Interview with Jennifer Szydlik, 07/26/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: This is Grace Lim interviewing Jennifer Szydlik on Tuesday, July 26, 2022. For Campus COVID stories. Campus COVID stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

JS: I'm Jennifer Szydlik. First name is J ENNIFE. r. And the last name is S like snake z like zebra. Y, D like dog l IK?

GL: And now for the purposes of getting a good recording. Just tell us again who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

JS: Yeah, I'm a I'm Jennifer Szydlik. And I'm a professor in the mathematics department, a faculty member here at UW Oshkosh.

00:01:00

GL: Also, tell us about your other title too. Yeah, I'm

JS: up right now. I'm also the President of the Faculty Senate and have been for the past year and will be for the coming year.

GL: Okay, now, before we dive into your campus, tell the story we'd like to get to know you a little bit better. Just tell us a little bit about where you grew up.

JS: Okay, so I grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota. My parents were faculty members. So we spent our winters in St. Cloud. And then we spent our summers on the lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. My parents were building this little cabin. I have one sister. I went all through high school and in St. Cloud, and I went to St. Cloud State University for undergraduate. And then I ended up at UW Madison for graduate school. And that's where I met my husband, Steve. And eventually we got married.

GL: Your parents were faculty members were

00:02:00

JS: St. Cloud State University. And what field? Oh, so both of them are mathematicians. We have a lot of mathematicians; my husband is as well.

GL: And how did you end up working at UW Oshkosh?

JS: So we were we met Madison's Steve, Steven and I did, and we were there for seven years in Madison. So the first three before we were married the second four as a couple. And when we when we finished it was 1995. And the job market was fairly tight. So I interviewed several places, but because I was a math educator, and they were we were more in demand than mathematicians overall. And I ended up with a position at UW Oshkosh as one of my offers and realized that they were about to have five retirements and open positions. So we decided that 00:03:00that was a good a good bet for Steve. He's a good fit for here. And we really wanted to both have careers in academia. So and of course, you know, this is my neck of the woods overall, right like Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, so it fit well,

GL: all right. Tell us about your position at UWO, pre COVID before March 2020.

JS: So let's see, as a faculty member in the math department, I typically taught three classes per semester. Two of them would be courses for people who are going to be pre service elementary teachers. So I teach a couple of sections of number systems or geometry or data for them. And then I would teach some upper-level class or a graduate class in math or math education. So and then I had responsibilities for doing writing and research and giving talks and there 00:04:00was plenty of that. So that meant that traveling somewhere And, and giving a talk a couple times a year, it meant, you know, spending some time and trying to write papers or book chapters or updating curriculum materials. And then there's a service component to my job as well. So there's lots of lots of various meetings to go to I was on faculty senate at that time, but not the president. So there's a fair amount of reading and, and work that goes into, into just running the university, the faculty are a big part of running the institution. So I started to have three parts of my job, there was the teaching part. There's the reading and research and speaking part. And then there's the running the university, which we call the service part.

GL: The three classes you were teaching. How many students in each class?

JS: Yeah, typically, there would be somewhere around 28, say, in the two 00:05:00lower-level sections. And then the upper-level class, depending on what it was, it might be smaller, if it was a graduate class, it might be just as large it might have, you know, 28 or 30 students in it. We don't teach big, huge lectures in the math department. We, we like a more hands on approach there. But typically, so somewhere around a little less than 100 students a semester.

GL: Okay, so let's move to the early days of COVID. Do you remember the first time you heard about this disease, this virus?

JS: I think I probably heard about it on NPR. Just rumblings about people who are getting sick and Wuhan, China, and it seemed to be some new disease, and it caused some severe respiratory ailment, and it seemed very, very far away. This was maybe December, January. So just the start of 2019. And I didn't think much 00:06:00of it at the time. I mean, I guess I should have maybe had more forethought, but it didn't.

GL: So your initial reaction was just that it's this is something that's far away

JS: far away. But then about maybe in February, it started to show up quite a bit in the US and various places. I knew it started showing up in big cities especially where there were big airlines big airports. And I kind of I kind of realized them that it might be that we would shut down for a while. And so I'm remember my son Joe and I went out to he was he's a was a college student at the time we went we went out to pick and save when he was home for a weekend, and we 00:07:00purchased I think about $500 worth of staples. There was no run on anything but toilet paper at that time. We didn't have any new much toilet paper but we just decided that we want needed to be able if we were to shut down I thought we'd shut down maybe for a month you know or something and it would be good to not have to go out and shop for you know flour and sugar and coffee and soup and rice and so we sort of filled our whole back stairway we have a back stairs leading up we have a really old house with just food that would basic food that would get us through for a month if need be. We've eaten it all over time. By the way, it's almost empty now.

GL: So, um, what would you know, when the when the universities and other cities started shutting down? What were your thoughts? When you first heard that some 00:08:00universities are shutting down because of this virus?

