On Starting a New Campus Job During Covid: A Q&A with Rowan University’s Jay Patel

Starting a new job can be tough, but try starting a new job virtually during a global pandemic. That’s what happened to Jay Patel when he began his new role at the Chamberlain Student Center & Campus Activities at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. In this exchange with The Bulletin, Patel discussed his role as the new assistant director for Rowan After Hours and student recognition, virtual activities offered through the student center, and how COVID-19 impacted his onboarding experience.

How did you get involved with Chamberlain Student Center & Campus Activities, and when did you start? 

Patel: I started on April 6 after leaving my job at the University of Delaware. I went through the interview process in January, and then I was offered the position before COVID-19 really hit. 

Did you have experience working in a position like this before?

Patel: Yes. At the University of Delaware, I was a coordinator for programming at the Perkins Student Center, which included organizing late-night programming initiatives.

There must be many differences between planning physical versus virtual activities. How has this experience differed from your previous position and how have you adapted to virtual operations?

Patel: This position gives more oversight of late-night programs, so I'll get to supervise graduate staff and student staff. In terms of virtual programming, a lot was planned before I joined, but I’m starting to involve myself in more of that planning now and having more oversight on what the planning process looks like for our late night programming series in the fall. 

Starting a new job virtually must be pretty different as well. How has this affected your onboarding experience?

Patel: It has made my onboarding process unique. Everything for my onboarding had to be done virtually. All the signups for things like benefits were done through email, and new employee in-person orientation has been postponed until we are able to return to campus. Simple questions that you would be able to ask your coworker in the office next to you about benefits needed to be asked through other means like WebEx or email, providing an extra step. Despite this, the Rowan staff and human resources department have been very involved in helping me throughout the onboarding process.

What's a day in a life for you like so far?

Patel: I oversee Rowan After Hours programming. I'm still in the learning phase, not to mention learning how to do things remotely. For the fall, we've been focusing on a lot of our late-night programs that have inclusive action, including co-sponsoring the programming series with different groups and student organizations. In the future, our plan is to keep in contact with those groups and organizations so we can be ready to go in the fall.

How have students responded to and engaged with the virtual activities? 

Patel: It’s been really great. Rowan After Hours has been hosting virtual bingos, and at our first one, we had about 150 students participate. Students are looking for a number of things to do in quarantine. There's already a lot of platforms like gaming systems and Netflix, but there's only so much of that that you can do when you're a month in quarantine. We’re also doing trivia programs with a great amount of attendance, and we can see that students are really getting excited. After our last bingo program, students wanted more of it and asked if we were still doing it over the summer. It's really exciting to see students being engaged with our virtual programs, and it's something that we're really proud of. 

What plans does the Chamberlain Student Center & Campus Activities have for eventually reopening?

Patel: New Jersey is one the states that has been hit the hardest, and Rowan has put into place a lot of safety measures and has followed the state guidelines. We’re still working out our plan for the future.

What do you hope to achieve in your position? 

Patel: I'm excited to build relationships with my coworkers and our students in-person. Interacting with people through platforms such as Zoom is not ideal, but you make the best of what you can do.

What have been your biggest takeaways from starting this position during the COVID-19 shutdown? What challenges have you faced and how have you successfully overcome those challenges? 

Patel: Trying to build relationships while starting a job remotely has definitely been one of the biggest learning curves of starting this position. I’ve been proactive in reaching out and connecting with people. It’s been a challenge, but staying connected, even remotely, has been one of the best ways to overcome the challenges of going virtual.

I think it's challenging to start a new job, especially during this shutdown, but it's also a really good learning experience. I feel like after this experience I could pretty much do anything! I'm happy and blessed I have the Rowan team supporting me through this. I can’t wait when things get back and I can start interacting with everyone.

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