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Dickinson College Student's Research Uncovers New Student Challenges During COVID-19

Having personally felt the blows dealt by the coronavirus shutdown, Muhammad Burhan '21 was inspired to study the emotional and mental well-being of students during remote instruction.

Photo by Joe O'Neill.

Muhammad Burhan '21 studies emotional well-being of students during the pandemic

by Kandace Kohr

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic led to the shutdown of most major industries and impacted day-to-day operations across the globe, Muhammad Burhan ’21 (mathematicscomputer science and pre-med) was in the midst of Dickinson’s New York City program. Like many students, he was forced to adjust to online instruction, yet he still completed an independent research project from his home country of Pakistan by working with Associate Professor of Economics Emily Marshall to probe the impact of the pandemic on students at Dickinson.

While most others reported on COVID-19’s impact on higher education surrounding safety protocols, financial uncertainty, and more, Burhan was interested in a less-heavily covered, but still highly interesting subject: student wellness and connectivity during a time of educational disruption. He chose to focus his research on overall student wellness, creating a survey covering academics, extracurriculars, student life and overall personal impact.

Burhan worked with Dickinson’s Ethics Committee and Institutional Review Board to compile a survey that was distributed to each student in the college. He recorded a 13.6% response rate to a range of questions, like "On a scale of 0-10, how stressed are you due to recent changes in your lifestyle and daily routine?" and "Now that your extracurricular activities may be affected, what do you do in your extracurricular time?," and he allowed students to share recommendations with the college to improve their experience.

“Once I received all of the responses, I used thematic analysis to help me understand patterns within the responses," Burhan explains. "One particularly surprising result I observed was that 95% of students genuinely love Dickinson’s overall liberal-arts education and the student-faculty ratio, but students are missing that face-to-face connection during COVID-19. I also recorded a large number of students who say they want the fall 2020 semester to take place on campus and in-person.”

Students also expressed that they would like to see more mental health support from the college during this time. That, too, came as a surprise to Burhan. “I recorded a large percentage of students who feel uncertain of fall 2020 plans and want more regular updates from the college. From the students’ responses, having that personal, close connection with professors, extracurriculars and campus is so important at this time.”

He shared his data with various groups around campus and hopes that his research will inspire other higher education institutions to take a deeper dive into the overall wellness of their students during this unprecedented time.

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Published July 3, 2020