UHV keeps students engaged, promotes positivity while at home
As universities continue to adjust to circumstances around the coronavirus pandemic, University of Houston-Victoria Student Affairs staff members have created ways to help keep students entertained and mentally healthy during stay-at-home orders.
“It is important that we let the UHV community know we are all going through this together,” said Michael Wilkinson, senior director of UHV Student Services & Judicial Affairs. “Even though most of our students are at home, we want to make sure they have a healthy well-being during this time.”
For several weeks, UHV Student Life staff members have put their efforts into connecting with students virtually through social media. After all on-campus events were canceled or postponed for the spring semester, the Jaguar Activities Board, which hosts events for students, was at a standstill.
“The main goal for JAB is to have at least one event a week, but when COVID-19 started, it changed everything for us,” said Freddie Cantu, Student Life coordinator. “We all went back and discussed what still could be done to help our students have some stress relief while they are at home.”
Instead of weekly events, JAB has created daily social media events or challenges posted on the UHV Student Life Facebook page to help keep students engaged. Each week kicks off with a Motivation Monday inspirational post and a schedule for the week.
There’s TikTok Tuesday, where students can head over to the video-sharing social network and compete with jaguar mascot jaX on dance challenges; Weekly Challenge Wednesday, which has included a March Madness-style competition of Disney films and a pet show; Trivia Thursday; and Fitness Friday with tips about how to exercise at home.
Cesar Gonzalez, a student coordinator with Student Life and a UHV senior majoring in business management and business marketing, has helped create social media challenges and events for the past few weeks. Gonzalez is a Cypress native but is also a resident assistant at Jaguar Hall and stayed in Victoria for the stay-at-home orders. He meets with jaX every week to help with TikTok dance challenges and to make fun videos of jaX for Fridays.
Gonzalez said a TikTok account was created for jaX recently because of the growing popularity of the app with students. TikTok dance challenges have become popular during stay-at-home orders throughout the country.
“With the jaX TikTok challenges, it helps bring a sense of normalcy to students,” Gonzalez said. “Students are used to seeing jaX at events and on campus, so it is important to have him participate in the challenges because he is a great mascot and symbol of our university.”
Jay Lambert, UHV vice president for student affairs, said social media has become crucial during a time when social distancing is the best prevention of COVID-19.
“There are some students who miss having a community and need to have that sense of connection,” Lambert said. “Social media is where our students are, and we will be right there with them.”
In addition to fun challenges, university counseling and mental health services also have transitioned online. Counselor education professors in the UHV School of Education, Health Professions & Human Development recently hosted a free and public livestream session on Facebook about strategies to cope with anxiety and stress.
Abran Rodriguez, a UHV assistant counselor education professor, said they decided to host a session after UHV faculty members reached out saying they had sensed anxiety in students. The virtual session was provided to the community through Facebook Live and Zoom. Counseling professors Katherine Bacon, Sneha Nayar and Rodriguez hosted the event so that students, as well as faculty, staff and the public, could watch and ask questions, he said.
“Counselors are first responders for mental health, and right now, there is a lot of anxiety and stress,” Rodriguez said. “The tips we provided through the Facebook livestream may help people decrease their symptoms of stress and anxiety related to COVID-19.”
Social media livestreams and telehealth services have become vital for the UHV community during the pandemic, Rodriguez said, and the counseling faculty members might host more livestream sessions in the future.
“A lot of this is uncharted territory, but we were able to reach a lot more people on Facebook, and that’s what we want – to be able to help as many of our students and their families through this difficult time,” Rodriguez said.
In addition to virtual services, UHV offers students access to JP’s Market, the free student pantry, three times a week as well as applications to apply for emergency funding. UHV Student Affairs also started a calling campaign to call and check in on the well-being of each UHV student and offer assistance. The UHV Counseling Center is conducting daily therapy sessions remotely for students. The center also offers students access to a self-help tool called Therapy Assistance Online, or TAO. Additionally, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, TAO has made one of its many tools, the Mindfulness Library, free for everyone at www.taoconnect.org/mindfulness-exercise/.
“We are here for our students, and we care about them,” Wilkinson said. “We are all in this together, and there is no better way to get through this situation than united as a UHV community.”
The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.