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Associate Professor Karen Zurlo Shares How She's Coping During COVID-19
April 23, 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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We recently spoke with Associate Professor Karen Zurlo about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her life both personally and professionally. 

How has your work been impacted by COVID-19?
COVID-19 has upended every aspect of academic life. My classes are fully online and my research project is on hold. All meetings are virtual, and I work from home. Yet, the pandemic has impacted my students the most. They have numerous assignments to complete as well as additional familial responsibilities.  One student emailed me and said she has four elementary school-age children who are now learning online. It is a challenge for her to coordinate their classes as well as complete her own work. Another student was challenged to complete her assignments because she is a single mom and a frontline social worker at a New Jersey hospital. She has been asked to work double shifts, which leaves little time for her children and coursework. Moreover, she fears contracting the coronavirus and infecting her children.

How have you handled moving your classes online?
Moving classes online was not difficult. I had modules prepared for virtual access. Students adapted, and so did I. My meetings are conducted via Zoom or WebEx, which has become easier to navigate.

Have you noticed any positive things that have come out of the pandemic?
Positive things about the pandemic are minimal. For those of us privileged to feel safe and healthy, the pandemic is a time to pause and reflect on life, our work and our families. This is a luxury, given the negative outcomes of the pandemic, which far outweigh anything positive. 

What are you doing to cope?
As I self-isolate, I have more time to read, think, write, and communicate with students, family members, and friends. I have a structured day, which includes my work, exercise, and three square meals. In the evenings, I catch up on Netflix and Amazon movies.

How has social work prepared you to handle this crisis?
These unprecedented times are challenging, and we, as social workers, are prepared to address the many personal and professional issues we now face. Social work has prepared me very well to handle this crisis.  I have been highly empathetic, compassionate and understanding of my students’ circumstances. I’ve listened carefully to their concerns and fears as we have adapted to the imperative to self-isolate. It is a highly stressful time for students. Many students are currently unemployed and experiencing bouts of depression. I have guided them and supported them to the best of my abilities, and have referred them to professional counseling services, as needed. 

What advice would you offer to our students who are dealing with a variety of challenges?
The advice I would offer our current students is to ask for what you need. Students are faced with burdens and many new challenges that relate to their financial well-being, health, childcare, education, and successful completion of the semester. They often are afraid, anxious, and have limited resources. Academic support and community services are available. My faculty colleagues and I are more than willing to accommodate students and their current concerns and needs.  

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