Strengthening classroom connections with students struggling with changing times

Frederick Engram Jr., Ed.D.

“No, we’re not going to do that,” Frederick Engram Jr., Ed.D. emphatically told one of his students over the phone, days ago, after she suggested she may take an incomplete in his course.

She is taking more than a full course load this spring semester and having difficulties keeping up with assignments now that Radford University has transitioned to online classes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, she has an obligation to care for family members in need of help.

The burden seemed too tough to bear.

“I called her one day, and she immediately broke down,” Engram recalled. “She is one of my A students and always does good work. So, I could not let her take an incomplete.”

Engram, a faculty member of the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences, emphasized that he wanted to see her best work and gave her an extension on a project. “If that meant giving her a little more time to get the work done, so be it.”

As a man who prides himself on being a “disruptor of age-old practices,” Engram is also compassionate. It is a trait his students are realizing – if they had not done so already – during this difficult time of completing assignments in self-isolation.

When Engram and the struggling student were talking on the phone, he praised her kindness and willingness to take care of others and gently reminded her of the duty she has to her own well-being.

“I think we all should allow ourselves to give in to the desire to help and take care of everyone else. That’s a good thing,” Engram said. “But, you also have to learn and practice self-care. You have to learn to set boundaries for yourself in order to do the things you need and want to get done.”

Since students left campus in March, Engram has been making phone calls to many of the 75 students enrolled in the three sections of his course, Critical Race in Higher Education: A Historical Perspective. Demographically, there is broad range of students in Engram’s courses, and “there is a range of emotions out there among our students,” he said. “Many are doing just fine, while others are having a more difficult time.”

When it comes to self-care, Engram practices what he preaches. In addition to staying in touch with students, friends and family, he writes.

“During this time of uncertainty, I have had the amazing opportunity to release my newest article," said Engram. At the same time, he has co-authored two essays for books scheduled to be published in the fall of 2020.

Writing is self-care for Engram, a self-proclaimed introvert, and it allows him time to escape from “the chaos,” he said, “to focus on the humanity during the pandemic,” and transition into a peaceful mindset that leads to the nurturing of others.

“I just want to do my part to help where and when I can. I just try to a make sure every one of my students has their needs met, and make sure people aren’t freaking out, whether it be about the pandemic or the move to online classes,” Engram explained. “We, as faculty, need to check in on our students, be mindful of their needs, but also help them keep up with their assignments, so they can get the most of their college experiences.”

#HighlandersRise is an initiative to spotlight how Radford University students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members push through fear and frustration to pursue their hopes and dreams, even in trying times. Our resiliency sustains us, and our responsiveness empowers us. The entire Radford family, both near and far, is demonstrating a tremendous amount of strength during the unprecedented times we are facing locally, regionally and globally.

Apr 22, 2020
Chad Osborne