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Colleges going cyber for grads

Andre Lamar * Delaware
andre.lamar@doverpost.com
Dover Post

Varneka Baynard knew she’d graduate from Delaware State University this spring. But she didn’t realize she’d do it as the first doctoral student to complete a virtual dissertation at DSU.

“I didn’t really know I was making history,” said Baynard, of Middletown, who’s majoring in education. “But I’m more so happy for the educational program, because it produces a lot of great up-and-coming educators.”

Whether it’s virtual dissertations or hosting cyber graduations, universities and colleges around the state have altered their spring plans after being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baynard said she’s looking forward to graduating next weekend, although it won’t happen the traditional way.

“That’s the disappointing part for me,” she said. “Receiving a degree of any sort, whether it’s a bachelor’s, doctorate’s or associate’s -- that is a time for you to celebrate, a time for people to celebrate your accomplishments.”

Del State

Delaware State University will debut its virtual commencement next weekend, where its 700 soon-to-be-grads will be wearing caps and gowns in the comfort of their own homes.

The broadcast is at 10 a.m., May 16, according to a press release.

Each graduate’s picture will appear on the screen during the virtual commencement when their name is announced. The program will feature many of the traditional commencement elements.

There will be remarks from president Tony Allen and board of trustees chairperson Devona Williams and others.

The keynote speaker will be Ukee Washington, a co-anchor of the evening news for the CBS TV station in Philadelphia, KYW channel 3. Washington graduated from Dover High School. His father, Ulysses Washington, was the head of then-Delaware State College’s agriculture department.

University of Delaware

University of Delaware is planning an in-person celebration at some point later this year, which was previously reported by Gannett’s delawareonline.com.

In a letter sent April 16 to students scheduled to graduate, president Dennis Assanis said the university is unsure whether an in-person ceremony will be feasible, but he hopes to honor the graduating class in some fashion when possible.

UD will host an online graduation tribute in the coming weeks and will share more information about an in-person ceremony in late June, according to the letter.

“It’s kind of anti-climactic. It kind of sucks to be honest,” said Doug Baran, a senior studying media communication. “For me, it’s not a huge deal in terms of walking, but I know it is for my family. They were going to make a whole big deal out of it as most families do.”

Del Tech

Delaware Technical Community College will stream virtual graduations on separate dates for each of its four campuses:

  • Dover 6 p.m. May 11
  • Georgetown 6 p.m. May 12
  • Stanton 7 p.m. May 13
  • Wilmington 7 p.m. May 14

Christine Gillan, vice president for strategic communication and marketing for Del Tech, said they extended spring break by one week to get their faculty and staff to transition nearly all of their courses online.

“That has been a huge effort,” Gillan said. “Everyone really worked together in a record amount of time. Our students have responded so positively."

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester will be the commencement speaker.

Del Tech has live-streamed its graduations over the last few years. But this will be the first time where the students aren’t physically present.

“This is going to be different,” Gillan said. “We don’t want to deprive our students of that graduation experience, even though it won’t be the same as being there live. But it’s what we feel is the best course at this time.”

Wesley and Widener

Widener University Delaware Law School will celebrate the Class of 2020 on Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. Details on the venue are forthcoming, university spokeswoman Mary Allen said. 

Meanwhile, Wesley College announced a virtual commencement May 23. Wesley provost Jeffrey Gibson said there are plans to have a physical ceremony in the fall, but “we are still working out the details.”

Goldey-Beacom and Wilmington

Originally scheduled for May 17, Wilmington University postponed its spring commencement to Oct. 25. Degrees will still be delivered upon receipt of final grades in the spring, according to a press release from the university.

“Now that we have a tentative, new date, we’re delighted to plan a special celebration that honors students who have accomplished so much, despite unprecedented circumstances,” president LaVerne Harmon said.

Goldey-Beacon College released a video May 1 to honor its students. That day was the original graduation date. A physical ceremony will be held Nov. 20.

DSU’s first virtual dissertation

Middletown resident Baynard entered uncharted territory at Delaware State University in March.

That’s when the doctoral student presented a virtual dissertation about “the effects of the use of a growth-mindset intervention on self-efficacy, student motivation, and academic achievement of middle school students with vulnerabilities,” she said.

Baynard teaches special education at an elementary school in Bear.

She said it was a little awkward becoming DSU’s first student to complete a virtual dissertation.

One of her biggest issues was she couldn’t see the faces of the committee members she was presenting to on Zoom.

Committee members appeared really tiny on Baynard’s computer because her PowerPoint slides took up most of the space on her screen, she said.

She managed to persevere by keeping an eye on the clock, making sure she went through her presentation as swiftly and thoroughly as possible.

“I’m really happy to have my stamp on DSU,” Baynard said. “It really is an honor for me to go down in history for earning a prestige degree, and to be the first one to do it at Delaware State.”