It has been evident throughout the duration of this project that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the environment in which our client operates. From the beginning, we anticipated COVID-19 to be an issue, as the pandemic had already transformed our lives dramatically. Across the continental United States, widespread school shutdowns have plagued school districts as cases began to rise. For over a year, legislators, superintendents, and local governments have wrestled with reopening these vital systems for in-person learning. With widespread vaccine rollouts, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel for many states. However, with one of the lowest vaccination rates among U.S states and territories, Puerto Rico is still met with uncertainty of when the return to normal will be achieved. For our client in particular, the pandemic has been especially detrimental, both in the context of our project and other projects Caras Con Causa is engaged in.
On April 8th, Puerto Rico’s health secretary announced that all public and private schools in Puerto Rico will close two weeks due to a surge of COVID-19. Caras Con Causa manages a public school in Puerto Rico, which has experienced similar challenges as many other schools in the US: a transition to virtual learning. However, since Caras is a nonprofit organization with support from volunteers, they experience additional difficulty amidst this transition. The uncertainty of school closures and low vaccination rates indicate that Caras may be experiencing these challenges in their school for an extended period of time.
In regards to our project, the pandemic environment in Puerto Rico, and across the world, has also had an impact on our ability to assist with Caras’ goals. Caras intends to develop Labcom, an environmental science lab where college students and researchers from around the world can come to study Puerto Rico’s unique environment. Our goal is to assist Caras in garnering support and participation in the program. While we’ve been able to work on pricing options and marketing materials, we can’t actually pilot the program with eager groups at the University of Pittsburgh due to the pandemic. To accommodate this, we’re working on developing a speaker series to continue to cultivate interest and prepare for when conditions have made travel to Puerto Rico available.
However, the virtual environment does have an upside. We’ve been able to effectively communicate with our client throughout the engagement via zoom and email, which has helped us overcome any challenges we face when working towards the deliverables. The biggest challenge of cross cultural communication in a virtual environment is that occasionally the mix of the existing language barrier and poor connection (my wifi is particularly bad) can lead to difficulty in conversation. However, our group has done exceptionally well at overcoming these challenges, and we’ve been able to resolve any miscommunication that may occur in the moment.
While the pandemic certainly presents immense challenges, both for our project and other projects Caras is working on, it is absolutely essential to remain optimistic and positive about the future, all while working hard to ensure our team supports the Caras group in achieving their goals.