Meeting the Moment: How The American Academy Kept Students on Track in Brazil During COVID-19

Last spring, American Academy student Maria Cecília Sucharski learned that COVID-19 would restrict students from attending in-person classes on the Brazilian campus. However, Sucharski was happy to learn first-hand that faculty for the dual enrollment program were equipped to deliver an optimal remote experience.

“The professors actually seemed more prepared for teaching remotely than I thought they would be,” Sucharski mused recently. “The classes were great, and I didn’t really miss out on any content. Although I was sad that we didn’t get to meet our professors. I know I will come and talk to them once I’m over at Kent State University.”

Sucharski is a Brazilian student enrolled at The American Academy (AA), a dual-enrollment program offered jointly by Kent State University and the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná (PUCPR), located in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil. The program was created in 2018.

Class Ice-Breaker
Behind the scenes last spring, American Academy faculty and staff worked swiftly and efficiently to convert the program to remote learning.  

“Last March when the pandemic hit, we quickly pivoted to fully-remote instruction, flying the two faculty members who were already in Brazil back to the U.S. and working with them and the remaining eight to convert their courses to remote delivery on very short notice,” said Leslie Bowser, senior global program coordinator with Kent State’s Office of Global Education. “Drew Shipka with OCDE (Office of Continuing and Distance Education) was very helpful to many of the faculty with the technical aspects. All faculty were able to deliver some or all their content synchronously, to maintain the interactive classroom learning experience the students had come to expect.”

In fall 2020, after graduations and new enrollments, American Academy enrollment totaled 106 students. Students were offered 15 American Academy class sections that were staffed remotely by drawing on a combination of faculty from the Kent campus and from Kent State Florence in Italy.         

“All courses were again offered synchronously, which meant that Florence faculty were teaching in the evenings on their time, and all were more than happy to do so to accommodate the students,” Bowser said. “The synchronous delivery mode was determined to be critical to student retention and recruitment. Many students mentioned how surprised they were by how much they enjoyed their classes and professors, despite not being together in person.”

Enrollment for the spring semester, which begins Feb. 18 (American Academy’s academic calendar does not align with Kent State’s academic year) will be 145 students, including 72 freshmen. American Academy is offering 16 class sections this term, with all but one being taught by Kent campus faculty.

“Faculty scheduled to teach in May and June are still holding out hope that they might go to Brazil in person,” Bowser said. “I hope so too. We just have to see how things go with the pandemic over the next couple of months.”

Since 2018, the first two cohorts of American Academy students – 45 students in all – graduated from the American Academy with an associate of science diploma. Of the 45 students, 16 are now enrolled remotely at Kent State for degree completion, and 11 more are planning to come in Fall 2021.

“We were able to attract 27 of the 45 completers (60%), despite the pandemic travel ban,” Bowser said. “That number would have been even higher had they been able to start coming in person last semester.” 

In addition to the student successes, Bowser said there are exciting new developments for this upcoming term. Due to growing enrollment and student interest by architecture majors, Kent State’s Architecture department is experimenting with remotely co-teaching an American Academy Foundations Studio I course. Simultaneously, a PUCPR Brazilian architecture faculty member plans to hold in-person classes in the architecture studio on the PUCPR’s Curitiba campus with a Kent State faculty member “remoting-in” to the class.

Previously there were plans to offer one section of a June 2021 course in Florence and one in Brazil. The Kent State Florence professor is prepared to teach it remotely from Italy if it is not safe to travel to Brazil. Either way, the instructor will incorporate Italian cultural content into the course.

“I am so grateful for our enthusiastic, dedicated and hard-working faculty from both the Kent campus and our Florence center,” Bowser said. “The high quality of instruction they’ve been able to deliver despite the challenges of the pandemic has really helped us continue hitting or exceeding our recruitment and retention goals.”

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UPDATED: Monday, July 22, 2024 06:45 AM
April McClellan-Copeland