JS: Yeah, I thought it's coming. It's coming. It's gonna we're on the we're gonna we're definitely going to get shut down. I didn't really know what that meant. I didn't know if we would just mean-- It was spring, it was spring of 2020. And I didn't know if we would make it through to the end of the semester. Or if we would finish early or. And it turned out of course, that about a week before our scheduled spring break. All of a sudden, it's like there was this feeling of, of, of overall panic, I think in the country. And just all of a sudden things just shut down. Air airlines shut down. People were stuck places they were visiting. And all kinds of universities shut down and all of a sudden, 00:09:00everyone was I think it was a moment of realization like this is this is real. And so we shut down a week before our scheduled spring break, that would have been the maybe second week of March. And we were basically told to take the that week and the spring break week and to get everything we could online. So we went sort of went online for the rest of the semester. And for me, that was a pretty big deal. I had not taught a class online before, and many, many of us hadn't. I mean, some people had, but many of us hadn't done it. We didn't know. We didn't know anything about it. We didn't know how to, you know how to upload our syllabus to Canvas, some of us or I knew how to do that. But there were lots of things that we just didn't know how to do, how to make recordings and, and how to move things around, what resources we had on the online. So it was it was it was a big ask, really. And the faculty were pretty good. I mean, we really did 00:10:00it. We put the entire University online in two weeks. And it wasn't perfect. And some people were much better than others. But overall, it went pretty well. And the students were pretty grateful for that.

GL: I'm going to backtrack a little bit. I mean, the moment that you have learned that we are going to go. You're going to be sent home or sent away. And I'm away from campus. What's happening in your departments? I mean, did you guys have a meeting, or they mean-- describe that day that you heard that you learned about having to go home? away from campus?

JS: Yeah. We did not have a meeting in our department. We did have somebody who taught online, a lot, invited people if they wanted to, to come and to sort of 00:11:00learn about this the system, how to do various things, and I went to that, and it was the first time I'd seen anybody massed indoors regarding the pandemic. And I wasn't that hadn't occurred to me to do in fact, this, I don't think the CDC was recommending masking, I think they were kind of worried about a run-on PPE. So but that kind of made it feel real. So we didn't we didn't have a department meeting. But we had a session that a lot of a lot of faculty went I'd say the majority went and sort of in person. Yeah. And in the computer lab upstairs, and we just learned how to do basic things on canvas, which was our platform for online classes.

GL: And do you remember what day this was? I mean, like, no, I mean, was this 00:12:00before you went home?

JS: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it was. Yeah, so it must have been, obviously, it was. We didn't get a whole lot of lead time before we knew we were going to close. So I think it probably was the end of the week of the week before the university closed. You know, like a Thursday or Friday? And, yeah, yep. And, and I remember talking to my students in class and saying, you know, it's gonna be all right. You know, you're gonna, you're gonna get an extra week of break and, and we're gonna get everything ready. And we're going to, we're going to do this, we're gonna, and it's gonna be for a semester or right just for the rest of the semester. I mean, I was naive, like, I thought, I thought it was going to kind of be like a wave that goes through and then is gone. I was sort of didn't really know much about pandemics, I guess.

GL: What we're, what were, when you were talking to your students tell me what 00:13:00were -- what was that? Like? How many what was?

JS: Yes, so students were nervous. Since we're nervous here. I remember that. We didn't know how the virus was spread. And I brought a big container of hand sanitizing wipes to class. The last two days of class the two days we knew we were ending. And I just passed one out to everybody, as they walked into the room. And the students of their own accord just would go and clean up things in the classroom. Like because we didn't know and there was like a lot of worry. So I had, I didn't tell him to do it. I was just expecting them to sort of wipe their hands in their desk if they wanted to, or whatever, but they were cleaning the doorknobs and the computer keys for my computer and the front desk and they just we cleaned the entire classroom. I mean, it was probably the cleanest the classroom has ever been. We didn't know that it was mostly transmitted through the air at that time. So anyway, there we were in class with very, very clean 00:14:00hands and very, very clean desks. And, and, and there was an air an era of sort of a little bit of an edge of excitement like, you know before a storm, how you feel like it's, it's a little scary but it's also there's some excitement to it something different is going to happen and we don't really know what it is. So it had that same feel to it. I don't remember if we had real class, I think we did I think we really had class I think I spent maybe that last day showing the students how to get onto canvas and what they were had to click on in order to, to meet. But I didn't have many much plans at that at that point for how it would be online, so I didn't have to hadn't had time to do it yet. So yeah.

GL: Some employees roles were deemed essential in the operation of the 00:15:00university where they had to come to work in person, were you among those people?

