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A First Look at Resilience in Both an HSI and a PWI During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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2021 CoNECD


Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day

Publication Date

January 24, 2021

Start Date

January 24, 2021

End Date

January 28, 2021

Conference Session

CoNECD Session : Day 3 Slot 3 Technical Session 3

Tagged Topics

Diversity and CoNECD Paper Submissions

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Paper Authors


Lizabeth L. Thompson California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Lizabeth is a professor at Cal Poly, SLO in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. She was a Visiting Professor at Cal State LA during 2019-2020 academic year. Her research involves pedagogies and structures that support an equity based engineering education system.

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Tonatiuh Rodriguez-Nikl P.E. California State University, Los Angeles Orcid 16x16

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Prof. Rodriguez-Nikl is an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Cal State L.A. His technical interests include earthquake engineering and community resilience.

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We all have been profoundly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those of us who work in higher education have been changed by the necessity to work remotely and by the loss of connection with students. We also recognize that we are privileged to have the resources to wonder about the impact of the pandemic, while some among us struggle with financial devastation, mental health crises, and the medical impact of the novel corona-virus. In this paper we provide a first look at resilience among our students, staff, and faculty, and compare the community responses of two different institutions.

Researchers in the College of Engineering, Computer Science at Cal State LA and the College of Engineering at Cal Poly, SLO are in the middle of a broad research study investigating the impact to the members of our college community caused by the COVID-19 pandemic disruption within the framework of resilience. This study has several dimensions that can inform a deeper understanding of resilience and interventions in higher education with an equity lens. The broader study will inquire into resilience over time (via a longitudinal survey), investigate the nature of resilience during the initial shock and ongoing recovery (via interviews), and make comparisons between populations with different ethnic and socioeconomic demographics. The project is based on theories of resilience from both educational and community perspectives and includes consideration of engineering education practices.

The two universities participating in this study are institutions in the California State University System, with similar undergraduate enrollment in Fall 2018 Cal State LA at 24,002, and Cal Poly, SLO at 21,037. They both are funded with approximately 50% state allocation and 50% tuition, and each has a college of engineering. This is where the similarities end. Cal State LA Engineering College has 3092 undergraduates in eight majors while Cal Poly, SLO’s CENG is about twice that size with 5921 undergraduates in thirteen majors. The university demographics are also dissimilar with the 2018 data showing that Cal State LA is primarily a commuter school, where 63% of the students are Hispanic, 57% first generation, 5% are white, the first time freshman acceptance rate was 46%, and the Fall 18 admitted class included 36% transfer students. At Cal Poly, SLO the population is 16% Hispanic, 10% first generation, 51% white, the first-time freshman acceptance rate is 22%, and the entering class included 15% transfer students. Although the universities are in the same system, the tuition and fees at Cal State LA are $6750/yr while at Cal Poly, SLO tuition and fees is $9950/yr. The higher fees provide Cal Poly, SLO with more resources that can be used in many ways to support students. An indication of the resource imbalance can be seen in the tenure/tenure-track faculty to student ratio in the engineering colleges: Cal State LA is 59:1 and Cal Poly, SLO is 45:1. These differences allow us to compare the responses of employees and students at the two universities with a diversity and equity lens.

Although many agree that resilience is good and important to understand, there is a striking lack of agreement on even the definition of this concept, let alone a framework for exploration (Edwards, et al 2016, Consoli, et al 2015, Fernando & Hebert, 2011, Allan et al, 2014, Lee et al, 2013, Carnell et al, 2018). Given this lack of consensus, we want to be explicit about our definition and the framework, which we describe below. This framework is informed by past work in resilience and recovery after natural disasters (Rodriguez-Nikl et al, 2015, Martinez et al. 2018, Rodriguez-Nikl, 2015, Rodriguez-Nikl & Mazari, 2019, Bocchini & Frangopol, 2011, Bochini, et al, 2013, Bruneau, et al 2003, Cimellaro, et al 2010, Zhou et al, 2010), our orientation around an asset-based framework as defined by Yosso’s Community Cultural Wealth (Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J. 1977, Smith, J. M., & Lucena, J. C. 2016, Valenzuela, A. 1999, Yosso, T. J., 2005, Schlemer, 2020, Galvan et al, 2020), our experience in engineering education research (Schlemer & Vanasupa, 2016, Schlemer, 2020, Schlemer et al, 2018, Sharif et al, 2016, Estrada & Schlemer, 2015, Rodriguez-Nikl et al, 2012, 2015) and finally in our ongoing design of support for students (Menezes et al, 2017, 2019, Chen et al, 2018, Schlemer et al, 2018)

