Georgia State wins NASPA Virtual Innovation Award

Illustration by Myah Anglin | The Signal

Georgia State received the Virtual Innovation Award from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA). They join nine other universities across the nation recognized for their virtual student support services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Georgia State News Hub states that this award recognizes Georgia State for “virtually providing exemplary academic, financial and community-building services to students.”

The new Financial Hardship and Emergency Assistance program was one highlight for Georgia State to win the award. Introduced in March 2020, the program provides students with financial support after experiencing substantial challenges during the pandemic. 

According to Michael Sanseviro, the dean of students and interim vice president for Student Engagement & Programs, a couple of offices partnered together to provide immediate relief and assistance to students. 

“The Georgia State Foundation launched a crowdfunding site to raise private donations. The Dean of Students office created an online ‘one stop’ easy application literally overnight, so students could immediately start requesting help,” Sanseviro said. 

The program details also quickly reached other partners behind the scenes, including the Student Financial Management Center, the Student Assistance Team and other social workers and counselors. 

Through the application process, an entire team of professionals can immediately assess each student’s unique needs. Then, they connect them with the best resources both on campus and in the community to provide holistic case-managed support.

“While much of the support has been financial, we have helped thousands of students receive the short-term help they need while also starting to focus on long-term solutions and support resources,” Sanseviro said.

The Financial Hardship & Emergency Assistance program also includes food insecurity grants. To effectively help struggling students, Georgia State created grants ranging from $100 to $250 and applied them instantly to students’ accounts within 24 hours of application, giving those students money for food.

“During the December break, when most offices were closed, we partnered with Kroger and issued e-gift cards to needy students throughout [the] break,” Sanseviro said. “We even had one student with an emergency on Christmas, and our on-call staff were able to help her find a nearby Kroger that was open and could provide her free food with the e-certificate.” 

Georgia State also kept all of the on-campus housing and food service open throughout the winter break for the first time to ensure residential students would have a safe place to stay. They also began their 24/7/365 Mental Health Support program. 

“As part of our BeWellGSU initiative with the onset of the pandemic, we immediately shifted our counseling services to be available virtually to all students and partnered with TogetherAll to provide 24/7/365 access and support,” Sanseviro said.

Also, to assist students with living needs, Georgia State managed to keep students engaged safely amid the pandemic. 

Georgia State launched the Navigate app to give students access to advising information and support, including the opportunity to schedule virtual advising appointments through the app. Sanseviro said that Georgia State has provided over 65,000 virtual advising appointments since the start of the pandemic and the app’s launch.

The online Panther Involvement Network (PIN) offers students all kinds of activities. 

Georgia State enhanced all co-curricular engagement opportunities, including a new POUNCE Rewards program, allowing students to stay connected and earn prizes through both in-person and online programs.

The PantherConnect program also started last summer. It provides incoming students guided pathways to get involved based on their high school involvement from their admissions applications and academic interests. 

“[We know] it can be overwhelming for new students having hundreds of student organizations to choose from and thousands of programs. PantherConnect helps make the process of getting connected with other new students and student organization leaders easier, and it is all fully automatic through PIN,” Sanseviro said. 

As a result, Georgia State successfully maintained a smooth and cohesive community during the pandemic. According to Sanseviro, Georgia State had more engagement from across all six campuses after moving online compared with previous in-person times. 

Various virtual programs were available for student participation. Some of the most popular ones include the health and wellness programs like “healthy cooking on a budget,” online meditation and yoga. The virtual video series that launched last spring had over 200,000 views.  

After the campus reopened in fall 2020, Georgia State started to provide many hybrid programs. For example, there was a Welcome Back Comedy Show with comedians and a small in-person audience in Speakers Auditorium on the first Friday night of classes. They live-streamed the show through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so that students could view it from anywhere. 

“Our primary goal has been to maximize opportunity and access despite the limitations of social distancing,” Sanseviro said.

Many students think Georgia State has done a great job keeping students engaged while ensuring public health amid the pandemic, like senior Josh Mancin.

“The school has done well …  especially by reserving a whole building solely for students that test positive for COVID-19. Also, there have been very few overall cases on campus thanks to Georgia State’s protocols,” Mancin said. “The dining hall has continued to produce enough food to feed us all too.”

Winning this innovation award and being the only Georgia school to win it reveals how helpful Georgia State’s long-time efforts are for students. 

“This award truly [shows that] #TheStateWay is using data-driven, student-focused innovative approaches that leverage technology in unique ways to scale our services across multiple locations to a large and diverse student body,” Sanseviro said. 

Although the award celebrates Georgia State’s ability to provide virtual services to students, Sanseviro notes that they will continue to “strive for new and innovative ways to meet the ever-evolving needs of our students.”