JS: No, I was not. Okay, in fact, we went we loaded up a much of our $500 worth of staples into the car and we went we went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where we sort of have our family property and cabins and we just went up there so I wasn't I was so not essential that in that way that I left the state

GL: So describe your work life from the time the universe was you know, had sent everybody home, the stuff with those deemed essential to the you know, to be physically there. Describe your work life through the end of the spring semester.

JS: Okay, so imagine this so we did not have really really good internet on the 00:16:00lake at our at our cabin. So we, we, and in the golf course in the community had to close. Michigan had quite restrictive COVID regulation. And there could be no bars or restaurants open golf courses had to close. So they had to close, and they had really good internet and I know I know them I'm a sort of a local in the community. So I was given Stephen my husband's also a faculty member were given permission to teach from the clubhouse at the golf course where we had really good internet service. So there was no one there it was closed, we set up an our offices there overlooking, like the ninth hole, which is beautiful. It was wintry it was snow on it. No one was playing golf, of course, but it was a bar and a restaurant as well. And that was that had closed down. And we taught classes from the clubhouse at the golf course for two months, basically, online. 00:17:00So that meant that we would trudge into work in the morning. Mostly we would walk because we were only about a mile away and it was good to get out and walk about there'd be like, almost no one around golf course was empty, we had our own key. So we opened it up felt like I was opening up, you know, a bar or something. We would go in and fire up the computer. And we would spend all day at the clubhouse, making little videos for the students to put up online because I had I had organized it so that I had certain specific meeting times with the students. But then I also had things content for them to watch, and things for them to do. Trying to create assignments, trying to prepare for class, grading 00:18:00things. So we would spend the day there. And I would I was teaching a graduate class as well. So one night a week I was I was there from five until 8pm. And so things were dark, and no one was there, and I lock up the clubhouse and we trudge home at the end. And that's what we did for the last two months. And it was kind of it was a little bit surreal, because it was, I saw almost no one during that time except for Steve, my husband and my parents who decided about around that point that they should come and sort of be secluded as well. We were quite worried about them because they're in their 80s in good health, but there was no vaccine virus was really starting to pick up. And an advantage of being up here is there's very few people around, so just low population density and we 00:19:00were way out in the middle of nowhere. So my mom and dad drove up from Florida and they were in their, in their place here on the lake and we were in ours. And so and then my son Joe, who was a college student, right came, came home, and did his classes from on his phone from here. So it was a it was interesting because it brought the family, a family, our family together. Our son Ben, we asked him if he wanted to come home or stay at school and he elected to we told him he couldn't come back and forth because we couldn't risk him bringing virus in. And so he elected to, to stay with his friends. He had an apartment. But the rest of us were together for that whole spring. So that was a there was some good part to that.

GL: Yeah, just want to make clear. I mean, what made you decide to leave Oshkosh 00:20:00to go to your cabin? in Upper Michigan?

JS: Yeah. Mostly, we love being at our cabin in Upper Michigan. So given that we had to mostly stay, we couldn't do anything, we couldn't go to restaurants we couldn't really hang or be with our friends, we, if we had to just be somewhere and work from afar, we might as well be where we like to be the best, right? So we just decided to come here where we like to be the best. And it was also an opportunity to help and be with my parents. So we took that opportunity.

GL: How isolated is the place that where your cabin is.

JS: So we're on the on the garden peninsula, and it's a peninsula that sticks down into Lake Michigan. On the upper peninsula of Michigan, it is very, very 00:21:00remote on the whole peninsula, which is maybe not quite as big as the Door County Peninsula in in Wisconsin. And the whole peninsula of the garden Peninsula. There's about maybe less than 1000 people that live there altogether. More touristy type people in in summers, but not many. So we have my family has about 50 acres of land out here, some lakefront but mostly woods. And we so we're really in the woods. And when we would walk to work through the woods, trudging through the woods, which was which was fun and kind of magical looking. We would see no one. Sometimes we'd wave to our neighbors who have a farm, and they do maple syruping and stuff. And we waved to them as we as we walked along. And that that's about it. Okay, we had to have our road plowed no one, no one would. It's a mile back. And so we just had to have someone who kept our road 00:22:00open for us. And so we paid a neighbor to do that. And that's what we did.

GL: All right. Back to your work at the University. How difficult was it to teach remotely

JS: it was it was not it was not too bad. I'm, I am pretty flexible as far as being able to create things on the fly. And I think for my husband, it was it was more difficult. He likes to have things a certain way and getting them to be the way he wants in the pandemic was took some work. But I was I got in the routine of making, we bought a little, a little document camera that we could set up here at the clubhouse and it would show on the screen. And so and we 00:23:00could make videos with it. And I just uploaded onto YouTube, I have my own little YouTube account, right, and I would put them up there. So I make a video every day. Pretty much I plan out what students were going to do. I put up on Canvas instructions for the day. And I was just staying a couple days ahead of the students, right, here's what you're going to do this week, you're going to do this. And then we're going to meet on this day. And then you got to watch these videos. And then we're going to meet again, there's office hours on Thursday, I'll be here drop in. And then Friday, you're going to take this online quiz, and I would just make the quiz. And then I would just say one week ahead. So the next week while they were doing some of those things when we weren't meeting, I would get ready for the next week. And that is how it worked. So it was different. But it wasn't hard. It wasn't difficult.