Resilience is always referenced in relationship to a negative situation, which can be either chronic and ongoing or acute and solitary. Some refer to these situations as stressors and shocks (Choularton, et al 2015). In the research on resilience in natural disaster recovery, there are two distinct temporal incidences. The first is the onset of the unusual external shock, and the second is the recovery period. The ability to withstand the initial shock is referred to as “robustness” while the ability to recover is “rapidity” (Bocchini et al, 2013). The disaster resilience literature has identified a wide range of factors that determine whether a community will be resilient. These include (with examples relative to this work), infrastructure (computing and internet), financial (wealth and employment), human and cultural (academic family expectation, food security), social (support networks), political (college governance), and the mental outlook of individuals (Patel, et al, 2017, NASEM, 2019).

Resilience has been studied at scales ranging from individuals to broader communities, which highlights both internal and external supporting factors. Internal factors reside inside an individual agent and may be characterized by such psychological traits and skills as optimism, creativity, spirituality, humor, self-efficacy, self-esteem, empathy, cognitive hardiness, internal locus of control, autonomy, and tenacity (Allan et al 2014, Carnell et al 2018, Davis 2010, Edwards et al 2016, Fernando & Herbert 2011, Morgan Consoli et all 2015). External or structural factors include those outside the individual such as social and familial support, material resources, cultural values (Morgan Consoli, et al, 2015, Edwards et al, 2016, Fernando & Herbert, 2011, Allan et al, 2014, NASEM 2019, Patel, 2017). As an example of the difficulties with understanding of resilience, ongoing stressors can either contribute to resilience by strengthening positive coping mechanisms or can detract from resilience by draining the ability to cope.

In this study we use the definition of resilience provided by the National Academies: “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events” (National Research Council, 2012). In this study we measure the absorption and recovery aspects with a goal of informing future adaptation and planning. The COVID-19 pandemic can be said to include both acute and ongoing events. We are interested in the acute disruption caused by the rapid shift to remote work and learning due to the pandemic and the ongoing stressors related to coping with ongoing remote education or returning to campus. Our considered determinants of resilience include both the internal resources of the individual and the external resources available in the individual’s environment, which may include family, community, and the institutional environment. It is also our belief that resilience is not a fixed trait, but that it can be enhanced or decreased by interventions in both the internal and external resource set. We will include a figure that illustrated the framework for the current study. The concepts include a list of both internal and external resilience factors and outcomes which we inquire into either in the longitudinal survey or the planned interviews and focus groups.

This paper shares the results from the first round of the longitudinal survey of students where we asked questions related to both before and after the immediate shift to remote learning. Many of the results replicate what is already known about the stress our students are facing, but there are also some new insights when comparing the two universities. The results are from 550 students (344 at Cal Poly, SLO and 206 at Cal State LA ). The demographics of the respondents match the university demographics, with 59% of Cal Poly, SLO respondents indicating they are white, while 4% of Cal State LA respondents indicate they are white. Statistically significant results are seen in an increase of stress at both universities, but Cal State LA engineering students indicate their stress increased more. In addition, financial concerns are higher at Cal State LA than at Cal Poly, SLO. There were also differences in instructional techniques. When looking at instructors’ use of the Leaning Management System (LMS), Cal Poly, SLO students indicate that 94% of faculty use it, while Cal State LA indicate 78% of the instructors use the LMS. An interesting contrast is also the use of synchronous and asynchronous instructional techniques. At Cal Poly, SLO 67% of instructors sometimes used synchronous, and 44% used asynchronous. At Cal State LA 84% of instructors sometimes used synchronous and 29% used asynchronous.

Finally, we have analyzed the responses to the open-ended comments and found some interesting and heartbreaking comments. The paper will present the full results with discussion and conjecture on the meaning and potential responses to the data.

The paper and presentation are a chance for many to have conversations about the ongoing disruption and response through the lens of resilience. Our goal is to begin to understand the assets and systemic hardships our students face during this pandemic in order to develop interventions and support systems in the universities that will increase student success and well-being.

Thompson, L. L., & Rodriguez-Nikl, T. (2021, January), A First Look at Resilience in Both an HSI and a PWI During the COVID-19 Pandemic Paper presented at 2021 CoNECD, Virtual - 1pm to 5pm Eastern Time Each Day . 10.18260/1-2--36061

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