Andrea Maravilla and Clara North were sitting with counselor Lacey Chavez in front of boss Tomasia Drummond that day for what could have been any staff meeting at Merced College’s Student Success Tutorial Center (SSTC).

It wasn’t.

That morning, Drummond told everyone that they would set regular duties aside, become experts in two online portals used in education, and then train as many students and faculty as possible to use them before the campus closed to bodies on March 16.

They had 24 hours to set that up.

North, an SSTC Program Assistant, said Maravilla jumped in first. Maravilla, a Student Services Assistant, adapted an existing how-to PowerPoint on the Canvas system into “an amazing presentation” within 10 minutes. The staff then added videos and links before training began.

“We were having to do all of that in such a short time, but the students were looking to us for guidance,” Maravilla said. “We weren’t sure how it was all going to work those first two weeks. We had a plan, then we had to change it, and then change it again. We were on overdrive, rolling with the punches.”

Merced College announced on March 12 that it would close its campuses to people and switch to distance learning to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Everyone was scrambling to turn two thriving campuses into a virtual one.

Maravilla and North were simply the point of the spear of Merced College’s response. Normally they’re checking students in, tracking data for the center and working with tutors. They’ve since had to toss their job titles aside.

Prior to the pandemic, the SSTC staff had working knowledge of Canvas but weren’t training students to use it. Canvas is an online course management system. Some instructors had used the virtual meeting app Zoom before, but not to the extent faculty are using it now.

Also, the SSTC tutors work face-to-face. That had to stop so North has been helping students use SmartThinking, an online tutoring service. The option worked great for students who couldn’t get to campus very often. Now it had to work for everyone.

Every student had access to 10 hours or online tutoring each semester, but the limit was lifted due to the pandemic. “We were showing them how to access it, which courses are offered, how to schedule an appointment,” North said. “It was a lot.”

Without face-to-face interaction, students are leaning more heavily on instructors for help with classes, but they can now reach out in a handful of ways—via discussion boards on Canvas, via email, and through a new chat function on the school website.

“I always thought the chat feature was so cool,” Drummond said. “The library has had it, but now that we’re working remotely, everyone does. Once anyone logs in, one of us jumps in to help.”

Lacey Chavez, an embedded counselor at the SSTC, has spearheaded getting all of those options to work, making a virtual office on Canvas and monitoring all of the discussion boards.

“She’s gone above and beyond,” Drummond said. “We could not have done what we are doing now without her expertise on Canvas.”

The SSTC support staff copes with the unrelenting demands as best they can.

“That first week there was so much stress and uncertainty,” Maravilla said. “Now we have more traction.”

Added North, “It’s getting easier as the days go on.”

Both women have also adapted to working from home.

North had some dicey moments early without having every program she needed at her fingertips like normal. With assistance from the Information Technology Services staff, she is feeling more comfortable.

“The teamwork has been amazing,” she said.

Maravilla has also been juggling her family’s needs. Her daycare shut down at the same time as Merced College. Her oldest son is a bundle of energy who finished the homework his school sent home within days of receiving it.

“My kids are used to being outdoors playing basketball and running around,” she said. “We’re having to make up new ways to entertain them while I work.”

Maravilla said she’s learned to manage her time better as a result. Since getting the training under control, Drummond and her crew have called at least 2,000 students to check on their progress. It’s phase two. The new normal is a ton of work.

“I already knew my staff is amazing but they’ve really stepped up in this transition,” Drummond said. “They have made it all about the students.”