Every cloud has its silver lining, even when it’s the COVID pandemic

“Unprecedented times” is one of the most popular phrases associated with the COVID pandemic. It is challenging to look beyond what is in an effort to see what could be in a pandemic. How can such dark clouds carry a silver lining? 

Speaking with some students from different MacEwan University departments, we were pleased to see the poise and positivity with which they have handled the unfortunate circumstances of the pandemic.

“My experience with COVID as a student gave me the chance to practice time management. It took away some experiences of face-to-face learning, but it made available other practices which can be applied in our daily lives” says Hanna Barcia, a psychology major at MacEwan University. Despite initial struggles at the start of the semester, Barcia likes the idea of working at her own pace. “My school stuff does not clash with my personal life anymore as I have more flexible time,” says Barcia, who has a planned family trip to the Philippines this year. With the new system in place, Barcia, like the rest of us, can take school with her wherever she goes. She adds that although the pandemic prevented a traditional university experience, the instructors’ availability whenever she emailed them helped her a lot. “Everything was accessible and easy to find,” says Barcia.

Similarly, Michael Pinili from the MacEwan business management program finds that there are advantages to schooling online. “Two of these advantages are location and time flexibility. For instance… students that live far away from the campus would be able to save money from the expenses of relocating to a nearer city or neighbourhood to attend school. (In reference to) time, flexibility would be the essence of students being able to budget time and complete schoolwork at a convenient hour,” says Pinili. Also, Pinili considers the ability to manage time and pace oneself beneficial and hopes institutions “analyze what worked and (what did) not during the online learning environment and implement this data to the new term.” He believes doing this will be suitable for both faculty and students.

Perhaps it is not only institutions that stand to benefit from this new normal that has resulted from the COVID pandemic; our ecosystem may also benefit from our misfortune. Second-year bachelor of communications student Satchel Petrov unknowingly pointed out this benefit when she said, “I wasn’t a fan of printing out essays and making sure I had a rough copy and the printed copy that I could hand in.” Like several students, Petrov struggled with the transition to online learning. “It became really hard to keep a routine when going to class was in the same place I got out of bed… it’s harder for me to learn when I don’t have peers around to check my understanding,” he says. With these challenges came the blessings of easily handing in assignments via email or Blackboard, saving the students some stress and saving our planet. 

Another thing oddly saved by the pandemic is GPAs. While many students look forward to a time when we can get back to learning in classrooms, some, like journalism major Grace Girard, testify to better grades. “I would say my grades are a lot higher, which is amazing,” says Girard. In addition to having better grades, Girard boasts of participating more in classes because of the chat function that allows students to interact without interrupting lectures. When stating all the silver linings attached to the pandemic, Girard mentions saving time and money on commuting and meeting new people. “I’m actually meeting more students in my program through this online than I did in person,” says Girard.

The transitions to online learning by institutions due to the pandemic were challenging for everyone, but a sub-community that undeniably suffered is the school athletes. “I think a big part of it was I was in school mainly to play volleyball, so it was pretty disappointing when everything got switched online,” says Sarah McGee, a MacEwan University volleyball team member. How can someone like McGee find a silver lining to the pandemic? “I do like the idea of hybrid… I think it was just nice being able to do things at my own pace. Sometimes get ahead on stuff when it wasn’t even due,” she says. Like others, McGee enjoys having access to course materials online and working at her own pace, a tool that can prove helpful for athletes if retained post-pandemic.

According to Mariah Bereziuk, who also plays on the MacEwan volleyball team, school athletes maintain a hectic schedule. “We basically make our schedule from like 8[am] to 3:30 (p.m.]) because we have practice from 4 (p.m.) on almost every night,” says Bereziuk. Like other athletes, she can’t wait for things to get back to normal. Especially after having everything put on hold right after MacEwan University made the playoffs for the first time since switching from the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) to their current league, USports. However, like teammate McGee, Bereziuk “likes the asynchronous model of learning (and) prefers it over live lectures.”

If athletes can find a silver lining in the clouds of the COVID pandemic, we can do it too. So, in the words of Pinili, we urge you to “stay strong, time will pass, and everything (will) be alright.”

Image courtesy of rawpixel.

Graduating during the COVID pandemic

Sixty-three thousand people in Canada lost their jobs in December of 2020, according to Craig Wong’s CTV News article published on Jan. 8. Wong also stated that it was the worst downturn of the job market since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. MacEwan University graduating and recently graduated students are asking “what next.”

After the 2014 Ukraine Euromaidan revolution sparked his curiosity about how news unfolds, final-year journalism major Timon Johnson decided to switch from engineering to his current program with the goal of one day experiencing and being part of the news and storytelling process. However, the unstable job market and Huffington Post Canada recently laying off all its journalists create some questions about that future.

“So as of right now, the journalism field is extremely competitive, there’s no sprinkling that. (There are) more people in the field and less opportunities available to work with big or small news organizations,” Johnson says. 

Like Johnson, many other students wonder what will happen to them as they join the unstable job market. 

Sydney Pshyk, a bachelor of commerce graduate of MacEwan, says, “the job market right now… looks a little bleak.” She describes her job-hunting experience as being stressful, strenuous, and slim pickings. “I’ve never struggled to find a job like I have right now,” she says. According to Pshyk, companies who have been forced to consolidate and downsize their teams due to the pandemic, are now looking for candidates who can wear multiple hats. She states that she no longer qualifies for jobs that she would have qualified for years ago. “They want a marketing coordinator with a strong background in graphic design, which is just not something that is typically offered through undergraduate programs to have that kind of crossover and diversification of skills.” Pshyk does not only have to compete with recent graduates but with candidates who have years of experience and are willing to re-enter the job market in entry level roles.

