Online college-bound students still need connections and vision

August 13, 2020 | by JB Brayfindley

Online college-bound students still need connections and vision

“In general, students are a more vulnerable population,” stated Sara Tillema, Director and Campus Minister of CA House at the University of California in Davis. Tillema was one of six panelists invited to discuss the impact of the pandemic on college education this Fall during the Wednesday Webinar, August 12, 2020.Tillema explained, “… there’s a growing population of university students who are not financially supported by outside funding or from parents—which leaves them very vulnerable to unmet basic needs.”

In 2016, Tillema noted that 5% of college students experienced homelessness. At that time, 42% of undergraduates and 26% of graduate students were listed as food insecure. The need has increased during the pandemic as students have lost housing and jobs. Her program has offered emergency housing, food pantry, gift certificates and funds for mental health counseling. Some panel members mentioned that their churches reached out through care packages.

Tillema encouraged churches to help college students this Fall in two specific ways. First, to initiate reaching out regularly to college students in their church. Second, to ask nearby campus ministry programs what they need.

“USC has significantly cut our gift aids and that has harmed many low-income students,” stated Michael Hsu, a senior at the University of Southern California with a double major in Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and Social Change and Religion. Hsu serves as a campus ministry leader. He discussed the growing needs of students at this time stating, “…this pandemic has amplified the flaws of our system.”

Bridget Wipfler, a sophomore at the University of Washington focusing on a public health major, explained the need for connection. During the pandemic, Wipfler stated that she has seen an increase of people who are taking the time to actually answer the typical, “How are you?” greeting.

“There was a weird combination going into this year of being pretty optimistic…[and of] a greater strain,” stated Wipfler. “In general, there is a bunch of extra distractions of having a global pandemic, political turmoil, a social justice movement and so, … there are so many emotions to be felt and many college students are feeling pretty helpless.”

“In isolation a lot of students get overwhelmed and it’s easy to shut down,” noted Wipfler who encouraged churches to initiate conversations with students. “Creating a space where students can ask for help and guidance and assistance is really important.”

Ryland Fernandez, 2020 graduate of University of the Pacific with a B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Philosophy, emphasized the importance of connection.

“We have a number of tools that allow us to connect to people, utilize those tools and keep connections alive,” stated Fernandez. “Connections create hope and so we need hope in this seemingly hopeless time.”

Patty Bartscher, retired faculty and administrator at San Francisco State University, former committee chair for our Conference Board on Higher Education and Campus Ministries reported on eight California Nevada campus ministries including:

1. CA House at UC Davis - Sara Tillema,

2. Ecumenical House at San Francisco State - Hannah Cornthwaite,

3. Delta Wesley at Delta College - Robbie Fredricksen,

4. University of the Pacific - Laura Steed,

5. United Campus Christian Ministry at Stanford University - Terry Mathis,

6. Wesley Foundation at UC Merced - Ella Luna-Garza,

7. FEAST at UC Santa Cruz - Joliene Wade,

8. Campus Ministry at Berkeley Korean UMC - Joseph Kwon,

Rev. Dr. Reginald Nichols, CNUMC director of Leadership Development and emcee of the webinar, presented conference statistics. This year, there were 1,698 young adults (19-30 last year) in Christian Formation Groups. Nichols listed resources available to churches including:

Rev. Dr. Felicisimo Cao, Conference Director of Camping & Retreat Ministries & Young People’s Ministries, discussed the importance of education in building a legacy of hope and resilience.

Hsu noted the increase in activism of young adults during the pandemic. As churches develop ministries for college students, Hsu asked churches to consider their students’ particular passions and growing skills in helping them develop a Christian vision for their lives so they can use those passion and skills for the greater good and not to harm.

JB Brayfindley is a freelance journalist.