Social Work Major Evaluates Student Academic Experiences During Pandemic

Jia Rowland, senior social work major who received WNMU Student Research and Development support to conduct a summer project

© Western New Mexico University

“Everything I’d always been in interested in was the social work trajectory,” said senior Jia Rowland, who made her way to WNMU from Indiana and was recently accepted to the university’s Master of Social Work program. “I like improving systems in order to improve the human experience, which is why I did this project.”

She is referring to the research she conducted over the summer thanks to a stipend and support received through the WNMU Student Research and Professional Development program. Rowland had previously worked as a research assistant to WNMU sociologist Dr. Dara Naphan-Kingery. “I did all the dirty work, helped her code data and analyze the findings. I said, ‘I could do this on my own, on a smaller scale.’”

Specifically, Rowland wondered if other students were having the same negative experiences she was during the pandemic. “When the pandemic began, I didn’t have a home to go to and was the only person in the dorms. I was working graveyard shifts at Del Taco and just thought it couldn’t get any worse,” she remembered.
So, as an SRPD Summer Scholar, she aimed to gauge what her fellow Mustangs were dealing with—from isolation to less interactive academic experiences—and how they felt about it.

SRPD provided a stipend and funding to support in-depth interviews with a dozen diverse students, who were selected from general education courses and incentivized to participate.

With the interviews, Rowland’s goal was to get an in-depth understanding of how connected and isolated students feel. “I asked them lots of questions about their satisfaction with the academics, about communication with professors and about response and grading time. I asked about their feelings around connections before pandemic. I also ask for specific implementations the university should make, and they understood that their instructors were thrown into this too,” she said.
With guidance from her faculty mentor, Dr. Naphan-Kingery, Rowland worked over the summer to transcribe the interviews, using qualitative data analysis to extract prominent themes. “It was 10 hours a day on a computer screen,” she said. “I finished the interviewing process over two weeks. But actually sitting there, fixing errors in the transcription and coding it, took almost six weeks to do.”

She wrote a report, including key excerpts from the student interviews, and just recently presented it to the WNMU Divisions of Academic and Student Affairs. “I went into there with my own personal bias and expected that to be the consistent experience. It seems like students are less desperate for the teacher/student interaction I was craving and more interested in connection with their peers,” Rowland noted.

The SRPD program allowed Rowland to explore this question that was burning in her mind by giving her the resources to devote time to answering it. “I think that even though I enjoyed the experience of helping my professor with her research a couple years ago, this is an unheard-of opportunity to conduct my own project. It was on a really small scale, but it gave me an idea of, if I did want to get a Ph.D., what research and data analyzing would look like. It turns out, I’d rather be in class.”

Rowland will graduate in December and begin graduate school at WNMU. “Long term, I’d like to have a private practice. I’m really interested in clinical social work,” she said.

Submit Feedback