. “Using what they learned in Burlington, they can see how to make a difference where they are.”

Applying the lens of Elon’s service learning to their hometowns has led students to discover gaps in aid, question disparity, and become involved as volunteers there, Burney said. It’s also opened opportunities to serve Alamance County residents from a distance, for example by sending personal messages of support to clients or remotely assisting with job searches.

The assignments are leading students to think critically about social service infrastructures and the disproportionate effects of social inequality stemming from differences in race, socio-economic status, gender and sexuality.

“It’s amazing to see that creativity in students and knowing it’s coming from a place of service,” Burney said.