Sarah Da Silva, who plans to become a professional researcher after she graduates later this spring.

Student Research Week: The Toll of the COVID-19 Pandemic on College Students Lives

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

UCF graduate student Sarah Da Silva has always had an interest in helping young people, and the COVID-19 pandemic inspired some of her research, which she will be presenting at the Student Scholar Symposium. It is part of Student Research Week, which is free, open to the public and ongoing in the Student Union this week.

The Bridgeport, Connecticut, native was interested in the way diverse undergraduate and graduate students handled the stressors of the pandemic — everything from economic challenges to the mental stress of adapting to Zoom instruction and the sense of isolation that followed for many. She wanted to help and give students an opportunity to share their concerns. That’s how this graduate teaching and research assistant came up with “COVID, Inequalities and Health: A Sociological Analysis About the Resilience Found in Unique Student Life Experiences.”

“I am pursuing (medical sociology) because I love researching new ways to improve the health of marginalized individuals impacted by inequalities, stress and adversity, as there is still so much work needing to be done across interdisciplinary research,” says Da Silva, who plans to become a professional researcher after she graduates later this spring.

As part of Student Research Week, we asked Da Silva to talk about why she conducts research and why it matters.

What does your research examine and how does it impact the community?

My research investigates how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted marginalized young adult students’ daily lives and how they respond through resilience.

What should people know about your research?

My research shows unique perspectives about young adult students’ life experiences with adversity and suggests ways to improve existing programs within education and health institutions that could make a difference in so many people’s lives.

Why does research matter to you?

Research matters to me because it can provide knowledge about the kinds of problems existing in our world that aren’t always visible to the public and can provide the public with not only informed facts but also practical suggestions about how to implement social change.

What did you find in your research project that you will be presenting at the showcase?

In the results, specific patterns emerged from narratives describing what it is like living in the pandemic and created four broad categories: health, coping, stressors and social support. The overall findings suggest that diverse graduate and undergraduate students clearly display different forms of coping in times of crisis. Also, some individuals with a presence of social support can thrive rather than just survive in difficult times while managing their mental and physical health issues. Students dealt with stressors, including academic, work, relational and discrimination, while battling their pre-existing anxiety, depression, diseases, and illness concerns that have been exacerbated during the pandemic. However, some of these barriers were mitigated through use of resources derived from support networks (e.g., therapists, co-workers, peers, family members, significant others) with thriving coping strategies (e.g., self-care, religious practices, exercising, meditation). Overall, students’ resilience in narratives show different standpoints on their daily struggles before and during COVID-19, providing insight on unmet needs that should be addressed as components at the individual and structural levels within our education and health systems to improve well-being.

Why did you choose UCF?

I chose UCF because I really loved how there were so many opportunities here within such a large institution and that there was potential for interdisciplinary research growth through the programs with faculty. I heard about the university through my own personal visits to Orlando over the years. I moved around a lot, and I knew Orlando would be a good place for me to not only call home but would open doors for my career path.

Do you speak another language?

I do speak a few other languages. I am much more fluent in Portuguese than Spanish, but I would say I know a decent amount of both.

What are some of your hobbies?

My hobbies include running, exercising, playing viola, baking, traveling, and doing or creating anything new in community.

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