DWU, MTI students see job opportunities change more than disappear amidst COVID-19 concerns

DWU digital media and design student Chloe Solberg utilizes a Mac computer to complete an assignment. (Photo provided by Dakota Wesleyan University)

Just a few months ago, senior Ryan Chase had plans to attend graduation at Dakota Wesleyan University and begin working toward a career in real estate soon after.

Chase will still graduate with a history degree next week, but his final college days are being spent finishing online classes from his family’s farm north of Huron, rather than alongside other students on DWU’s campus in Mitchell.

With restrictions implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic now in place indefinitely, Chase is one of hundreds of students at Mitchell’s colleges whose plans surrounding graduation are now in flux.

“In December, everybody was expecting to have a bunch of jobs open. The economy was doing great; the job market was great; we were expecting to do so well,” Chase told The Daily Republic on Monday. “And here we are in late April, and all the sudden, the economy’s terrible, a lot of people are unemployed and it’s a lot different from what we were expecting four months ago. I think that’s caused a lot of people to be concerned and frightened about it.”

While Chase still plans to go through the 116 hours of classes required to obtain a real estate license, he said the amount of time the virus remains prevalent and whether or not it has a second wave could impact how long it will take him to get his career off the ground, especially in a field that traditionally requires significant in-person contact with clients.


“It’d maybe be different if I was wanting to go into a typical 9-to-5 job where you have a set salary and you can work remotely, but considering I want to go into real estate, it’s a lot more difficult because you can’t really just connect with somebody well over the phone you don’t know in person already,” Chase said.

Lane Wesseling, Mitchell Technical Institute's student body president, who will be graduating from the school's business management program, said Tuesday that the MTI students who have been most affected by the school's shift to online classes are those in programs that require a significant amount of hands-on work, such as welding and building construction. However, he said students have been able to get their book work done this semester, while most programs hold the bulk of their in-lab classes earlier in the school year and have been extending lab hours to accommodate students this semester.

DWU President Amy Novak and MTI Dean of Student Success Scott Fossum both said students who planned to graduate this spring haven’t been prevented from doing so by the shift to remote classes, even for those in programs that would typically require more hands-on training.

Novak said some students have told her their first days of work have been delayed, but that they still expect to have those jobs. Others, however, have had summer internships cancelled, though Novak said DWU faculty members are working with companies to find creative ways for as many internships as possible to be done remotely.

Fossum said many MTI students had been close to finalizing their post-graduation plans before March, when many changes related to COVID-19 began.

“One fortunate thing is we had our job fair back in February, and at that point in time a lot of our students were in the process of securing employment,” Fossum said.

While the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has delayed work for some students, administrators said the end of this semester’s unprecedented circumstances may have helped to launch others into their working lives.

Novak said she’s heard from multiple schools in the area that DWU’s education students’ knowledge of technology has been invaluable as those schools have switched from classroom to remote learning.


“They’ve actually picked up offers from some of the school districts as a result of the student teaching experience and their ability to help their classroom teachers make that transition,” Novak said.

Fossum said when MTI stopped holding in-person classes, some students simply started early on what were originally planned to be their post-graduation jobs, putting them in the workforce before graduation and months earlier than expected.

“Some of our students have started working too much now, and I would prefer that they spend their next few weeks focusing on their coursework instead of heading into the workforce,” he said.

Chase said the indefinite changes that have resulted from COVID-19 have made an already difficult transition trickier to navigate.

“I think there’s quite a few people who are still just trying to figure out their lives, which is typical of being a college senior," Chase said. "This has definitely kind of complicated the process."

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