Similarly, Charlie Zimmer, who also graduated with a major in business management and human resources in April of last year, says  entering the job market amidst the COVID pandemic has been “interesting.” According to Zimmer, “there’s so many people out of work due to COVID and therefore so much more competition for the few jobs that are popping up.” Zimmer worked at Save-On Foods before she graduated and decided to remain there “until things normalized.” She got offered an opportunity to advance into a management position with the company. 

Even for those lucky enough to find jobs, getting into new roles during the COVID pandemic comes with challenges. “As somebody with not a whole lot of experience, it’s kind of like how do you get trained and how do you get onboarded and learn… when everybody’s working from home? When you’re sitting by yourself trying to learn everything and delve into everything and be trained from home,” says Zimmer.

In another instance, Madison Krupa, a professional communications major in her final semester, recently accepted an exciting job offer and is relieved about getting it. For Krupa, getting this job takes off the pressure that most others still carry. Talking about her job-hunting experience, she states, “this semester has been especially challenging leading up to that point. I was working on job applications just as much as I was working on homework and also trying to balance another job.” 

Even when she wasn’t working on applications, Krupa states that she faced underlying stress from wondering what her next moves would be and how she would make money. Like Krupa, many others ask these same questions and work twice as hard to give themselves an edge over their job-seeking peers. 

According to Johnson, “one thing that will really help students have a better understanding of what the field is like or what the requirements are for them to break into the field is network and connection.” He spoke to some industry professionals who told him that “they had students from other universities reach out, and a fair amount of them never followed up with them or got back to them,” by not following up, they missed out on potential opportunities.

Some other ways he recommends to students looking to gain an edge include learning new skills, gaining experience, and most importantly, being confident. 

However, some students have taken a different route to alleviate the problem by starting their own businesses. One such student is Aisha Yusuf, another final year communications student who co-founded Abayo House, a book publishing company. According to Yusuf, the fear of graduating into a COVID world is terrifying, and she does not think it is fair for students who have acquired debt and spent so much money on tuition to be left without support. She believes that the government and other sources of support need to develop some initiative to ease these fears and stress from students. She states that not knowing what the future holds for the job market takes a massive toll on students’ physical, spiritual, and mental health. 

“We spent a big majority of our youth years in these institutions to build ourselves a better future, and when that future doesn’t seem to exist (any) longer… for god knows how long… I don’t think it’s fair,” says Yusuf. 

Hawa Abdulle, a creative online assistant at MacEwan University’s career and experience centre, states that the university helps students with the job search process. They include assisting students in building outstanding resumés, cover letters, and LinkedIn pages. The department also engages students in mock interviews and organizes job fairs. “We guide, we give advice, we provide resources, we organize events right here where people come and meet their potential employer.” She advises students to familiarize themselves with the department even after graduation.

For locals, by locals

A new landmark popped up over the summer of 2020, leaving many people curious about the story behind the “little Europe” on the corner of 120 Street and 107 Avenue. This structure currently functions as a photo op destination for most, with many people visiting to take beautiful Instagram photos.  

Giordano Morgulis, the vice president of sales for 76 Group Co, developers of Manchester Square, provides insight into this new strip mall’s past, present, and future.

According to Morgulis, the building’s whole point is to create a destination, not just a development. The developers knew that adding murals would provide the perfect touch to the location. After discussing with several artists, they chose Alixandra Jade, a very talented local artist. The company fell in love with her first rendering of the Lady of Manchester Square from British folktales. These murals on Manchester Square have drawn attention from people all around Edmonton and were even “on the news in Australia,” says Morgulis.

The structure is inspired by a love for European architecture. “Right now, with the way that development is done here, it’s very rectangular, very boxy, very national, so we wanted to completely do something different,” says Morgulis.

Since the structure borrows inspiration from several European cities, a considerable part from Amsterdam and Paris, the developers debated using other European names like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, but settled for Manchester Square as the building’s towers draw inspiration from tower structures in Manchester City, UK. 

Manchester Square stands out from other strip malls in Edmonton in an obvious way, but its real distinction is that it is built specifically for local brands. The developers are insistent that all tenants be local, so don’t expect to see international brands like McDonald’s or Starbucks in this mall. 

With the unexpected lockdown due to COVID causing a lot of hardship on local businesses, 76 Group is doing all they can to support Edmontonians in these times. According to Morgulis, the company requires corporate guarantees rather than personal guarantees on their leases, which means renters will not risk their assets like houses or cars. Manchester Square also leases its units at meagre rates. “Our whole goal was to be half of the Brewery District. The Brewery District, by the time you’re all done is about $75 a square foot, and we’re at about 37,” says Morgulis. They also offer flexibility on lease terms and aim to build personal relationships with their tenants.

Another feature that Manchester Square offers is the flexibility of the base structure. This feature makes the building accommodate more or fewer tenants as needed. The building is also eco-friendly by using repurposed bricks and will have electric vehicle charging ports in its parking lots, so, another win for the environment.

Morgulis says the company is pleased with support towards Manchester Square because “in the very beginning there was a lot of people that didn’t like it… including the city.” He adds that Manchester Square is currently home to Arcadia Brewing. The developers expect to see other companies such as boutique retail stores, bakeries, ice-cream shops, coffee shops, restaurants, wedding event spaces, bridal stores, custom suit tailors, chocolatiers, and a charcuterie, providing as much of a European vibe as possible. 

Images courtesy of Sydney Leard.