Skip to main content

In the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s College of Social Work, Assistant Professor of Practice Sukey Steckel was teaching two sections of a leadership course required for students in the Master of Social Work program when the pandemic took classes online halfway through spring semester.

Assistant Professor Susan (Sukey) Steckel
Assistant Professor Susan (Sukey) Steckel

“As this was a course focused on leadership and management, I took the opportunity to ask students to reflect on what aspects of leadership and management they had witnessed during the pandemic in their field placements, places of employment, group project work with their peers, or the college or university,” said Steckel. “This reflection opportunity enabled students to immediately apply what they had learned over the course of the semester to what they were seeing around them in real time during an evolving crisis situation.”

Here are some excerpts from the students’ reflections on leadership and management:

“I appreciate the university and program’s clear, thorough, and consistent communication during this situation. I also felt like you all were perfect examples of what social work and social workers are during the pandemic. The empathy and understanding everyone has shown us, the students, were incredible and inspirational. I found myself feeling encouraged, heard, and respected. I think having good strong role models in our professors was truly more helpful than I can begin to express. It is a scary time. And having that support has definitely helped me and my stress and anxiety. I felt very overwhelmed initially, but this program was so quick in its response that my stress related to school became manageable.”

“I think that the encouragement from my classmates, professors, and the university in general has also played a huge part in me getting through this. My classmates and I have done a really great job of checking in with each other and giving each other resources. My professors have done an excellent job of checking in with the students and adjusting their course expectations to relieve our anxiety and stress. My professors have made me realize the importance of checking in with others and the importance of really supporting the people you are leading, no matter the situation. Overall, this experience has been super enlightening to me, and I truly believe that it has made me a stronger person.”

“I would love to take a moment to recognize the amazing support we have received from our professors and administrators. Bearing in mind that our professors were undoubtedly as blindsided as we were by the situation as it unfolded so incredibly quickly. They recognized the stresses and frustrations that we have all been feeling over the last six weeks and have provided outstanding ongoing support.”

“All of our professors provided space to share how we were feeling each week, and I really valued that opportunity to check in with other classmates. Sometimes, it was encouraging to just hear that everyone was feeling scattered or struggling with motivation. I appreciated the chance to give feedback on how to adjust and adapt our work during this crisis time. I hope I can remember these lessons for how I can help others adjust when future crises arise.”

Said Steckel, “One of the things I learned during this time was to never make assumptions about someone’s age and their facility with technology, such as an online learning platform like Zoom. Change is change, an unexpected transition is an unexpected transition regardless of where you are in life, and this type of stress needs to be acknowledged, respected, and responded to in a meaningful way. I am proud of how our faculty and university leadership showed up to meet this challenge head on. I think the students’ responses demonstrate that we did some things right, when things could have gone very, very wrong, and I am grateful to have been a part of that.