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Coping with COVID: How 2020 Upped my Organizing Skills: Mujahed Alawadi ’21,M.S. ’22 School of Education

This is the second in a series of stories about how our students coped with COVID, and the stresses of learning from a distance, during the past year.

Mujahed Alawadi always proceeds according to plan – his own.

“Being organized comes naturally to me,” says the 23-year-old graduating senior. He will earn his undergraduate degree in May 2021, adding a masters with tri-certification in early childhood, childhood and special education next year.

Alawadi’s orderly system was temporarily threatened with derailment when the pandemic brought worldwide disorganization. Instead, he simply found a new, and better, way of reorganizing around a new reality.

Alawadi was born in Amman, Jordan to a family of seven children. There, his educational experience was rife with menace and physical punishment.

“It was horrible. I was always afraid of giving the wrong answer and getting hit with a stick. It hurt and it made me dislike my teachers,” he recalls.

By the time he reached adolescence, he had vowed to leave school entirely.

“I just had no interest in learning anymore,” he explains.

His father, already working in America, sent for the 16-year-old. He arrived in the U.S. as a shy teen with no English and understandable wariness about education. But as his language improved, so, too, did his opinion of instructors and the classroom setting. Alawadi was so shocked and surprised by the helpfulness of his instructors that by high school graduation, he decided he would pay the kindness forward by becoming an educator himself.    

Mercy College helped from the start. As a freshman, he was introduced to study strategies that further improved his organizational skills. Day planners, bulleted lists, productivity applications and remainder notes – new to him -- imposed new levels of control and discipline.

“I was taking six classes and made a planner for each one, and went from a B to an A student,” says Alawadi.

It took a cataclysm, the pandemic, to disorganize his disciplined world. As a recent English speaker, Alawadi struggled to understand online speakers during his newly remote classes. He mourned the lack of impromptu class discussions, the long hours spent in the campus library or the lounge, and casual meetings. Now, his study would be relegated to a shared bedroom in a crowded home.

“From March until May, my brothers would just come into my room, not notice I was in class, and start talking. Or someone would yell from the other room. I kept reminding everyone I was actually in school, but I didn’t have another place to study,” says Alawadi.

His previously high-organized approach to completing assignments, meeting deadlines and staying on a precise schedule became increasingly tough to follow. So, he determined that the only workable solution would be to return to campus.

“In September, when Mercy partially opened, I started making the daily trip,” says Alawadi.

Campus staff came to know and help him during the long hours of studying, often from 10 a.m. and to 8 p.m. It was a tough regimen, but an effective one. Without distractions, Alawadi buckled down, completed all his assignments and managed to finish up his classroom observation requirement– remotely. He also eagerly counseled others facing remote learning challenges.

Today, with the enforced isolation apparently drawing to a close, he is convinced that the pandemic actually served a higher purpose. It heightened his dedication to teaching, increased his outreach to school-aged youngsters, and underscored the support provided by his Mercy classmates and teachers.

“Sometimes you have to experience the bad to appreciate the good,” says Alawadi. “And it can take a tough period, like the pandemic, to help us learn things and become stronger in new ways.”