RHS Faculty Member Completes UNC System Faculty Fellowship Studying Effects Of COVID-19 Pandemic on Student Success

By Amanda Mlekush 

During her UNC System Faculty Fellowship Dr. Jennifer Dalton, associate professor of Communication Science and Disorders and Speech-Language Pathology at App State, and the two other 2023 UNC System Faculty Fellows, researched an emerging topic: studying the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student success.

(Related article: UNC System Selects 2023 Faculty Fellows)

“Our goal was to understand how student success has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and find potential solutions to address the lingering effects on post-pandemic teaching and learning,” Dalton said.

Dalton was joined by two faculty, Dr. Jeff Lawson, a mathematics professor and dean from Western Carolina University; and Dr. Nigel Pierce, an associate professor of special education from North Carolina Central University, who made up the multidisciplinary team. 

President Hans, UNC Fellows and Jennifer Dalton
(From left: UNC System President Peter Hans with 2023 UNC System Faculty Fellows Dr. Jeff Lawson, Dr. Jennifer Dalton and Dr. Nigel Pierce). 
“We conducted independent qualitative research to interview teaching and learning specialists, faculty members, administrators, and representatives from key areas like Student Affairs and Academic Affairs to better understand trends at the different public institutions in North Carolina,” Dalton said. “Our team was made up of different specialties–from my specialty in communication disorders to my colleagues’ specializations in math and special education– which allowed us to have a different approach to the project.” 

In January, the group presented its findings to UNC System President Peter Hans and other leaders at the system office in Raleigh. 

“We found that the pandemic had an even greater impact on rural students than on urban students and that across the board, student engagement, which was waning, has become even worse,” said Dalton. “Many students also experienced changes in their personal lives–from family finances to family health–that created additional obstacles to their engagement in the classroom and ability to focus on their schoolwork.” 

Hans expressed interest in learning more about potential solutions to help address the issues the team identified in their presentation, and Dalton said the group plans to meet with some leaders at the system office and help develop some recommendations on how to reengage students. 

“I learned how higher education administration and management operate, and I grew during this experience,” said Dalton. “Learning how our university and other universities work showed ways we could potentially collaborate to address system-wide issues. I spent time with several of our academic leaders at App State, including Provost Heather Norris, Vice Chancellor J.J. Brown, and Vice Provost Mark Ginn, and was impressed with how generous they were with their time and I valued their different perspectives. Through this experience, I have been inspired to pursue my MBA here at App State and shift my focus to pursue a career in higher education administration in the future.” 

According to the UNC System, the UNC Faculty Fellowship Program was founded in 2016 to engage faculty in issues related to academic affairs, offering mentorship and learning opportunities and promoting the effectiveness of the system and its constituent institutions. The fellowship also provides experience navigating state and national challenges in public higher education. The work of the 2023 Faculty Fellows focused on how the pandemic accelerated shifts in teaching and learning practices, particularly the digital transformation of higher education within the context of culture, workforce, and technology.

About the University of North Carolina System

The UNC System enrolls more than 244,000 students at 17 campuses, including North Carolina’s 16 public universities and the nation’s first public residential high school for academically gifted students. The UNC System is among the strongest and most diverse higher education systems in the country, with more than $1.8 billion in research expenditures and universities that serve every region of the state. Affiliate organizations include UNC Health and PBS North Carolina with its 12-station broadcast network.

About the Beaver College of Health Sciences 

Appalachian State University’s Beaver College of Health Sciences (BCHS), opened in 2010, is transforming the health and quality of life for the communities it serves through interprofessional collaboration and innovation in teaching, scholarship, service and clinical outreach. BCHS offers nine undergraduate degree programs and seven graduate degree programs, which are organized into six departments: Nursing, Nutrition and Health Care Management, Public Health and Exercise Science, Recreation Management and Physical Education, Rehabilitation Sciences, and Social Work. The college’s academic programs are located in the Holmes Convocation Center on App State’s main campus and the Leon Levine Hall of Health Sciences, a state-of-the-art, 203,000-square-foot facility that is the cornerstone of the Wellness District. In addition, the college supports the Blue Cross NC Institute for Health and Human Services and has collaborative partnerships with the Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program, UNC Health Appalachian and numerous other health agencies. Learn more at https://healthsciences.appstate.edu.

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Published: Feb 21, 2024 2:00pm