A Bowling Green State University professor has taken office hours to a different level in this time of coronavirus.
Angela Falter Thomas can be found most Fridays in the Jerome Library parking lot. Just look for the Falcon flag flying from the back of her recreational vehicle.
“It was actually my husband’s idea,” said Thomas, who is an associate professor of education in the School of Teaching and Learning, College of Education & Human Development. “I was worried about my students and them not feeling welcome coming back to campus.”
Shayne Thomas, who also coined the term “edu-gating” — a reference to tailgating — suggested rolling onto campus in their RV, then rolling out the welcome mat to her students. They could keep social distance outside, but still have that face-to-face contact.
“A lot of my teaching this fall is in a hybrid or remote situation,” Thomas said, adding that she wanted to make connections with her classes. She estimated that half of her students are studying remotely from their homes and the other half are on campus this fall.
“I think they are really just happy to be back on campus; they do not mind the social distancing rules and guidelines, they just want some resemblance of their old life back. Never did I think I would start my 31st year of teaching — 11th year as a professor at BGSU — like this, but I did.”
The RV has been a hit with her students.
For the first session, on Aug. 28, Thomas had 17 students stop by. Some were new students, introducing themselves and picking up a syllabus. Others were students from spring semester who never got to say goodbye when school — and everything else — was shut down due to COVID-19.
“They were just glad to meet me or see me again, say an official goodbye,” Thomas said. “My old students, we never got to say goodbye last spring so we could wrap up and talk about their summer.
“It was good to see a real person from the other side of the computer.”
Thomas and the students sit under an awning over a table decked out in an orange-and-white speckled covering. Orange camp chairs are spaced apart. Water bottles and pop fill an orange cooler. Some shaggy rugs — also Falcon orange — are laid out in front of the chairs.
She’s also got a flat-screen television hung on the side of the RV, connected to Apple Play. She can click through the class syllabus or power point from the class.
“A couple (students) are working on independent study projects with me this semester so I answered a few questions, and another was a first year student who is interested in joining the sorority that I’m the adviser of, so she came to learn more about Omega Phi Alpha.”
Thomas has made herself available by email, phone and text.
“But I think some of them just need that face-to-face connection,” she said.
“Technology’s pretty cool,” Thomas said. “But there’s something about that personal connection that’s needed by many.”
She and Shayne purchased the 25-foot RV in late spring. They love to travel and usually go to Europe in the summers.
This summer, they packed up the RV and headed west, exploring national parks and anything related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, who is one of Thomas’ favorite authors. They covered 14 states, ending up in Yellowstone before turning back to Ohio.
“It’s been a nice way to get some vacation and enjoy the outdoors,” she said.
As the weather gets cooler, Thomas said she will re-evaluate her office hours in the parking lot. She said most of her students are usually feeling comfortable by November and visits with her usually drop off at that time of the semester.
Thomas teaches upper-level classes at BGSU. They include an introduction to the teaching of middle childhood language arts, practicum in the middle school setting and methods and materials for teaching reading.
She lives in Tiffin, where she taught middle school for 20 years before charting the new career course in higher education.
Her daughter, who attended the same school that Thomas taught in, died while she was in the fifth grade. Thomas said she loved teaching middle school students but decided to pursue another career.
“I just didn’t think I could (see) them and wonder about where my daughter would be sitting in class,” Thomas said.
She earned her doctorate from Ohio State University and in 2009 took a position at BGSU, where she had earned her bachelor’s degree in 1989. She has her master’s degree from Heidelberg University.
“I walk in those doors on campus and I’m so happy to be here,” Thomas said of BGSU.
Shayne is a county commissioner, who led Zoom meetings from the road over the summer.
Thomas said she got quite handy at online shopping, placing orders for pickup in the RV as they arrived in a new town.
“Shayne would pull up into the parking lot and I’d say we’re parked in lot 4, 5, 6 and maybe 7,” Thomas said with a laugh.
She hopes the next purpose for the RV in fall 2021 is more fun than work-related.
“We’re hoping to use it for Falcon football games,” Thomas said.