GL: Was it more or less work and teaching in person.

JS: It was more work than teaching in person. But that was coupled with the fact that my service responsibility was all of a sudden nothing because there was 00:24:00very few meetings going on. That spring, and, and I didn't do any, there was no travel, there was no reading and research stuff going on. And so I don't think that I had to work. You know, I had to work no more hours than I usually would I was just completely focused on getting this new mode of instruction up.

GL: And what kind of feedback are you getting from your students in regards to their learning experience? Or other COVID related issues?

JS: Yeah, they were the students were, students we're pretty grateful. And they were, they were pretty happy to have learning to go on. And they were very, we, I felt like we were that that spring, I felt like we were all sort of in it together, figuring it out. And everybody was, was pretty upbeat about it. And we're going to do this and we're going to get through and it's going, it's going 00:25:00fine. And if something goes wrong with the technology and something glitches out, no big deal, we're going to fix it, or we're going to make it work or we're going to do something different. And I, I made it really clear to my students, that if you have a problem with technology, and it goes off or you're sick and you can't show up, then we are going to no worries, don't panic, don't worry, we'll we're going to find a way for you to meet another time or watch a video or fix it or, and we all got through it. So we all I mean, sometimes there were students who got sick, or whatever, but we all got through it. And I felt a really big sense of pulling together.

GL: Now tell us about the fall of 2020 were you teaching in person or were you teaching remotely.

JS: So University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh made the decision that faculty in the 00:26:00fall, of 2020 could decide how they wanted to offer their classes, because different people had different circumstances. There were people with preexisting conditions, or autoimmune disorders, or just older faculty. And so there was no vaccine at that point. And COVID was definitely surging and all around throughout the country. And there were a significant number of people who were who were dying of COVID. So Stephen, I elected to just stay in the UP. And we were and that's the Upper Peninsula, excuse me, Peninsula of Michigan. We at that point, we'd done some, some online teaching, and we were able to know what worked and didn't work. And so and we had a lot more lead time to get ready for teaching our courses. So we continued to do it, we no longer did it from the golf course, we also had time by then to update our internet. And to get more 00:27:00equipment that we needed. That we purchased, we just handled it all. And we got ourselves pretty set up here, each of us with a space to do our teaching work. So Steve has the sort of the guests, the little guest house, a little guest cabin, which was really cold, and he had a whole bunch of little heaters in there as things got colder, because it's not insulated. And I have the living room of the of our of our house up here. And we taught our classes and we mostly worked from our respective spaces for that entire fall, teaching our full load of classes. And during our meetings, any meetings on teams or other online platforms.

GL: What were your challenges that semester?

JS: Main challenges that semester, where students were already sort of weary of 00:28:00COVID. They, I mean, it had been going on for, you know, six months really been in their, in their awareness. They were not particularly concerned about their own about getting sick, because it wasn't it wasn't too bad on affecting young people. And I think they were very disappointed that they weren't, and we were not going back fully in person to campus. So lots of them stayed home, some of them went to campus and did some in-person and some online. I don't actually don't know what the what the ratio of online to in person classes was that fall. But here's the thing about having the option of joining a class online. So we were told, even if you teach in person to make sure that students who are ill quarantined could join the class online which makes perfect sense. So for people 00:29:00who went back in time in person that fall, it was a lot of work because not only Were they teaching in person, but they also had to make sure that students who were remote could join the class and could do all their work and make things up. And there were a lot of students who were gone different days or had family members to take care of when they got sick. It was a lot of work to keep everybody on board. So you kind of feel like you're pulling a wagon and you know, people are fall off, you got to get them back on, people are sort of dragging behind, and you got to get them to, you know, walk along. It, that was a it was a it was a psychologically hard semester. Because it's a long semester, students were bored, there weren't they, you know, going out, doing all the things students like to do was not so much of an option, lots of students were at home and had other responsibilities. And then the students that were on campus, they said, some of them said they wanted to have in person classes, but 00:30:00when it came right down to it, you know, you're in your dorm, and you can just click a join class online, a lot of them chose that option. And it was not it for it was not the best option for many, many students. So I think that fall was a fairly difficult semester for the university.

