College of Education photo contest connects students during quarantine

Student Success Coordinator Karen Allman created the contest, and students in the College of Education submitted photos of their life during quarantine on Canvas. The contest lasted three rounds, with a new theme each time. Students shared snapshots of their pets, quarantine hairdos and baking and crafting projects. (Photos by Grace Connell)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, social media has been a glimpse into the cabin fever people across the country are experiencing due to quarantining and social distancing.

One look at Instagram, TikTok or Twitter reveals people getting comfy with their fuzzy coworkers in makeshift offices, attempting DIY hairdos and mastering the art of bread baking.

That’s where Karen Allman, student success coordinator at the University of Missouri–St. LouisCollege of Education, got the idea for a student photo contest on Canvas. Allman had seen people posting pictures of their new “coworkers,” i.e., pets, and thought it would be a fun way to engage students during a trying time.

“I could observe my own college- and high-school-aged kids at home, so I was concerned about students feeling isolated from their daily contacts and routines,” she said. “Sharing photos over Canvas seemed like one way I could continue to draw students in to keep them connected and let them know that the College of Education Advising Office cares about them, while at the same time trying to have a little fun with the situation.”

She sent out an email to COE students about the contest toward the end of May, and they have submitted photos over the course of three rounds since then. Each round had a theme: new pet coworkers, quarantine hair and quarantine crafts and baking. As a small incentive, anyone who entered was put into a random drawing each round for a $10 Starbucks gift card.

So far, the response has been better than expected.

Participants like junior Grace Connell and senior Kyra Hungerford said this is something they would have normally participated in before the pandemic. Connell works part-time as a photographer and is happy to share her skills, while Hungerford is always eager to enter a contest.

Grace Connell did a socially distanced photoshoot with her sisters during her time away from campus.

Junior Andrew Holman usually likes to interact with other students face-to-face, but the first round’s theme drew him into the contest.

“This is not something I would have normally participated in before the pandemic because I prefer meeting people in person,” Holman said. “The chance to talk about my dog Indy, however, got me to participate, so I submitted pictures of Indy as a puppy and as a grown dog.”

Hungerford showcased her culinary skills with a photo of pancakes for her family’s stay-at-home brunch. Connell submitted several scenes from her quarantine with her sisters, including their dog and artsy shots with flowers.

They all agree that these snapshots into each other’s lives have been a great way to stay connected while away from campus. As a photographer, Connell would even like to see the contest expand.

Grace Connell also submitted photos of her dog during the first round of the contest.

“I think it would be cool, though, to have more winners chosen or just doing contests more often,” she said.

Allman has been having as much fun as the students.

“I have loved seeing the photos come in and appreciate the willingness of these students sharing pieces of their lives with me,” she said. “From iguanas to pancake stacks to new babies, they make me smile every time. As UMSL staff, we are used to relating to students in the context of their studies. To see them share and be able to connect with them on a more personal level has definitely kept me more upbeat while we are all working and learning from home.”

Connell, Holman and Hungerford are also staying connected to friends in other ways such as texting, FaceTiming and online gaming. The numerous options for digital communication have made things a bit easier, but the students had ups and downs with working and studying from home.

For a people person like Holman, remote learning has been difficult, and Connell faced an obstacle when her computer stopped working. Although once it was fixed, Connell said she was able to study more than normal because she was stuck at home.

The transition was also challenging for Hungerford at first, but support from UMSL’s faculty and staff made it easier.

“It was definitely an adjustment because being home, it was hard to find motivation to go to a Zoom class or turn in work,” she said. “But my professors were really motivating and accommodating, which was a big help.”

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