Despite the unprecedented challenge professors and students face moving learning to an entirely online environment, both have courageously pivoted their focus as education moves into uncharted territory. As a result, Sacred Heart Major Seminary surpassed its enrollment goal for the 2020 Spring Term — and is still counting.
“I have been absolutely inspired by the efforts of our faculty and students during this difficult transition,” said Ryan Cahill, Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management. “For many, online learning is a foreign and frankly intimidating delivery model. From the faculty perspective, I was pleasantly shocked to see how effective our instructors were in navigating the transition.”
Cahill added that many students are drawn to the seminary because of its close-knit community and integrated spirituality, “all of which takes an intentional effort by an instructor to replicate in an online format.”
“Despite all the challenges, we had very few students drop with a vast majority able to complete their semester online, and many expressing a positive experience in doing so,” he said. “Anecdotally, I have spoken to a handful of students in which this was their first experience in an online course and that have since enrolled in another for the spring term.”
One student, Mary Henige, who also works as founder and director of a communications consulting firm, added that her experience transitioning to online learning at SHMS was “seamless.”
“Dr. Healy was flexible, and through student input, we kept the scheduled class time versus watching videos she recorded,” Henige said. “It was easy, and Dr. Healy was accessible. The Zoom teaching was great. We could see her lecture, view other students, she shared her PowerPoint and could write on the white board. Students asked questions live and on chat.”
Henige encouraged other students considering applying to SHMS and continuing their education to take advantage of the opportunity to be a witness to others during this challenging time.
“In his pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Allen Vigneron says there are to be no bystanders in our missionary movement,” Henige said. “You do not need to know how you will use the knowledge you will receive at Sacred Heart. That’s up to God.”
“Those of us not on the front lines of the pandemic can align ourselves with Christ, the Great Physician who came to cure the sick and sinners,” she continued. “We can ‘minster’ in His Holy Name by bringing the Word and hope to the world one person at a time.”
Dr. Matthew Gerlach, Dean of the Institute for Lay Ministry and Associate Professor of Theology, added that faculty at SHMS are quickly learning from the previous term and are optimistic about the next.
“We’re eager to help students continue to develop themselves. It’s a challenge and we’re quickly adjusting and learning how to move forward,” Dr. Gerlach said. “Lots of people have chosen to take classes [even though they might be unemployed]. People want to do something enriching and we want to give them a spiritual perspective online.”
Despite the challenge of an unknown future with regard to the pandemic and how it may continue to affect the learning environment, Cahill expressed optimism that SHMS enrollment actually improved and continues to do so.
“In the short term, enrollment has actually improved. The dean's decision to move the spring semester fully online and dedicate some of his top faculty appears to have really resonated with what students are looking for right now,” Cahill said. “I am cautiously optimistic about the seminary's enrollment moving forward. It's widely understood that most institutions across higher education are bracing for a challenging 2020-21 academic year.”
“However, most institutions are not attended by such committed and intrinsically motivated students as those we find at Sacred Heart,” he continued. “When students' motivation is rooted in a deep love of the faith, a desire to grow closer to Christ, and a heart for service, it's going to take more than a pandemic to extinguish their passion.”