GL: The most quality, I mean, talking about your quality of the teaching, how does it measure up with the quality of your teaching remotely versus you know, in person,

JS: it's not nearly as powerful. You, you don't develop the same sense of community online, so students don't know each other the same way. That's important for a class to function well, and for people to be able to talk and, and I know you're picturing maybe a math class where the faculty member lectures and the students learn from that that's not the way our classes are run, though. 00:31:00In our in the class that I teach classes I teach students will work on some kind of a problem in small groups, they'll discuss it, they'll have a lot of ideas, and we'll talk about it as a class, and they'll go back and work on it. And then out of that comes, okay, here are the things that are important that we have got to learn from doing this activity or this set of problems. And that requires students to know each other, it requires students to be willing to, to talk to one another. And it was just very, very difficult to build that community online. So it was okay in the spring, for the spring, because students already knew each other. We'd already had a couple months of class and we had a routine, and they knew me, they trusted me. But in the fall, they didn't. They didn't know me; they'd never seen me. I had never seen them. Later, when they would run into me on campus, they would say, "Oh, I had you for math 110". And I would 00:32:00have no idea who they were. Right, because many of them didn't even turn their cameras on. And I didn't require that because maybe they're at home and maybe they're sick. Or maybe they're you know, right. I didn't require that that fall. Maybe I should have that made of I don't know. But it was that was a tough semester, and it was definitely a lower quality production, then I would have provided or that could have been provided in person. But that's that we did. I mean, it's was not for lack of trying things.

GL: And what did you come back to, uh, to teach fully in-person.

JS: So that next semester, which was spring of 2021, we were again, given the option one more time of teaching in person or online. And I elected to teach my 00:33:00lower-level classes online still. But I taught my graduate class in-person that particular semester, no, it was not my grad. It was an upper-level seminar, the senior seminar class. So I taught for math for 490 in person in spring 2021. And I taught two sections of math 110 number systems to freshmen and sophomores remotely that semester.

GL: And what were what was your reasoning behind that?

JS: My reasoning was that the freshmen and sophomores they tended to, to, they tend to be less, less likely to attend regularly to attend class and if it was in person, and we were still required to be really flexible with attendance, we couldn't have an attendance policy right where I had has required people to be 00:34:00there in person, which I do in all my class Since before COVID, I required students to be there. Because that makes the class work. You can't have a class where you're doing that kind of group work and have half the people gone all the time. And I had heard from my colleagues, oh my goodness, it's just so difficult to teach in person. And then to also have to provide a complete class for those people who can't be in person. So I was just worried about the freshmen sophomores not being able to show up all the time. For my math for 490 students, they're their seniors they are. And they knew it was important for them to show up. And I had almost perfect attendance. I had one person who was online, who listened in to class online, and we tried to involve her. She had some issues she had to deal with. But everybody else showed up for the semester. And I knew 00:35:00they probably would, because seniors tend to be pretty serious and do what needs to be done. So I had it in person.

GL: So spring of 2021, you had those? You know, we had we were now already a year into the COVID. So what was the quality of the like, you were talking you talk about your teaching? What about the learning? I mean, are the students

JS: No it was getting it was even worse. It was even worse. My math 490 class was fine. It was it went it went well. We were all masked. We couldn't do group work close. So I bought these little whiteboards and when there would be a question or problem to work on, students would be sitting a little ways apart. And they do their problem on that are they do or write ideas on the whiteboard, and they can hold them up and show each other it was kind of looked ridiculous, in some ways, probably. But it worked. It worked. Students gave a lot of 00:36:00presentations. And that was the in-class version that went fine. Besides those students had, had had a lot of university experience before the pandemic, and they knew how class at university work was supposed to go. So that was fine. My, my freshman and sophomore class that second semester, was not was not the best. I did a lot of the same things. I'm fact probably what I offered as an online class was much better online class. But students were tired, they were frustrated. They had a previous semester, where were they had learning loss, or some of them had had a high school experience that spring before where they had just not had any more, they'd lost half of math class in high school, they had had almost a year of people saying, "Oh, you don't have to turn this in, oh, 00:37:00it's fine. If you don't show up, we'll make it up for you". And those were starting to become habits. It was and it was still, of course, COVID was still there, and people were still getting sick. And there were still family members getting sick, and people were weary. And that was that was that was not a particularly great semester. Overall.

GL: I want to move a little bit to your role in the Faculty Center. So what COVID related issues did you have to deal with? And what was your position on that? So

