Attending College in a Pandemic World: Tips to Get By

Hi, I’m Erin Martin! I am completing my last semester at Grand Valley State University, graduating in April 2021 with a degree in Health Communication and a minor in Advertising and Public Relations. I have had the privilege of leading Grand Valley’s Health Communication Coalition as President this year. The Health Communication Coalition is a student club that hosts networking and educational events that allow students to explore the Health Communications field and build relationships with peers in the major program. I have also had the rewarding experience to lead as a PR director, for the Miracle Network Dance Marathon at Grand Valley since 2018, working to mobilize and inspire GVSU and the surrounding Grand Rapids community to raise funds and awareness in support of pediatric patients and their families at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids. Finally, I’m honored to have received the Excellence in a Discipline award for Health Communications at GVSU this year. 

Before I went off to college, I could have never predicted that my senior year would take place during a global pandemic. COVID-19 flipped our world upside down, causing college students to adjust to an almost unrecognizable college lifestyle. As someone who has spent four years on Grand Valley’s campus, one during the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to share how I have supported myself academically, prepared for my future, as well as how I protected my mental health. 

  1. First things first: You’re doing great. I have observed over the years how hard college students are on themselves. It is important to know that your best probably looks a lot different from your peer’s best. Try not to compare your successes to other’s successes. College is stressful, especially this past year, and you deserve to pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for making it this far. 
  1. Network, Network, Network! One of my favorite ways to connect with professionals in my field is to reach out to them on LinkedIn. I search for people who have established a career in the field that I am looking into or who works at a company I’m interested in and connect with them by asking if they would be willing to meet and have an informal informational interview over coffee or on Zoom. It is a great way to make connections in your field and learn what’s out there. There are also more traditional networking methods such as career fairs, involvement in organizations or clubs, and connecting with professors. Do not be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone!
  1. Find your motivation and personal time management methods. We have all learned how essential time management skills are now that many classes are online and schedules are looser. I use an online scheduling tool called Skolar to help keep me organized. It will help you measure your time management skills and figure out where and how you might be able to improve them.
  1. Get out of the house if possible. During this pandemic, I have discovered the importance of exploring different locations to peacefully study and relax. It is important to clear your head, change the scenery, and find a spot where you can get away. It could be a local coffee shop, a special spot in the library, outside in a hammock, or anywhere else you can think of, just make it yours!
  1. Do not be afraid to ask for help! Whether it’s academically, financially, or mentally, GVSU has great resources that are free to you as a Grand Valley student. As a health communication student, public and community health means a great deal to me, and knowing that Grand Valley has these resources makes it easy to advocate for my peers. Did you know you get 10 free confidential sessions with a certified counselor if you’re a registered GVSU student? To quote the best, “I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.” – Maya Angelou. Be your own biggest advocate. GVSU also has a Lakers Together page filled with resources to help you succeed and stay informed on the latest COVID-19 updates.

To learn more about student clubs in the GVSU Health Communication program please visit:

GVSU Health Communication Coalition Connects Students to Community

Health Communication majors attending GVSU who are interested in critical thinking regarding issues surrounding health-in-society should consider joining the Health Communication Coalition (HCC).

The HCC helps interested students better prepare for their future careers in the health communication field by preparing them to apply for internships, providing networking opportunities with guest speakers, hosting Panel of Professionals events, resume workshops, and connecting with other GVSU students majoring in Health Communication.  

This year, the coalition’s E-board consists of Erin Martin as President, Kiersten Duiven as Event Coordinator, Grace Milo as Community Engagement Director, Ally Galanty and Sara Zennedjian as Public Relations Co-Directors, Addison Davies as Membership Co-Director, and Regina Porretta as Membership Co-Director/Secretary. Professor of Communication Studies and Health Communication Lorie Jager is the group’s advisor.

This year the HCC has put on many events such as hosting guest speakers, social media takeovers with professionals, the Fall Semester Panel of Professionals, and the Winter Semester Panel of Professionals. Coming up on Tuesday, March 23 at 7 p.m., the HCC will have Professor Jager come in to talk with their group about how, where, and when to get an internship. This will give students a chance to ask her any questions they have about internships. They may also have another guest speaker join them in April to speak about their professional world experiences.

Besides gaining access to networking events, professionals in the field, and obtaining information about the major, the HCC allows Health Communication students to come together, support each other, and make connections with other students.

