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ACUI 2022 Keynote Block Preview: Meet our Student Panelists Detailing Their Post-Pandemic Returns

No one can fathom what it’s like to receive a college education during a pandemic without living through it. But ACUI 2022 attendees have a chance to come close via first-hand accounts from the students themselves.

Join us for our Keynote Block: Student Panelists session from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15. Students from across the association will discuss obstacles, victories, and suggestions for the future during a panel moderated by Dana London, lead student assistant and facility manager of the James V. Carmichael Student Center at Kennesaw State University. London will also be installed as the new student member of ACUI’s Board of Trustees during the 2022 Annual Conference next month in Chicago.

2022 Annual Conference Student Panelists

Take some time now to meet ACUI’s student guests who will weigh in on their pandemic experiences:

Róisín Burke, Mary Immaculate College, Ireland (She/Her/Hers)
Major: Contemporary and Applied Theatre Studies

A natural performer and recent graduate of the contemporary and applied theatre studies program at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland, Róisín Burke told us she “could talk forever.”

In March, the Mary Immaculate College Students Union president will join ACUI for the second time after speaking at a regional event in 2021. As a theatre student, Burke said the lack of human connection brought on by the pandemic hit especially hard.

“We knew that if we couldn’t be in person or have physical touch, theatre would be in trouble,” Burke said. “I finished my placement with a children's theatre company in my third year in college. Luckily enough, the show had finished its run.”

One of the perks of being in a small drama group, Burke said, was the fact that hers was the only production allowed on campus during COVID. “This made my final year in college feel as normal as possible,” she said.

Burke will share her experiences returning to campus as a student representative in an atmosphere with little to no on-campus activity.

Gabi Gies, University of Arkansas (She/Her/Hers)
Major: Political Science and Psychology

Gabi Gies, a political science and psychology student at the University of Arkansas, has been involved with student government since her freshman year — first in an introductory program and then as an elected senator for the past two years

Gies has used her strengths in critical thinking, dedication, and organization skills to take on a full menu of extracurricular activities and student roles, including her current position as chair of the Senate Academics Committee.

“I have also served for the past two years on the board for the Volunteer Action Center, a student-run volunteer group on campus,” Gies said. “Additionally, I am a member of the Arkansas Union Advisory Committee, currently serving as vice-chair and formerly as secretary and a student government representative. I work part-time as an administrative assistant at the Arkansas Union and also serve as an Honors College Ambassador.”

Gies recently began her term as student representative for the ACUI Regional Leadership Team in Region II. This is her first time attending and presenting at an ACUI event, and despite some pre-stage jitters, she’s excited to share her pandemic experience with attendees.

“When the pandemic first hit, I was in my freshman year of college. I expected to be back on campus like normal in the fall, and even remember thinking in April, ‘I can’t wait to walk to a lecture hall and sit by other people in fall.’”

Of course, that didn’t end up happening. Gies will detail her experience switching majors during the pandemic, challenges making new friends while remaining safe, and hopes for at least one “normal” year of college.

Tiffany Howard, University of South Alabama (She/Her/Hers)

Tiffany Howard’s approach to college is to do more than is expected — and then some. She’s heavily involved in leadership activities at the University of South Alabama, including Jaguar Productions, the school’s official student activities board.

Howard serves as treasurer of Jaguar Productions, senator for the College of Arts and Science in the Student Government Association, senior senator for Black Student Union, a member of the Black Student Union Gospel Choir, and a member of the University of South Alabama’s Women of Excellence.

Her strengths include adaptability, teamwork, enthusiasm, budget management, and leadership, and she’s more than excited to put them to good use on campus this year.

“My post-pandemic return to campus has been great because we were able to transition from virtual events to in-person events,” Howard said. “At first, I was concerned about the attendance, but the students were eager to come out after being inside for so long.”

Howard attended a virtual ACUI Region III conference back in 2020. This will be her first in-person ACUI experience and her first time presenting at a conference.

“I plan on coming in with an open mind with the readiness to discuss my campus experience during and post-pandemic,” Howard said.

Luiza Nelson, University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh (She/Her/Hers) 
Major: Secondary Education with a minor in history and an ESL certificate

Luiza Nelson’s experience as an older college student would have been unique enough without the whirlwind that was starting classes in Fall 2020 — smack dab in the middle of a pandemic.

“I did not have a college experience pre-COVID,” Nelson said. “I am a non-traditional student and am older than most full-time students. I was not able to attend college classes right out of high school, and I have waited until my youngest child started school to pursue my education.”

Being a student with children, Nelson was thankful for the opportunity to attend online classes due to the pandemic.

“It allowed me to take care of my family while at the same time pursuing my education,” she said. Post-COVID, my school has considerably lowered the number of online classes available, and it has taken a lot of time away from my family due to commuting. I have had to adjust my and my family’s schedule since I must be on campus five days a week with the added expense of gas and food on top of tuition and books.”

Nelson, who is studying to become a teacher, will be right at home on stage at ACUI 2022.

“Public speaking comes naturally to me, leading people and not being afraid to share my opinions and thoughts in a group setting,” she said. “Compassion for others and the ability to connect with people and finding a common connection also comes naturally to me. I am studying to become a teacher because I am passionate about helping children and making connections with them to help them achieve their goals and potentials.”

Despite the pandemic, Nelson dove headfirst into student activities. She serves as sustainability director on the executive board of the Oshkosh Student Association, as a chair for the Differential Tuition Committee, and is a member of the Climate Action Committee and Strategic Planning Committee.

This will be her first presentation to an ACUI audience. “I am very honored to be a part of it,” she said.

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