JS: yeah, as incoming president of the of the Senate. I was I agreed that faculty should be during that first year before vaccines were readily available. And they weren't really available to most of us until mid-spring semester of 2021. Right. So um, during that whole time, I thought it was really important 00:38:00that faculty be given the option of teaching in person or teaching online. And I advocated for that as a senator and as incoming president of the Senate. And that was well received, I was not the only one advocating for that, that position. And then, once vaccines were available, then it seemed like and they were quite effective at first, it seemed important that we try to get back to normal as much as possible. So I actually advocated for that overall, and for only having people be having exceptions to that for that fall of 2020. And we needed the university to sort of get back to normal. I was also worried though, that we could have another big surge and have to shut down again if that 00:39:00occurred. This was not it was not A big thing among the faculty. I mean, there are some issues where I hear a lot from faculty about something that's going on and something they're worried about. I did not hear a lot about faculty complaining or saying we should be doing something different. There was faculty pretty much went along with the options that were provided. And they just did their best to do that. So I did not make any of these decisions. These were I mean; I gave I gave the opinion. And, and that was all but there was not much I had to do. As far as Faculty Senate President. In fact there was it made my year as president elect, maybe there was less things because nobody was focused on the normal work of the Senate, which is, oh, let's get some policy. Let's talk 00:40:00about policy on. You know, I don't know what science classes people have to take, or just there's all kinds of things that are that got stopped, just put on hold. Right. And didn't happen for. So that work just went away, basically.

GL: You know, I forgot to ask you something. Regarding you talked about the whiteboards that you got for your students for the upper division class, right? Did you pay for those who paid for those?

JS: Oh, yeah, I pay for those. We bought, we bought all the things we bought, we know we paid for upgrading the internet, we paid for our document camera, we got a new laptop for the for the family, because we only had one we got I got whiteboards for the students, we just, you know, I'm not saying by the way that 00:41:00the university would not have paid for those some of those things. But it was much more expedient for me to just do it. And so I just did it.

GL: You know, thinking about all the things that you had to do during this time COVID, you know, emerged your work. I mean, what stands out the most to you as something that you could, you said that you did, right, or you're proud of, of your COVID response.

JS: I'm, I'm proud of how available I was to students. I met with students almost anytime they wanted, I didn't have a lot of other things I had to be doing. So I mean, if a student said I can't, I can't meet until, you know, eight o'clock tonight. I tended to meet with them. I don't know if that's a good a 00:42:00good idea. In the long run, like I don't think it's that's good for anybody. But during the pandemic, when a lot of strange things were going on, and I had the time to do it. There was the opportunity to be available. And so I was pretty effective, I think, talking with students one on one or small groups on one as far as doing math and, and figuring things out online. So I was real happy with my office hours. They were super well attended. Like I would tend to have maybe 15 students online with me during office hours during the pandemic. During the time I was teaching online. Now that went in person and in the spring of 2021, I would have almost no one come to my office hours online or otherwise. But that first full semester we were online, that was something I was proud of and happy about out. Was that they found some use in that. I'm also proud of being there 00:43:00to support my mom and dad and for us being a community but that's not a work thing.

GL: In the fall of 2021 vaccines are readily available on campus, in fact strongly advocated by the administration, the CDC, what were your initial thoughts about the vaccines?

JS: My initial thoughts about the vaccines were get them as soon as I possibly could. And that's what I did the moment I was able to get an appointment. I got vaccinated. And vaccines were very effective at first and they were super effective for keeping people out of the hospital. And once I was, I was fully vaccinated, I felt comfortable going back to work and so fall of 2021 I was I was back full on you know doing my job as I, as much as I could as I normally 00:44:00would have pre-Pandemic

GL: so it's been, I mean, I can't remember how long though almost two and a half years. I think.

JS: Yeah. Two years?

GL: Yeah. How much do you feel like things are getting back to normal on campus?

JS: So, there's been a shift to a lot of online work among, among a lot of people. So, things might never be back to normal on campus, or pre COVID Normal. My teaching was back to normal in the sense that I ran class the way I did before COVID. You know, required attendance and, and, and if students were gone, 00:45:00they would make up class just like they would have if they had been sick before COVID ever was around. So that part was normal students were much less ready for college classes than normal, my freshmen and sophomores again, now they've had a full year or two of being of trying to learn under subpar circumstances. And that shows it shows up and a lot of habits like they their habit of what it means to go to the University is not the same as the habits and what it meant to go to the University of people before. So that hopefully will get fixed. But that's, that's still not quite normal. As far as campus goes, if you walk around campus, it is quiet. And I have an office in Dempsey, because I was Faculty Senate President this past year. And there is empty offices there. I walked by 00:46:00the UMC and there's no one there and I walk through just it's just a lot of empty buildings. Our you know, our math department. Project Assistant is has is often not there, our faculty senate president is often not there, or secretary is not often not there, just because there's a lot of things that people have found they can do from home. So a lot of people are doing their work from there. And the problem is that in the long run, you start to lose community that way. So you start to not know who these people are. The office is closed when a student has a question, even though a student might not have a question, or maybe only three students stopped buying a day, right? But those three students now don't have anybody to see there. And so, campuses feeling different, it 00:47:00feels hollow. Like a lot is missing from campus. And until we're back. And I think it's going to feel that way. And maybe it's just a new version of campus. And this is how it's going to be. I don't I hope not. But it might be you know,

GL: Is there anything about your job that has changed that you think may have been changed permanently regards to your job?