“I enjoy being part of the HCC because it’s a great opportunity to get to know people in the major while also participating in events that will help build my career path. Being in a leadership position has also helped me grow on a personal level, making me more confident and excited for my future in Health Communications,” said Duiven.

The group strives to help advance students academically, socially, and in their future careers by providing them with opportunities to explore the major, interact with other students, and network with professionals that may help them land a job one day. 

“I enjoy being a part of the Health Communication Coalition because I love to interact with students who are taking the same classes as I am, and my favorite part is having the opportunity to network with professionals in my field and hearing what tips they have for us,” said HCC President Martin.  

The coalition also gives students a chance to explore the major if they are still undecided and hear from peers and professionals who can guide or act as mentors through their undergraduate studies. Students can join the organizations through LakerLink or by following them on Instagram @gvhealthcomco to keep with their events!

GVSU Alumna Eima Pandher’s Path to Becoming a VP at Kinesso

Eima Pandher, Vice President of International Business Operations for Kinesso

The Grand Valley State University (GVSU) School of Communications (SoC) sat down with alumna Mrs. Eima Pandher to find out how she became the Vice President of International Business Operations for Kinesso. Her story is one we are very excited to tell!

COURSE WORK AND CAMPUS INVOLVEMENT: Pandher graduated from GVSU in 2009 with an M.S. in Communication. As a graduate student, she worked for the Center of Entrepreneurship – Seidman College of Business, better known today as the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Pandher also joined the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO), a collective group of student entrepreneurs networking with West Michigan resources to learn and create business ideas and build strong communities. Pandher also completed her undergrad at GVSU, majoring in Advertising and Public Relations. She joined the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), where she focused on fostering strong growth between the student organization and business professionals in surrounding communities. 

“It’s extremely valuable to join and participate in local organizations within your university as it allows you to proactively gain mentors and resources you will need as you progress throughout your program,” said Pandher.

INTERNSHIPS AND RESEARCH EXPERIENCE: During Pandher’s time as an undergrad at GVSU, she had the opportunity to intern at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel as an Events Coordinator for the Catering and Events team. She was responsible for supporting the staff with logistics and operations. As a graduate student, Pandher embarked on a journey to Sweden to conduct her research on communication barriers between Scandinavian countries and the U.S. and focused on major cities including Malmo, Gothenburg, and Stockholm.

PROFESSIONAL CAREER AND ACHIEVEMENTS: After completing the graduate program, Pandher decided to move to San Francisco to be closer to her family and start her advertising career. She worked for a few companies before landing her role at Kinesso, which is part of The Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc. (IPG) – an American publicly traded advertising company with five major networks, one of them being IPG Mediabrands – IPG’s data management and media buying arm. Pandher has been with the company for a total of seven years and started as an Ad Operations Specialist working directly on execution and implementation of creative specifications, submissions, and ad trafficking through third-party ad servers, rich media vendors, and media buying for clients, including Johnson & Johnson, Sony Entertainment and Charles Schwab. She is currently the Vice President of International Business Operations and is responsible for building and expanding digital operations across all North America, APAC, EMEA, and LATAM regions for Kinesso. Her primary functions are digital operations execution, business data insights and analytics, planning, and project management while driving cross-functional collaboration and serving as the integrator helping to connect workstreams. Pandher navigates a rapidly evolving dynamic and organization to manage a broad range of projects to varying degrees of complexity, shifting from strategy to tactical execution.

INSPIRATION AND ADVICE FOR CURRENT STUDENTS: Pandher’s inspiration for success comes from the journey and evolution of her parent’s decision to move to the US from India and start their family-owned businesses. They helped build the foundation Pandher needed to strive in her professional career. Some advice to current students includes: Study abroad during your undergrad/graduate program. It will offer you an experience like no other. Join organizations offered at GVSU and hold yourself responsible for attending and participating in the sessions. If an opportunity is not available at your school or company, don’t walk away from it and expect it will eventually become available. Take the bulls by the horns and devise, deploy and create it.

“Fear will hold you back from accomplishing what you’re already capable of accomplishing. If you let fear win, you’re feeding the wrong wolf” said Pandher.

GIFT – Great Ideas For Teaching: Online Class Meets Hollywood Squares

Dr. Valerie Peterson

There is a lot of value in being able to see your students’ faces during distance learning. However, as we all know, we can’t force them to be on camera. 

This issue led our very own Grand Valley State University Communication Studies professor, Dr. Valerie Peterson, to experiment and arrive at a helpful strategy called ‘mini-classes’ to encourage students to participate and, in many cases, TURN ON THEIR CAMERAS!

