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Elizabeth’s Story: Reflecting on Challenges of COVID During Grad School


Portrait of Elizabeth

Elizabeth Hayes, a graduate student in the College of Education's Educational Leadership and Policy and Curriculum and Instruction programs felt fortunate to be pursuing her graduate degree at Portland State University. However, the 2020 academic year brought with it innumerable challenges.

As a Graduate Student Ambassador, Elizabeth helps answer inquiries related to admissions and academic services, as well as promoting graduate student admissions by marketing to our local and global community. Elizabeth and other Student Ambassadors are the first point of contact for anyone who gets in touch with our office. If you have a question about your graduate application or about how exactly the admissions process works, she can either answer the question for you or direct you to someone who can.

She told me how her experience of graduate school and the COVID-19 pandemic has been a non-stop rollercoaster. The series of schedule changes and other ups and downs she experienced since March are similar to my own, and likely many more students across the globe. Graduate school is already an immense challenge, and the pandemic added yet another layer of difficulty.

One of her first challenges occurred when Portland Public Schools closed in March. Elizabeth lost her primary job as a substitute teacher. All of a sudden, she was balancing graduate classes, working from home through her secondary job with the Graduate School, and homeschooling her kids full-time. Spring finals were treacherous!

“For the first few weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak, I think most of us had a hopeful attitude that things would quickly go back to normal after a short break. After more and more shutdowns, the crash of the stock market, and steadily increasing COVID-19 cases, the reality set in: we are in for the long haul. Things will not be the same when this is over,” Elizabeth said.

Elizabeth is originally from New York, so she was concerned for her family and friends who lived close to one of the largest outbreaks. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases in Florida and California, both states where she has family, were exponentially rising and adding more stress to her already hectic life.

In June, Elizabeth and her husband began searching for a more suitable dwelling for their family to make it through the duration of the pandemic. In July, they found a home that would be ideal for them and their three small children. It was a great homecoming and brought a moment of peace during a very uncertain time. 

The same month that they prepared for their move, the murder of George Floyd triggered a great mourning and uprising. Civil unrest and protests followed all over the world for Black Lives Matter. Elizabeth says “As a woman of color with a multi-cultural family, standing united with the BLM movement was paramount.”

As the ongoing protests in Portland demanded police defunding, reform, and the equal treatment of Black people, they continued to clash with local and federal police officers. The protests in Portland made national news. Finally, after several days of federal law enforcement presence in Portland, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced that the Oregon State Police would take over and federal officers would leave Portland. 

Elizabeth felt concern for the protestors. With no end in sight, the emotional weight from the summer unrest in Portland placed stress on her and her family.

She shared some hopeful and encouraging words: “My hope for the coming months is to take things day by day, moment by moment. I get through by taking many breaks throughout my day but never quitting. My plan is to try to adapt to this new normal, rather than fight against it. I plan to find strength and support in friends and family. Virtual hangouts in various platforms such as games, social media, webcam hangouts, and phone calls are a must.”

Elizabeth has helped transform the normal, physical space of graduate school admissions to a virtual platform and they continue to support prospective graduate students - a reflection of this team’s hard work and dedication. She and other Student Ambassadors are an excellent resource for admitted students, who might have questions about funding, campus resources, or logistical questions that come along with starting graduate school. Ambassadors also lead information sessions which are a great starting place to learn how you can begin your graduate application. 

Check out our Graduate Programs or sign up for a Graduate Admissions virtual information session and learn how a degree from PSU can prepare you for a hopeful future in a changing economy.