By Christina Nemec  |  Special to Moonshine Ink

On March 8, Sierra College became the first community college in California to announce all three campuses were moving to remote instructional delivery. The move was bold, proactive, and inevitable. Soon, educational institutions throughout California followed suit to limit exposure to the looming pandemic.

EDUCATIONAL AWARENESS: The entirety of Sierra College’s course offerings are going fully online for the coming summer and fall semesters. Photography classes will be offered online during both the summer and fall semesters, while Charlotte Semme’s drawing and Jerry Blackwill’s economics classes will be held in the fall. EMT will be offered as an online hybrid class for fall, with a mandatory orientation on Aug. 7 at Grass Valley Fire Station #2 or on the Sierra College Rocklin campus. Courtesy photos

My English 1A and 1B students at the Tahoe-Truckee campus began asking me about going remote. “What are we going to do?”

I said I wasn’t sure. But one thing was certain: Based on the exceptional on-ground instruction I’d witnessed at our local campus, I assured them, “People, we’ve got this.”

The Tahoe-Truckee campus of Sierra College — along with the rest of our Sierra College community — had about a week to fully transition. Some professors like Jacqueline Anderson (Math 12 and 13) and Kurt Heisinger (Intro to Business, Financial Accounting 1 and 2), who are seasoned online instructors, set up ConferZoom and Canvas tutorials. Distance learning in Rocklin responded with an outpouring of online training and support.

But mid-semester is a tough time to switch, even for the online pros.

One-by-one, school doors closed. Smartphones and computer screens lit up. We were fully online by March 18, the day before the governor’s stay-at-home order.

For nine weeks, we held it together. Our screens burned with circulating announcements of updates, clarifications, affirmations, advice for asynchronous learning, and news of embedded librarians. We offered counseling and support for students needing internet or other forms of assistance.

Derek Larson (Bio 14) texted to connect with students. Chris Old (Psych 107) kept discussion board conversations going and scheduled at least one live Zoom meeting or phone call to check in.

Kurt Heisinger and I — along with other instructors — hosted optional synchronous ConferZoom meetings. Suddenly, students and teachers were managing the real-time chaos of daily life together. There we were on sofas ConferZooming beside stacks of wrinkled laundry or sitting at kitchen tables piled high with breakfast dishes — just out of sight. Some taught before a fantasy green screen of swaying palm trees occasionally interrupted by unmuted ambient noise: A blender. A random dog barking. Someone’s baby fussing.

The semester has now drawn to a close. My composition students concluded with final inspirational posts. They’ve shared TED Talks about creativity and diversity, Peanuts cartoons about life and death, excerpts from John Muir and Marcus Aurelius.

Daniella Paniagua-Ruiz and Emily Medina, both seniors at Truckee High earning college credits at Sierra College, shared a Winnie the Pooh quote inspired by their innocent days at Alder Creek Middle School: “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Zach Poncelet, also a Truckee High senior, offered an instrumental tune by Koresma called “Bridges,” which he listened to as a freshman. “It’s nostalgic now that I’m a senior,” he admitted.

Bridges and nostalgia — those ideas rang true for me, too. Coming out of this semester is like coming out of a dream; we’re blinking in the raw light of something very new.  And I imagine one day we’ll look back on this time, too, with the satisfaction of having done good, meaningful work.

Throughout the spring semester of 2020, the staff of Sierra College offered our students the best education possible during the most challenging of circumstances. Together we constructed virtual connections to make learning take place. But we did so much more. We inadvertently stepped into each other’s lives.

We built bridges.

Now, we’re moving into the 2020 summer and fall semesters. Our online classes are fully staffed with local instructors who are ready to offer our community a way to learn and connect online. According to Kimberly Bateman, our dean, “Many courses are synchronous which means there are optional Zoom meetings where you can connect with local professors.”

Of course, we can’t predict the future. But based on what I’ve seen happening here at our Tahoe/Truckee campus, I can speak with complete certainty. We’re here for our students. People, we’ve got this.

For information visit sierracollege.edu or call (530) 550-2225 to make a Zoom or phone appointment.

~ After more than a decade teaching English courses on the Tahoe-Truckee campus, Christina Nemec has joined Sierra College as a full-time faculty member. This fall she will be teaching Introduction to Creative Writing (ENG 19), College Reading, Writing and Research (ENG 1A), and English 1A + S. She is a freelance writer and founder of Simply Worded. Previously, she was a professor at the University of California, Irvine.


Main Photo Caption: GOING THE DISTANCE: Within 10 days of receiving word that schools would close on account of the coronavirus, Sierra College had online distance learning up and running using meeting apps like Zoom. Courtesy photo