One year ago, almost to the day, all of our lives were drastically altered. Students were thrust into a world of isolation and virtual learning. It was never an easy time, but we adapted. 

One year later, we are in our third (for some of us, our fourth) semester at “Zoom University.” It still isn’t easy, but we have a rhythm.

That rhythm, however, has come at some costs to our mental and academic stamina. You’ve probably felt that fatigue this year. You’ve also probably heard, “Give yourself grace, this has been a difficult year,” or “Take care of yourself during this time.” These principles are important, and it is vital to evaluate how to be mentally healthy. However, let’s not confuse being healthy with abandoning initiative and accountability. 

This year, I’ve witnessed many students lose motivation in their online schooling. I have found myself coming up short in many ways too. There is minimal participation in classes, extracurriculars, and interactions with professors. It is disheartening to see so many young adults miss opportunities simply because classes aren’t in person.

Let this blog be an encouraging and challenging motivator for you. Just because we’re stuck on our computers doesn’t mean we can’t get in the game.

Small Steps, Big Action

Fortunately, there is a silver lining to the masses’ exhaustion: it is drastically easier to stand out as a student. For me, this is a threefold process.

1. Turn on your camera

The online meeting class structure isn’t ideal, but for me, standing out as a student starts with turning on the camera every class period. Yes, it’s awkward, and yes, sometimes you’ll be the only one. But it’s so worth it. Professors miss real-life classes too; half of teaching is the feedback received from students during class time. By turning on your camera, you are not only holding yourself accountable to be present in class (and not on TikTok), but you are directly helping the professor teach better.

Obviously, this isn’t possible for everyone, and there will always be days when it isn’t feasible. Though, when all external factors allow it, push yourself to engage in class.

2. Show up

If you have a free moment when a virtual event is happening, tune in! Zoom calls will never be as enthralling as getting to meet, network, and learn from others face-to-face, but extracurriculars can hugely impact your education. Maximizing tuition dollars is not just doing the reading during the day and ignoring emails at night. You will learn so much more by getting involved. Go to a meeting, ask a question in a chat, or send someone a private message. Learning is always possible.

3. Steal experts’ time

Virtual life has opened windows to making connections in ways that we never have before. This begins with professors. Their job is to help you learn; an email and a 15-minute Zoom meeting can go a long way in building a relationship that creates even more future opportunities. Sometimes even just saying hi and introducing yourself to a professor means the world to them (especially professors in the school of Communication). Remember, they’re people who miss people too.

It is now more socially acceptable than ever to meet with people you’ve never met from across the world and from all different professional settings. Are you interested in a career but don’t know who to ask? Shoot an email and ask if you can meet with an experienced practitioner. At the very least, connect with them on LinkedIn. What’s the worst that can happen?

Stay motivated.

We’ve been in a virtual environment long enough to know that we need to be creative as students and as soon-to-be professionals. We must invest in our education to avoid becoming a generation that doesn’t have a clue about our field. 

Let’s dig deep now so we can impact others later.

About the Author:

Brady is a sophomore at Grand Valley State University and a first-year member of PRSSA. He is a huge people person, passionate about anything that gets him interacting with, learning about, and entertaining others. He studies Advertising and Public Relations and Public and Nonprofit Administration with a French minor. One day, he hopes to host his own talk show. Until then, he is pursuing a career in public relations, potentially in local government communications.
Twitter: @brady_mills_