JS: Sure. I think that online meetings are now going to be the norm. I think very, there's a lot of pressure to even have, say the Faculty Senate meet online rather than in person. I and our executive committee of the Senate felt strongly that since we're a deliberative body, and there's a lot of sort of discussion that goes on in Senate, that we should meet at least half-time face to face in person. So we did that. There are people who complained about that they didn't 00:48:00want to be there. But us knowing each other as senators and seeing each other face to face and being able to talk rather than being there's so many of us there's you know, in the room in the Senate, there'll be a total of say 40 people, including senators and guests. That's a lot of people to have on online you can't have a very good conversation online. A lot of everybody will have their cameras off for the most part for that kind of a conversation. So we meet we met this last year, every other meeting was in person and then we alternated with online. We'll do that again this coming year. But like I said, there's some pressure and some groups have decided to do all their meetings online. My fear is that over time, that will change the quality of discussion, especially for large groups that are deliberative. Where you want everybody to have be able to say something if they want to, and you want to be able to talk you need to know 00:49:00each other in order to compromise. So that's a that's a fear I have a good thing that changed is I now offer office hours online every week. And I think that works better for some students that and one on one on office hours, I can do pretty well. And writing on like a whiteboard or yeah.

GL: I don't think I asked you this earlier but tell me exactly what the faculty senate is and does.

JS: So the faculty senate has Senate representation from every college and every division of the University. So for example, the College of Letters and Science has Math, Science Division, a humanities division. So there's representation of a couple, depending on how big the division is of, of senators from each division. And we have also a representation from our access campuses. So it's 00:50:00almost like picture the, you know, this the US Senate, where we have representation from each state, we have representation from each division. And we come together to talk about issues of concern to the faculty, so whatever those issues might be. So those could be changes in policy that come from system and they want feedback on it could be policy, it's a lot of policy stuff, policy changes that come from administration or from other bodies that they, they want us to, to consider. So we have a model of shared governance at in our institution, which means that the faculty help run the institution, and changes to policy and curricula issues, go through a Faculty Senate, a set of academic staff and they go through this this Oshkosh or the Student Association as well. 00:51:00So the OSA so we vote and make recommendations and we also write policy so we can have policy that originates in the Senate if it's something of importance to, to faculty to work on.

GL: Awesome. So knowing what you know now, was there anything that you would have done differently in regards to your work at UW Oshkosh?

JS: Knowing what I know now, I was gonna say I was going to say that I might have taught in-person that first spring back so spring 2021. But thinking about how much absenteeism there probably would have been in those lower-level classes and how much work it would have been to, to help keep those students on the, on 00:52:00the wagon, as it were, you know, that we're pulling along, or I changed my mind about that. I think I would probably do the same thing. I don't I don't know what I would have done differently. I don't know

GL: what, you know, living in the and working during that time, the COVID What have you learned about yourself

JS: I've learned that I like to just be in I like to be in the woods. And I'm very content to, to have a big garden and have my chickens I got a two things I did because of when the pandemic first hit besides buy a whole bunch of staple of groceries and put them in the stairs was, I purchased chicks. And I built a huge garden like 100 feet by 100 feet kind of a big fenced in garden that keep 00:53:00deer out and I planted potatoes and tomatoes and fruit trees and I mean those were all things that I had my head to do, but the pandemic sort of made me think of making sure I got those things handled. And I am no way we are no way self-sufficient or anything even though we kind of like to, to think like that. But it felt good to have some things to just do that we were able to do, and I really liked doing those things and I realized that definitely I could retire and live up here in the woods for most of the year and be perfectly content with that. So I learned that about myself. And then yeah, I also learned that I like people around my when I'm at the University and I miss I miss not seeing people there

GL: I am just going to ask you a couple of questions regarding-- You know, your 00:54:00non work life? That's okay. When you're sheltering in place in the woods, obviously, this is dumb question, but you were following, you were following COVID protocols, right. social distancing? Masking? I mean, yeah.

JS: Okay. Yeah, there was. Yeah, I mean, the only place I really went was to the, to the grocery store. And, and yeah, I always I mask and I, I, we I didn't get it. I have not I haven't been to my knowledge. I haven't I haven't ever had COVID. And my, my family members haven't had it until recently until this recent B five strain or whatever. We didn't get it. Because of that. Like we said, we 00:55:00were all vaccinated and the vaccines were quite effective for Omicron and Delta, those first versions, I guess, Omicron maybe was the third version. Anyway, for the versions that were not that were before this, they were quite, it was quite effective.

GL: How did your family fare symptom wise?

JS: When they were sick? Yes. So they were my parents got it, too. We were they were everybody was sick, really sick for about two days. And then were was residually sick for another week. But everybody did? did well. There, they're all vaccinated and boosted. Yeah, everybody did well,

GL: with everything happened, that happened and so quickly, you know, at the very beginning of the pandemic, and then, you know, it's been two and a half 00:56:00years, how we're all of how we're you doing emotionally, you know, how are you feeling? And how are you doing?

