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Dr. Karen Markel

Another academic year has come and gone, and another extraordinary class of UCCS graduates earned their degrees. As these students embark on the next phase of their careers, I write to remind our community of what this new group of professionals will bring to our workforce. 

The classes of 2020 and 2021 finished their college careers in a very different environment than when they started. In their final few semesters, they continued their studies in the midst of a pandemic, moved to remote learning environments and adjusted to an ever-revolving set of campus safety measures. These abrupt changes brought their own unique challenges, but it also demonstrated our students’ ability to adapt, communicate and persevere during difficult times. 

As our campus adjusted to new ways of teaching, the business community also adapted to different ways of hiring and employing professionals. Businesses offered unique internships, remote work opportunities and alternative schedules that satisfied hiring needs and the changing workspace safety conditions.

While these circumstances were hard for all of us, it also encouraged new skill development and professional growth. I can certainly identify several added skills from this past year, as I’m sure many of you can. We all carry a shared perspective from our time working and studying during COVID-19. Not only are our recent students graduating with the education needed to succeed in their chosen industry, they also have their own unique “pandemic skillset” to bring to a changing workforce. 

I’ve outlined several skills our students developed during the pandemic that will be a benefit to any local workforce.

Communication excellence

Virtual meetings require a careful balance of effective communication and active listening. College students learned both the technical literacy of web conferencing programs and the ability to communicate in remote environments. They demonstrated an ability to verbalize concepts and ideas through a unique, hybrid learning structure. With more remote interpersonal interactions, these graduates know how and when to leverage technology to convey ideas and insight.

Adaptability

UCCS, like many other institutions, quickly moved to remote operations at the beginning of the pandemic. These graduates were forced to adapt to a fluid set of guidelines and class structures that often varied by the class and the professor. They handled these transitions with grace and professionalism. The students have become more comfortable adapting to change and managing the unexpected, which is very transferrable to a professional environment. 

Time management and discipline

Many students choose UCCS for the on-campus experience and the ability to learn from professors in focused class settings. When the majority of their coursework and instructional modes moved remote, these graduates had to become more self-reliant and internally motivated to complete their courses. Our students were required to develop their own class routines in nontraditional learning environments. In addition to the challenges of the pandemic, many had to balance conflicting priorities during their time in school, including jobs, extracurricular activities and personal commitments. These students demonstrated exceptional discipline and willpower to realize their academic goals.  

Empathy

This past year, we brought our work into our homes. The fusion of distance communication and meetings has provided a more personal view of our coworkers — from pets and family members to our personal circumstances and challenges. We’ve all had a personal disruption in a professional context and student-to-faculty interactions are no exception. These students are graduating with a unique perspective on how to support and respect their colleagues during times of distress. They will demonstrate more compassion and respect as they navigate their careers. 

Resiliency

When the odds were stacked against them, the classes of 2020 and 2021 still made it to the finish line. They committed to their classes and persevered through an unprecedented last year of college. People are guaranteed to face moments of adversity throughout their career. These graduates have demonstrated that they can handle uncertainty head-on, and still come out on top. 

These newly developed skills will continue to serve students, and us, throughout our professional careers. Even during hard times, there are always opportunities to grow and learn. 

Commencement is the culmination of one chapter, and the beginning of another. These graduates represent the future of our business community, and I believe we have a very bright future ahead of us. 

Dr. Karen S. Markel is the dean of the UCCS College of Business.