Four professors smiling and teaching

Pictured are, clockwise from upper left, Dr. Nelson Barre, Dr. Andreea S. Mihalache-O’Keef, Dr. Shannon Anderson and Dr. Rob Willingham.

By Roanoke College News

Stories of Connection: Faculty maintain bonds from afar

Roanoke faculty pride themselves on maintaining one-on-one relationships with students. For many faculty members, it’s the reason they came to Roanoke.

With a month and a half left in the spring semester, students were sent home in an attempt to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Faculty and students were forced to make do. Many faculty members did more than just get by, though. 

We asked students to share stories of what their professors have been doing during this time of remote learning. They shed some light on ways faculty made a tough time a little easier.

Making time for students

More than anything, students said faculty were more understanding and compassionate than ever. Though they couldn’t speak in person, faculty made time to video chat with students one-on-one and work through what’s bothering them.

Dr. Nelson Barre, assistant professor of Theatre, has been particularly patient and helpful, said Sarah Jane Ruppert ‘22.

“He continuously puts his students' mental health and well-being above anything else and works tirelessly to make sure they have every resource available to succeed,” Ruppert said. “It is evident in everything that he does that he loves theater and wants to make it more accessible to his students.”

Ruppert said she took Theatre 399 with Barre last year and took Theatre 101 this spring, as well as working under his direction in the recent production of “An Enemy of the People.” This spring, while students were away from campus, Ruppert expressed interest in a certain play. Barr sent Ruppert three separate online productions of the play for her to watch at home.

Multiple students singled out Dr. Andreea S. Mihalache-O’Keef, associate professor of International Relations, as a standout instructor during this period of remote learning. Brandt Cutt ‘21, who took IR 209 Research Methods and IR 247 Theory in International Relations with O’Keef this semester, said O’Keef “frequently checks in on us, prioritizes our health and flawlessly transitioned to online.”

Ale Carino ‘21 said O’Keef has taken a huge amount of time to talk to her and offer advice that went beyond the classroom.

“She truly cares about her students' academic performance and their well-being,” Carino said. “Although she's not my advisor, she's always willing to help with course registration advice. Her support and encouragement has gotten me through moments of uncertainty. I can say with certainty that she has helped me realize I am capable of more than what I give myself credit for.”

“Her support and encouragement has gotten me through moments of uncertainty. I can say with certainty that she has helped me realize I am capable of more than what I give myself credit for.”

Ale Carino '21 about Dr. Andreea S. Mihalache-O’Keef

Being flexible

Some students found it difficult to be as productive as usual when they were away from campus. In return, many faculty members were more lenient and patient with deadlines and assignments. Dr. Shannon Anderson, associate professor of Sociology, was among them, according to her students.

“Dr. Anderson has been really nice and supportive about getting certain assignments in on time or giving us a few days to get stuff in,” said Sam Andrews ‘23. “I have her for Sociology 101 and she’s always been supportive since the first day of class.”

Relating to at-home struggles

Dr. Rob Willingham, associate professor of history, is known for dressing well in class. Even during his remote lectures, Willingham kept up appearances.

Then one day, students in his Holocaust history class tuned in to see Willingham in a hoodie, just like his students. To Abigail LeGrand ‘23, that meant a great deal.

“It was nice to see him struggle as we are and let a little loose,” LeGrand said.

Willingham’s impact on students went beyond the hoodie. He reached out to students and checked on them regularly, LeGrand said. He was a good communicator prior to classes going online and afterward.

“He is a great professor and he deserves all the attention,” LeGrand said.