Shaken But Unbowed: UCCDs Fight to Win Survival Battle Against COVID-19 Pandemic

It all started with a shaken voice of the University Centers for Career Development (UCCD) Chief of Party Maha Fakhry in a meeting with the Cairo team informing them that operations must resume remotely from home due to the fast spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the news was shocking and spread uncertainty among all UCCD staff, through the past two months and a half UCCD staff's readiness, dedication, and unbowed bond to overcome challenges have been getting stronger as time passed.

“It was not easy to shift at the beginning but we did it, I always thought that working online will not be as efficient as interacting with students face-to-face,” said Dina Gohary, deputy to the chief of the party.

She highlighted that she was a bit resistant at the beginning to shift to online; especially with the long courses; more than 16, that UCCD offer.

Resisting Reality, Resisting Change

The resistance at the beginning was not only Gohary’s challenge; however, it was the same issue that many UCCD staff in different governorates have witnessed with students.

“For our center, the challenge was to reach out to students that we never served before and who have never heard of UCCD,” Laila Delawr, career development specialist of the Alexandria General Center explained.  Delawr works for a center that has not officially been inaugurated at Alexandria University. The center was ready for inauguration yet the COVID-19 circumstances hindered the opening. She highlighted that the resistance was in the fact that students are not used to working online. 

“We never worked offline before the pandemic, so our challenge was not only in the resistance of students who are not used to online platforms but also to introducing our services online,” she continued saying that “by time and by my colleague’s efforts and with the idea of charging internet packages, we managed to make a difference and reach out to our students.”

The successful idea of charging internet packages for students in need was born from one of UCCD staff members in Alexandria during a fruitful meeting that gathered all 87 staff members around Egypt as well as Cairo management staff.

“We need to always remember that a huge amount of our students are trying to be financially independent and some of them have part-time jobs, and the charging packages will be beneficial to them,” says Delawr.

Since the beginning of implementing this idea of charging packages in all 15 centers, most UCCDs have started to think of all possible creative means to attract students in order to build them for their own benefit.

“Our staff and colleagues excelled in creativity and in adapting to the virtual life we now live in,” Gohary highlights.

Online Benefits Amid Challenges

In every university in different governorates, challenges were different. Some centers faced gender-related issues mainly in Upper Egypt while others faced internet connectivity problems. Yet, what has been the unchanged motivation to all centers was students and their enjoyment and feedback when they are virtually served by UCCDs. 

“It feels so bad that I will be graduating soon while I have not taken all courses I can take at UCCD, yet I am very lucky that I have joined the project management course which will help me a lot in my start-up graduation project,” said graduating senior Esraa Amer to UCCD Menoufia.

During the course, Amer said that she learned how she could manage any project by conducting a feasibility study, learning what the market needs and finalizing how to advertise a project and she is currently implementing these steps into her graduation project.

Amer has been attending one of the courses that have been adjusted for virtual use. Gohary explained that these courses used to be taken before the COVID-19 period five days a week for eight hours but now they are being taught for three hours with more individual assignments for participants.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief of Party Taghrid El-Sayed spoke about one of the challenges being met by two of her centers in Sadat and Menoufia.

“Our reach out is unfortunately sometimes being affected by the fact that a large number of students are living in small villages with no computers and with very poor internet connectivity,” El-Sayed says. However, she highlights that UCCDs exert all efforts to announce services through all possible channels and to reach out to all possible students.

UCCDs have not been only providing virtual courses, workshops on career advising, interviewing techniques and one-to-one resume critiques; they have stretched their boundaries by bringing virtual companies for job shadowing.