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Alumna Explains How COVID-19 Has Impacted Her Life and Career
April 21, 2020

We're checking in with our students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends on the front lines of social work during this historic time. We hope their stories will provide many lessons for future generations of social workers. If you would like to share your story, please contact our communications team at lzazenski@ssw.rutgers.edu.

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Issata Oluwadare earned her MSW degree at Rutgers School of Social Work and is now working as Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the Honors College of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. She shares how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her life both personally and professionally. 

How has the pandemic affected your work?
The pandemic has caused us to move all student support online and work as a team remotely. Fortunately, I work with a highly-motivated and gifted team. Collectively, the Honors College faculty and staff have created everything from online office hours to remote service opportunities, virtual professional development opportunities, online academic advising modules and learning experiences, student recruitment webinars, and virtual “home away” experiences using social media. 

Our communications team has been essential in gathering, organizing, and sharing information. We have worked collaboratively and creatively to pivot in this season, and I couldn’t be prouder of the Honors College response. I see my role as being a conduit in creating an environment that allows for students and staff to find normalcy and some sort of routine in the midst of everything. My role in leadership is also to remember our team has a need for psychological safety as they work to meet student needs – each of them facing their own unique challenges. This pandemic has affected all of us.

Have you noticed any positive things that have come out of the pandemic?
The pandemic has caused us to go back to the core of what is essential to the human experience – to remember how delicate and uncertain life can sometimes be. It has caused me to shift as a leader in finding ways to think outside of the box to solve student issues and build community. It is also pushing institutions of higher education to think deeper about how we do student affairs and deliver student services – and what ways we can better utilize technology to meet student needs. I wholeheartedly believe the pandemic will thrust higher education into new levels of creativity and innovation. Necessity is the mother of invention.

How has social work prepared you to handle this crisis?
The social worker in me remains at the forefront of my mind as a dean, regardless of the pandemic. However, I notice I tend to focus less on higher order needs of self-actualization and more on creating and sharing resources for my students and community members. In my private life, I serve as church clergy and live in Newark, NJ. When I leave Rutgers and go home, I am constantly reminded of my privilege and my responsibility to be a problem solver for those who lack access to resources. My utmost priority is making information and resources accessible not only to my students, but to community members as well.

What advice would you give to our current students who are dealing with a variety of challenges?
Ask for help. As a first-generation college student and immigrant, I struggled the most when I refused to see help-seeking behavior as a sign of strength. So often, we keep our struggles to ourselves for fear of stigma and ridicule. I have learned that help comes from the most uncertain places when we speak up and communicate our needs. I would want students to remember what is most important in this season is their health, shelter, family, and livelihood – my role as a dean is to ensure those are in place for all students (to the best of my ability), so students can continue to learn and grow, despite the odds. Knowing what to prioritize is key during this time.

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