JS: Yeah, I'm good. I'm doing good. I am. I'm not I mean, I understand that a terribly aggressive wave of this could show up again, I sort of, I sort of have some faith that, that scientists are, are on top of this, I think there are heroes in this really, I mean, they created a vaccine that was quite effective really, really, really quickly. I, it's been a politically very difficult couple of years. Because the code the disease was actually sort of used as a as an issue to, to wedge people apart. I think, by various politicians, and, and 00:57:00that's been difficult. I think that I think that I was I am, there were things that I didn't want to know about some of my so my Facebook friends say that, that I you know, wish I didn't wish I hadn't heard them, say certain things about, you know, so there's COVID deniers or people who are who are think that it was overblown, or it was just, it was just a political disease. I personally know three people who died of this disease, not they're not people who are close to me, but people I have, you know, parents of, of close friends, a brother of a close friend. I know other people who were nurses during this disease and saw a lot of people die a lot of people on respirators. This was a serious thing for a 00:58:00lot of people. And I'm really grateful that it wasn't yet for us, we didn't lose anybody really close to us. Um, there's also a long COVID There's some and we don't know what the long-term effects are going to be for a lot of people and that's a concern. And there are some good friends of mine who are affected in that way and don't know if that's going to clear up or if this is going to continue. But it's very disheartening to have people dismiss, dismiss it. I was out to dinner just the other night and, and a friend of mine said, that's, "you know, COVID is no big deal people, I've had it people, people are making a big deal out of it". And that I felt sort of offended by that. It's like if someone said, you know, World War Two, not that big a deal. I went there and it was not no it was no problem. You know, I came back. I don't know what's wrong with these people that died, I guess. It just seemed really insensitive, right. Like 00:59:00it's a it's a perspective of not realizing that your life is not. And your experience is not the same as everyone's experience. And I was also really disillusioned by the fact that people were not here, the scientists were working overtime to try to make sense of this disease as it was happening. And we didn't know what was happening at first, we really didn't, we didn't know how it spread, we didn't know how bad it would get. We just didn't know. And so that's what science is you look at things and you try something and try something else. And you figure it out over time. And, and a lot of people sort of accused scientists have not knowing what they were doing, because they were trying things and trying to figure it out over time. But that's how science works. That's what you do. And it takes a while before you understand something, and you figure out how to best deal with it. And it's a messy process. It's not just, you know, we look at this in the lab one day, and the next day, there's a 01:00:00cure. It's it takes a lot of a lot of work. And a lot of people worked really hard and have recommendations changed because you know, the COVID weather changed. And that's just how science works. And I was just I was sad that have a lot of the dismissal of the process of trying to figure things out. I think a lot of people were doing the best they could. Yeah. So those are disheartening things. I forgot the question. I think I might have just gone off and said something else.

GL: That's all right. Actually, I want to go back a little bit. As faculty senate, and as a senator, did you hear anybody? Anybody from the instructors? Saying that, you know, "we should just shut down the university"? This is not safe, we should not do you know, just shut it down. Did you get? Did you get 01:01:00anything that?

JS: Very little, very little of that? Nobody-- Nobody wrote that directly to me. So there were sort of rumblings of that in some quarters. I think that the fact that faculty were given the option of being remote allayed some of that, that complaint. Now, I don't know what's going to happen in the fall. I know that this past spring, that was Spring 2022. Faculty were still able to request being able to teach remotely if they had certain circumstances surrounding that I'm not sure what the policy will be on that going forward. And there might be people who, who, who, who refuse to come back in person for various reasons. I'm 01:02:00not I'm not sure. I have not heard anything about that either, though, and my in my official role. So the answer basically, is no. I've heard almost nothing.

GL: Okay. And then, you know, I just wanted to clarify your position on the in person teaching at college experience, I mean, is that something that--

JS: It's really important, it's really important, there's so much more to learn at a university than, than a bunch of facts, or you know, a bunch of things you can listen to and learn. So there's the whole experience of learning how to, to live with other people, learning how to work with other people, of learning how to be part of a bigger community, of learning how to how to do things in your discipline of being acculturated into what it means to be a mathematician or to be a scientist or to be a linguist. And those are things that you learn through 01:03:00participation in the culture, whatever it is. And it's really, really hard to participate in the culture of doing science or doing math or doing linguistics on a screen from your bedroom or whatever, right. It's just really, really hard to, to have that happen. So it's not the real thing is my opinion. And if it's online, and it's a different kind of education, maybe it's the best some people can do. And then it's, there's I'm not saying there's no value in it. It's not the same though, and we should pretend it is.

GL: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

JS; No.

GL: Well, thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contribution to campus COVID stories at UW Oshkosh. Thank you. I'm gonna stop 01:04:00the recording.