Academic Counseling Faces Virtual Service as the New Normal

By Hannah Asuncion


The Academic Counseling Department at City College has been under constant turmoil the past two years. The department has gone through substantial changes that impacted both students and the department alike. Now, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the department faced an abrupt change moving to a virtual environment.

All of the counselors have learned to adapt to remote counseling, but it’s much more labor-intensive since there’s a lot of preparation beforehand. Each counselor has a choice of which function they prefer for meetings, whether it’s through Zoom or simply just emailing back and forth.

According to the Department Chair of Academic Counseling Jack Sparks, remote counseling is “working really well. I feel like the quality the service I’ve provided them has been greater. I give out these handouts, which often doesn’t get looked at or kept. Through email they actually read it so the quality has gotten up.”

The department also launched a new option for counseling called Virtual Express which takes place through Zoom, where there’s a set time for students to drop in. There are counselors from every department participating, aside from career and transfer services.

Sometimes, students can’t make appointments and other times it’s fully booked since students are now allowed to make their own appointments. Students directly email Sparks about their difficulties and he helps them. Sparks isn’t sure if the drop-in process is clear for the students, but he believes it’s easier to follow the steps on the new school website.

Illustration by Manon Cadenaule/The Guardsman. instagram: @cadenaulem

“Eventually we’ll be in the new students services building together. Going forward I feel like we’re obviously going to continue remote counseling. Continuing EOPS [Extended Opportunity Programs and Services] counselors online, group workshops online as well as transfers online. Remote counseling is by appointment through eSARS. Virtual Express is for drop-ins for any quick questions,” Sparks added.

According to Academic Counselor Marie Osborne, “From a counselors’ perspective, services to students have been uneven at best.” She mentioned how students are having difficulties registering on the new registration platform called College Scheduler.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic creating distance between students and counselors and the registration office, support to students is not always accessible. Remote counseling has been available to students since March but the technology was somewhat unreliable at first. Many technology issues arose,” Osborne added.

“Everyone was caught by surprise by the pandemic and it has taken the college some time to evaluate and respond to the many student technology needs, revise teaching platforms and maintain other essential services such as counseling and library services which were cut deep,” Osborne said.

International student Emily Trinh said, “I’ve been to three sessions of career counseling and it’s been great. My counselor is awesome and he helped me land an internship after a month so that’s really impressive. Both of the times I’ve been to academic counseling, the people don’t know International stuff off the top of their heads but were able to direct me to people who do.”

Trinh believes there should be more counselors because it took her a month to get a Zoom call with one and she mentioned how the counselor who helped her was nice and helpful, but she seemed overworked.

Rhaeven Pillazar, another student at City College always had a good experience when it came to counseling, whether it was before or during the pandemic. His first year at City College, they helped schedule which classes he should take for UC transfers and the Transfer Admission Guarantee program.

Pillazar noticed the main thing that changed when it came to counseling is the connection between the student and the counselor. He enjoyed the idea of meeting with his counselors in person since it allowed them to engage in conversations regarding academics or future careers. “Although that may still apply to zoom calls, it’s different when in person. I come out feeling more refreshed,” he said.

Since the dismantling of the International Counseling Department in Fall 2018, International students have been put in the care of the remaining counselors causing some stress. According to Sparks, the counselors who were laid off were only part timers. “It’s made it more difficult to provide our services, it’s a stretch,” Sparks said.

Last Spring, Sparks hired three counselors, but once the budget kicked in they were let go. Two of the counselors were international counselors, so his department had to split up all the work, which was difficult since no one had training to help the International students.

Trinh wasn’t aware of the previous International Counseling Service. Whenever she needs assistance, especially about International services, she just emails the Office of International Programs.

Sparks mentioned how most of the International counselor’s work got redirected to International programs, which helped a little. “Very short-sighted to deal with that program, since it is important for our school,” Sparks added.


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