Unexpected impacts of the global pandemic led the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Steve Kolbe to adjust end-of-semester plans to provide extra supports for students.
In the final days of fall instruction, the associate professor in the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film counted nearly 12 students in isolation due to COVID-19 exposure. That fact meant there was need for flexibility as the hands-on learning courses were culminating in final exams that favored students being in-person to use the high-performance computers provided at the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts.
“Over the course of the semester, through all of my students, I’d only had one or three have to isolate or test positive,” Kolbe said. “All of a sudden, during the last week of classes eight to 12 of my students were in quarantine. Of course, my first thought was now I have to find a way to make the finals more equitable because these students can’t come in and take the final.”
As it turned out, rearranging the final was the least of Kolbe’s worries. While talking to his wife about the situation, the couple couldn’t help but realize with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the students in quarantine and isolation would not be able to go celebrate with families.
“There were students now forced into making the decision of ‘what do I do for the holiday?’” Kolbe said. “A couple of them actually did end up testing negative and were able to go home, but there was still a handful that made the decision that they were going to be staying in Lincoln instead of traveling out of state to be with their folks.
“There seems to be so many stories of students making the wrong decisions on campus, here were students that were making the right decision… We just felt bad because they’re making the right decision, but it feels like they’re being punished, even though they’re not. We just wanted to offer up something.”
Having canceled their own holiday gathering due to concerns over rising virus numbers, Kolbe and his family decided to cook a full Thanksgiving meal — turkey and all the trimmings — and deliver it to the students.
“We opted to not host and that was a rough decision as well,” Kolbe said. “So, we were going to be staying home making all this food and it’s just the four of us. It really didn’t take anything but an hour of time for us to go deliver.”
Building relationships with students has been an important aspect of teaching for Kolbe, and those students who received the meals were appreciative of Kolbe’s generosity.
“I think they were more surprised than anything,” Kolbe said.