Keeping A Promise

By Cain Madden

They should be enjoying spring break. They should be thinking about final projects and exams. They should be thinking about commencement and the students they have watched grow over four years.
But they’re not.

Instead, professors at Nicholls State University are trying to transition their classes online. That’s because campus has become virtual in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whatever teachers have been able to do, it’s been a difficult scramble,” says Dr. Richmond Eustis, associate professor of English and Spanish. “I’m in awe of what some of my colleagues have been able to pull off. It’s super impressive and above and beyond what anyone would expect.”

Eustis describes his new reality as, “triage mode.”

“I’m trying to boil down my classes to the bare essence of what I can convey to my students. I’ve likened it to trying to play guitar wearing oven mitts,” Eustis says. “I can see my students are rattled and, frankly, I am, too.”



Many professors are continuing to hold classes at their regular time through group video sessions on Zoom or G-chat. Some have moved the time of the class to work with their students. Others are recording lectures and uploading them to Moodle, YouTube or Vimeo. If they need to have a 1-on-1 conversation with a student, they’re using Skype or FaceTime. Discussions are using message boards and group messages.

Routine has been important for Dr. Alyson Theriot, associate professor and department head of teacher education. Her only face-to-face course met three times a week at 7:30 a.m. for two hours. Even though her students are no longer on campus, they still meet at the same time. She uses the breakout room feature on Zoom to replace the partner work her students do in class.

“The biggest difference is that instead of delivering my lectures from the classroom, I’m doing them from my kitchen,” she says. “Other than me being able to physically reach out and touch someone, I’m doing the same thing that I would have done before COVID-19.”

But that online environment can’t replace the classroom experience. Things get lost in translation, even if the resources available allow the professors to get the essential lessons across.

“It’s the interaction,” says Dr. Solomon David, assistant professor of biology. “It’s the acknowledgment you get when they are learning or the groan they make when I tell a dad joke. That’s the stuff I feed off of as a teacher.”

Dr. David has had to figure out how he can replace the field experience component of his classes. In a normal semester he would take his students out on boats in the bayou to study local fisheries. He is trying to replicate that experience by sharing images and videos – some of which he captured – along with other publications and media.

“I’m trying to boil down my classes to the bare essence of what I can convey to my students. I’ve likened it to trying to play guitar wearing oven mitts,” Eustis says. “I can see my students are rattled and, frankly, I am, too.”

There is no substitute for getting students out in the field. But with the technology at our fingertips today it allows us to at least be effective,” he says.

Eustis says it’s in his literature classes where the students are missing the most. Those classes aren’t about what students can memorize but what they can analyze and contextualize from the text. The real learning, he says, happens in the class discussions and feedback. He estimates he’s losing about one-third of what he wants to get across.

“In a classroom setting, there’s a feedback loop between the students and the instructor. You can get a sense for when they’re with you, and when you are losing them and need to go in a new direction,” he says. “It’s a shared performance art piece with little moments that can’t be repeated. Right now, we’re not getting that. It’s not the same educational experience, and I miss that a lot.”

He commends his students for taking it as well as they have.

“They’re doing their best,” Eustis says. “They’re rattled, but they’re continuing to work very hard. I think they’re doing the best they can under the surprise circumstances.”



Moving labs and clinicals online has proven to be even more difficult. They took longer to transition online and some professors have had scrap crucial components.

Nursing undergraduates have had to transition their in-person classes and labs to a virtual environment. Professors in the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute have abandoned their professional kitchens.

Chef Amelie Zeringue has transitioned two kitchen labs to an online version. Her students no longer have access to professional kitchens and she can no longer observe them live while they prepare that week’s lesson. Many students don’t have access to the pots, pans, utensils and ingredients they would at the institute.

“At first I was stressed out. I’m a perfectionist and I was trying to think how we could make this work,” Chef Zeringue says. “[Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs] Dr. Sue Westbrook told us to just do the best we can. That brought me back to reality. As a faculty, we started collaborating, just trying to get creative.”

Now, Chef Zeringue films herself every time she cooks at home and shares it with her students. She encourages her students to do the same. She maintains an ongoing group message for her classes where they can have an ongoing discussion.

“The main thing is being realistic,” she says. “Instead of forcing a recipe, we’re focusing on techniques. This week, for example, we’re pureeing soups. I told them they can change out the vegetables as needed. If you can’t find butternut squash, that’s okay, use whatever you have.”

“We have no choice. We have to ensure a quality education.” –Melissa Clay


It’s clear that students are anxious, confused and scared. Seniors are even more emotional as they realize they didn’t savor their last days on campus.

“We’re just trying to reassure our students and let them know they’re still going to get to experience things, like commencement,” says Melissa Clay, instructor of nursing and MSN program coordinator.

She adds, “We have no choice. We have to ensure a quality education.”

Clay only teaches online classes. But that is because her students are working full-time while seeking their masters. It is her students who are feeling the direct impact of this virus. Many of them – especially those working in New Orleans – are working 60 hour weeks in hospitals across South Louisiana dealing with an abundance of upper respiratory-type illnesses. To help her students, Clay stays in regular contact with each of them and adjusts the deadlines of their homework to help them balance work and school.

“Our students are balancing working overtime to keep up with the COVID-19 patients in their hospitals, along with their school work, and that is a challenge,” Clay says.

Even when the pandemic passes, its fingerprints will be all over Nicholls for the foreseeable future, no more so than in the College of Nursing.

“Right now we’ve been able to use it as a learning tool for how nurses have to adjust to the current situation,” Clays says, “We have always taught pandemic response in our classes, but I think moving forward we will have real life experiences to discuss in our classes with our students.”

Clay says the nursing faculty is using the current crisis as a learning tool in their curriculum.

“We can talk about how nurses have to adjust to the current situation,” she says. “We’ve been able to use simulations and how they would have to adjust if they were currently learning in the hospitals. We have always taught pandemic response, but in the future, we’re probably going to have to go further.”

Dr. Theriot says her students and faculty have responded with commitment and earnestness. She believes that is because the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences has embraced technology.

“I have had a couple of students reach out to me to say they’re glad we’re continuing to meet at the same time because it’s the only normalcy they have in their lives right now,” she says.

Having a routine doesn’t just help the students.

“It helps to see their faces,” Dr. Theriot says. “I can call on them. I have met all of their fur babies, their parents, their siblings and any children they are babysitting. It seems to be going really well.”

Everyone is dealing with the pandemic differently. Dr. David has tried to approach it as a scientist, with logic. But he’s human, and it’s not that easy.

“Having my students and family to consider gives me purpose and a focus day-to-day,” he says. “It’s important to have some optimism that we will be okay and we will make it through this. We really have to take care of each other moving forward and know that things will be alright.”