When Distance Deepens Connections: How Intercollegiate Partnership Programs Support Empathetic, Engaged, and Equitable Teaching Approaches


  • Nandeeta Bala Vassar College
  • Alison Cook-Sather


“Distance has the potential to move us closer. The evidence is right here: these intercollegiate connections wouldn’t have happened without this crisis. What does this rupture do to teaching and how do we move forward?” - Parker Matias, student partner, Reed College, 17 April 2020

In mid-April of 2020, after colleges and universities across the United States pivoted to remote teaching and learning, Nandeeta Bala (student co-author) and Alison Cook-Sather (faculty co-author) invited undergraduate student partners from nine institutions with pedagogical partnership programs to join discussions about how to navigate—and support faculty partners in navigating—this unprecedented shift. These student partners generated recommendations that were shared across 15 institutions, and student and faculty partners published essays about their work (Cook-Sather & Bala, 2020). To expand these connections, Bala and Cook-Sather launched several intercollegiate projects. These included weekly conversations for small groups of faculty, staff, and students about Trauma-informed, Anti-racist Teaching and Learning in Hybrid and Remote Contexts in Fall 2020 and Equity in Assessment in Spring 2021, with all sessions led by pairs of intercollegitate, undergraduate student partners. Bala and Cook-Sather also created Pairing Student Partners: An Intercollegiate Collaboration. In Fall 2020, 26 student partners from nine universities in three countries were paired with the goal of developing new relationships and supporting pedagogical partnership during this uncertain time; in Spring 2021, there are 28 student partners and counting. In this article, Bala and Cook-Sather address the questions below to explore how the co-creation of these multiple intercollegiate programs builds global community to support and deepen engagement during a period of isolation induced by the pandemic.

  1. How did the advent of the pandemic affect institutional pedagogical partnership programs? How did (a) student partners, (b) faculty partners, (c) program directors react/respond?
  2. How did our programs sustain themselves and their participants through the pandemic? How did partnership itself support our programs? Which principles, structures, and practices could remain in place and what new principles, structures, and practices needed to be created to sustain partnership work?
  3. What role did the intercollegiate discussions play in connecting partners from different institutions and how did student partners experience these connections?
  4. In what ways, if any, have these programs and connections fostered empathy, deeper understanding, and engagement during this time? 
  5. How might we further develop or sustain these programs? What insights and approaches developed as a result of the pandemic do we want to carry forward post-pandemic and why?


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Author Biographies

Nandeeta Bala, Vassar College

Class of 2022, Vassar College, USA

Alison Cook-Sather

Mary Katharine Woodworth Professor of Education


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How to Cite

Bala, N., & Cook-Sather, A. (2022). When Distance Deepens Connections: How Intercollegiate Partnership Programs Support Empathetic, Engaged, and Equitable Teaching Approaches. Student Engagement in Higher Education Journal, 4(2), 128–145. Retrieved from https://sehej.raise-network.com/raise/article/view/1066