August 12, 2020

U7+ Student Forum Participants Consider Life After COVID-19

On behalf of the 2020 U7+ Summit Executive Committee and U.S. co-sponsoring institutions, Northwestern University hosted a worldwide student forum to spark a discussion among students from all U7+ universities, representing 20 countries. The forum posed the question, “How should universities best prepare students for life after graduation, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?”

An iPhone open to the Zoom app sits on top of a laptop with an article about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
An iPhone open to the Zoom app sits on top of a laptop with an article about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

A Culture of Discussion

The U7+ Worldwide Student Forum ran from June 12 to July 1, 2020. During this time, students participated in discussion boards through a private LinkedIn group and live small group conversations through Zoom. Each week, a prompt encouraged students to reflect on how their university experiences have changed as a result of COVID-19 and how their universities can aid student development in the midst of the pandemic and going forward. Students responded by posting a short text, video, piece of art, music, poetry, or other content.

Georgetown student delegate Arjun Mehrotra (SFS’20) appreciated this emphasis on the future.

“Since the students of today are the decision-makers of tomorrow, it is important that universities support them and prepare them the best way they can to deal with both the opportunities and challenges of our increasingly complex and global world.”

One prompt asked students to reflect about the pandemic’s impact on their personal plans: “How have your expectations, goals or priorities changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic? How have you felt prepared or unprepared for these changes?”

In response, Georgetown student delegate Ania Zolyniak (SFS’21) indicated that “[t]he implications of the coronavirus have motivated me to want to take advantage of a wider array of opportunities that I have before me by virtue of my being a student at Georgetown.”

COVID-19 has made me more grateful for the opportunities before me and more apt to take advantage of them so as to avoid regrets later.

Students from around the world responded, facilitating what Bryce Robinson (SFS’22), another Georgetown student delegate, called a “culture of discussion.” Conversation about personal experiences as university students soon transitioned into making connections with one another and developing international networks. Justin Potisit (C’22), who also represented Georgetown in the forum, confirmed that, “My main objectives were to focus on listening to others’ opinions and understand how COVID-19 has affected people around the world.”

Woman smiling while on a video call on a laptop
Woman smiling while on a video call on a laptop

Amplifying Student Voices

The goal of this forum was to provide a platform for students to learn from one another and to amplify the voices of students who want to build a new vision for how universities can best prepare students today, given that we are moving into a new world amid a shared global crisis.

The Georgetown students who participated emphasized how these conversations need to continue in order to put them into action at universities around the world.

Georgetown student delegate Ricardo Flores (SFS’21) elaborated, “Responsibility from universities does not have to come monetarily, but can consist of something as simple as upholding an engaged faculty.” Mehrotra suggested universities can aid students by supporting “strong international alumni networks where current students can receive mentorship and career advice from former students of their universities.”

The forum gave students from Georgetown and other universities across the world the opportunity to discuss how universities can better aid students entering the dynamic world of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It also demonstrated to students the value in learning from each other’s individual and shared experiences, not just from a textbook or a classroom lecture.

The Power of Connection

For Zolyniak, the experience illustrated the many lessons we can learn by engaging in dialogue. 

“When approaching global challenges, you do not have to reinvent the wheel. Communication, collaboration, and dialogue reveal that there are people around who have experienced the same issues as you and who may have come up with certain ways to tackle them,” Zolyniak explained. “Regardless of how you connect with others, doing so changes the way you see and interact with the world and the facts of life around you.”

Mehrotra came away inspired by the impact universities can have on global issues.

My biggest takeaway was that universities can be powerful institutional actors and contribute towards important issues, not just locally or domestically but internationally as well.