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An Interview with Part-Time Lecturer Geri Summers
April 17, 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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Geri Summers is a Part-Time Lecturer at Rutgers School of Social Work and the Senior Program Coordinator for the HIV Prevention Community Planning Support and Development Initiative at the Rutgers Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. She shares how the current global pandemic is affecting her both personally and professionally. 

How has your work been impacted by COVID-19?
My “day job” is at Rutgers. My colleagues and I were told to work from home starting on March 16th. I provide technical assistance HIV programs in hospitals, community health centers, and community-based organizations. Some of our programs are working from home while others in the hospitals and clinics are fully operational. I am not allowed to go to sites, so my time on WebEx has increased exponentially. I am also able to spend time on projects that have been on the back burner for quite some time.

How have you handled moving your classes online?
My classes were already online. That being said, there were still considerations that needed to be made for the students because their lives were turned upside down. Many students are working in the human services field, so they needed to continue going to work while also caring for children or other family (some are taking care of elderly parents or family members with disabilities). Also, I have some students who are single parents and had to move in with other family (or have other family move in with them) to care for their children while they work. On top of all this, parents also had to set aside time for home schooling. Given all of this, our lead teacher gave us the option to cancel some of the assignments over the first few weeks. This seemed to help.

Have you noticed any positive things that have come out of the pandemic?
For the courses I am teaching, there is more participation in the discussions. I think this comes from a place where folks are wanting to connect more. The students are also reaching out via email more often. I see this as a positive. Personally, being locked away with my family has been good. We spend lunch together every day and we are being creative with our activities on the weekends. It has been a way to slow down the usual fast-paced “rat race” and really reconnect.

Are you doing anything specific – from meditating to reading a book or watching a TV show – to help you cope?
Yes, all of the above. One of our favorite shows is “Zoe's Extraordinary Play List.” On the more serious side, we watched “Unorthodox.” That show is a good one for social workers, for sure. I do guided imagery and we also have a gratitude journal. I sit outside in the sun (when it is out) for at least 15 minutes a day. Even on cold days, I drag my blanket outside. What keeps me the sanest is my dog. She is by my side all the time and sometimes I worry that in my stress I may pet all her fur off. But, she is so good. She puts up with it. Finally, one of the best things I do to cope is to check on my family and friends. If I know they are okay or if I can help them in any way, this is what is most calming for me.

How has social work prepared you to handle this crisis?
Being a social worker, we see people in crisis every day. Our job is to provide them hope and direction in some of their darkest moments. Part of how we do this is looking past the crisis to the future. We ask our clients to imagine what it would take to get beyond the crisis and to that place on the other side where they are safe and content. We help them draw on the strengths they already have and help them develop others. Remembering this, I can reach inside of myself to find the strength to get through this as I focus on the future when we all have made it to the other side where we feel safe again.

What advice would you give to our students who are dealing with a variety of challenges?
Keep going. Don't let this crisis stand in the way of your education. We are all in this together and we can get through it together. But, you have to keep going. Be honest with your professors about your circumstances and what you might need. We can work together to develop a realistic goal if we know what is going on. Be kind to yourself. Some days are just going to suck. On those days, pause and find a way to acknowledge all of the hard work you are doing and give yourself a pat on the back.

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