We sat down with Dr. Peterson to learn more.

What is the problem?

“You have only one or two students turning on their cameras (Blackboard Collaborate) – or, you have many students with cameras on, but they all act like wallflowers (Zoom),” said Peterson. “Also, on Blackboard Collaborate, there is the ‘only-four-students-visible-at-a-time’ situation, which means students don’t like getting stuck having to keep their cameras on so as not to embarrass the teacher (after they’ve become visible and/or spoken). They also don’t like feeling bad about turning off their camera after the interaction (and leaving the teacher ‘behind’).”

The solution: 

1 – Break up your class into groups of four students. Call them ‘mini-classes’ or ‘pods’ – or whatever name fits your style. Let students know that these groups are not meant to work together; they are simply being used to arrange the class. 

2 – Assign each mini-class to a different day of class (mini-class one on the first day, say Monday; mini-class two on the second day, say Wednesday, etc.). In a 28 person class, that would be seven groups of four students, or seven consecutive days of class – each with a different mini-class. During the first class where you use this method, mini-class one would be ‘on deck’ to have their cameras on and microphones on or at the ready. Students in mini-classes two – seven are encouraged to participate but could also lurk. 

3 – Mini-class gives you four faces you can see to help you gauge how the bulk of students are reacting. It also offers students a day when they should be braced for interaction with you and be ready to share their faces/voices with the class (and perhaps even be especially familiar with the material). 

4 – This method helps democratize classes where only one or two students regularly speak and helps lurkers, some who have helpful observations that might otherwise go unsaid, come out of the shadows. It could be used for one ‘cycle’ in a class, or it could be used for multiple cycles or across the entire course, but you’d need to explain it first, so the soonest you could use it would be after the first day of class once students understand the expectations. 

5 – I don’t grade this or give this extra credit. I explain it as a compromise – one day of focused participation (for which they can be prepared) in exchange for other days when others will be more ‘on the spot.’ I do try to make sure students have the same number of times they’re asked to appear so that all students are asked to share in the responsibilities of participation equally. 

6 – Mini-class can also be used to schedule speeches or other staggered assignments – especially if you allow students to, when needed, adjust their due dates by trading places with someone in a different mini-class (whose work is due at a different time). Another plus is the added interest provided by a rotating group of new classmates about whom students get to know a bit more via their in-class interactions.  

We hope this sit down with Dr. Peterson helps other professors and faculty thwart class participation issues. If you have any questions regarding Dr. Peterson’s method, please feel free to reach out to her via email.

Confessions of an Advertising and Public Relations Major: Morgan Layne’s Top Five Takeaways

Morgan Layne

Hi, I’m Morgan! This semester I will complete my advertising and public relations degree from Grand Valley State University with an emphasis in public relations. I currently serve as the Vice President of Operations for GrandPR, Grand Valley’s award-winning, student-run, integrated communications firm. We are one of a handful of firms to be nationally affiliated through the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). I am also a member of the Grand Valley PRSSA chapter and serve as the communications intern for our very own Advertising and Public Relations Program. 

In reflecting on this journey, I’d like to share five key tips that have been important to my success in our program: 

1. Talk to your professors. In this program, we are surrounded by professors who care so deeply about us as people, not just students –  they are great resources. Ask them questions, go to office hours, and set up a time to just chat. They are not only missing the fun before class conversations like we are but also have some great advice when it comes to future careers. 

2. Lean on your fellow students. In each class, we are surrounded by at least 20 other students. We are all there to learn more about the same topics. Finding people in a class to connect with has been so crucial in my journey. You can support each other through the class and as you launch into your future career. 

3. Get involved. Seeing the abundance of student organizations and clubs at GVSU can be intimidating. I would hear about them and never think I could do it, but now, here I am. Honestly, I wish I would have joined sooner. In these organizations, you get to work with a community of people who have similar interests and goals. This has helped motivate me and given me my community. 

4. Take a step back to be proud. When school, work, internships, and life are moving quickly, it can be hard to see everything you have done. My favorite way to appreciate the work I have accomplished is by printing out my first and current resumes for comparison. Just by looking at these, I can see how far I have come. If you want some more tips on how to be proud of your progress as an undergraduate, check out my last blog for GrandPR.

5. Try new things. This is the best time to find out what you like and do not like. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Try a new tactic on a project. You might not know much about it but maybe you grow to live it.

To learn more about student clubs in the Ad and PR major program please visit: