The year 2020 brought an unprecedented crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic, and just like institutions across the nation, United Education Institute (UEI) and UEI College were forced to respond quickly to protect the health, safety and well-being of students and employees. At the onset of the pandemic, UEI closed all campuses for in-person instruction while leaders evaluated how to navigate the challenges of this new reality.
“The response was immediate and remarkable. UEI is known for our hands-on approach to learning, so this was a disruption like no other,” said Dr. Fardad Fateri, President and CEO. “The pandemic changed the way we all work, live and learn. But I am very proud of how the UEI family came together to respond in the best interests of our students, faculty and staff. It was a demonstration of poise, professionalism and sheer determination. I could not be more proud of the commitment of time and effort by our campus colleagues.”
As it became clear that reopening under normal operations would not be possible, the dedicated team of leaders at UEI and UEI College devised a plan for students to continue their education while also providing the training they need to continue their momentum towards graduation. A major component of that plan was the launch of a new distance learning platform, which allowed students to continue progress by attending classes online. Faculty and staff also worked to keep students engaged with messages on various social media platforms.
“We are training essential workers at UEI, particularly in our allied health programs, and we knew that we had to figure out a way for their safe return as quickly as possible because essential workers were needed in the community more than ever before,” Dr. Fateri said.
“While the COVID pandemic has certainly created unprecedented challenges for all of us, equally as unprecedented is the absolute resilience displayed by our staff and students as they sought out and overcame each and every obstacle that stood in the way of the continuance of their work and studies at the campus,” said Jim York, Vice President of Leadership, Culture and Learning. “Our colleagues and students were no less than heroic in their successful quest to continue focusing on our students’ futures.”
“COVID-19 brought with it many challenges for our students, their families, and the communities that we serve. At UEI we took the time to listen to our students, understand the challenges they are facing and act accordingly to allow them every opportunity to continue to achieve their goals. It most definitely isn’t easy for our students in normal times, let alone during a global crisis, but what is worth mentioning and very inspirational is that majority of our students did not give up,” said Ally Vaaler, Regional Vice President of Operations.
Distance learning was a sensible short-term solution for students in the didactic portion of their learning while UEI implemented new procedures that would allow students to safely return to campus for their labs and practical learning.
“Working to ensure our students have the same experiences and opportunities during the pandemic has been challenging, but our instructors and campus colleagues identified creative ways to preserve that in spite of the pandemic. We consulted with public health experts and a variety of governing agencies to deploy a reopening plan, which drew upon the advice of these experts,” Dr. Fateri said.
The answer was a new hybrid model of instruction at UEI, using the combination of distance learning and limiting time on campus to small groups of students for labs with a full range of protective measures in place. Modified operations now include COVID-19 protocols such as the mandated wearing of masks, temperature checks upon entry, social distancing, hand sanitation stations, a staggered schedule limiting the number of students on campus at one time, and protective personal equipment (PPE) for medical and dental assistant labs. Labs and classrooms are being cleaned and sanitized after each class.
Most UEI programs involve an externship experience and many of those were impacted by the pandemic as well. Joan Yourstone, Vice President of Career Services said that the Career Services team worked tirelessly to assist students who were impacted.
“We increased our employer outreach to find extern or employment opportunities for our students, specifically as counties and states started reopening in June,” she said. “Career Services teams also spent a lot of time coaching students that they could participate in an externship and work in their field of study and do it SAFELY! We coached them to not let the pandemic sideline their goals, motivated them, and thanked them many times for being on the front lines and working so hard in their communities.”
One of the positive outcomes of the UEI response to the pandemic has been the development and deployment of the Student Online Academic Room (SOAR). Building on the model originally deployed during the onset of the pandemic, SOAR will bring a permanent distance learning platform at UEI. It is the result of a collaboration across almost every department.
“One thing that our response to the pandemic has taught us is that students utilized online learning and showed us that it can be a very engaging way for their didactic work. SOAR online learning platform allows our instructors to focus on student progress and academic success,” said Michelle Reed-Zagorski, LMS Administrator. “The Education Department’s Curriculum team, comprised of subject matter experts, worked tirelessly to develop high quality courses so that our students wouldn’t miss a step in their ultimate goals of graduation and placement. Students complete the didactic portion of their programs in SOAR while also completing their “hands-on” lab skills on campus.”
The new SOAR platform includes live chats and real-time lectures, skill procedure videos, reading assignments, simulations, homework tasks, quizzes and exams.
In addition, the SOAR Support Team was created to provide ongoing assistance for our instructors and students. Any student with a question or who might need assistance can contact the SOAR Support Team via phone or email. The SOAR platform is in final development will be deployed across all UEI campuses and programs by the end of the year, pending regulatory and accreditor approval.
“This is an exciting time in UEI’s history and together we look forward to a bright future,” Michelle said.