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The last couple of months have been challenging for students of all ages, parents, and families as they adjust to learning in new environments. Many people might assume that younger students had fewer adjustment issues because of their familiarity with technology. But we know that is not always the case. Different levels of education use different technologies — and of course the kinds of technology used for socializing are different from those used in education.

Faculty and staff at all levels of education are working with students to help them adjust. Beyond the subject being taught, many students are coming away from this experience with a toolbox of new and enriched skills. These skills will help them at work now and keep them on the cutting edge of technology for work and life in the future.

Staff and faculty at NWTC Marinette and UW-Green Bay, Marinette Campus are observing that many of our students are adding to their toolbox skills such as greater resilience, patience, ingenuity, grace, creativity, coping mechanisms and stress-reduction techniques. Students were always learning these skills, but now they are taking root more deeply and in more students.

Another set of skills that could be sharpened in this environment is communication skills. Despite the barriers that COVID-19 has put between us, students are being pushed to go one step further as they look for assistance and ask questions about course material. They cannot rely on nonverbal communication to tell instructors that they are disengaged or unclear, so they need to write or talk with instructors more.

Some students will interact more in a discussion board online than they would ever raise their hand in class. Other students might find themselves observing more than is typical for them. Our challenge as educators, parents, and community members is to ask students to reflect on how this changed environment is helping them grow as learners and as people. If we challenge them to reflect now, later when they are in person at school and at work, they will be more self-aware and stronger communicators.

Even though COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in so many educational plans, faculty and staff are able to help students consider what tools they are adding to their toolbox and how it will translate into improved resumes and better work performance in the future. We can all help students around us consider how they can apply the skills they are gaining now to help create more flexible workers for a vibrant local economy.

So much is changing, but the staff and faculty of your local colleges are still here to help. Reach out for updates to this year’s admissions requirements. Check out virtual tours and current information on our websites and our campus Facebook pages. As you reflect on what lessons can be learned from this changed learning environment, reach out to staff at both NWTC Marinette and UW-Green Bay, Marinette Campus, to help you use the right tools to build your future.

Jennifer Flatt is the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Dean. Cindy Bailey is the UW-Green Bay, Marinette Campus, Campus Executive Officer.