By Joan Hannant, Founder & CEO of The Soma Institute
The Soma Institute was built on the idea of helping people. Students come to us because they are passionate about the idea of a career where they can help people heal naturally. My passion and the passion of our staff is to help our students succeed both in the classroom and after graduation.
COVID-19 changed all of our worlds dramatically. My heart breaks as I think about those in Illinois and around the world who have lost loved ones to this virus. As I look out the window, I see a quiet city and empty streets as people shelter in place. The challenges are many, and they are not easy to navigate. But, when the world throws you a global pandemic, you can't just shut down. You have to continue to innovate and continue to help more people.
For us, this pandemic means working even harder to help our students, because we know they will graduate and use their education and skills to help others. Social distancing has presented new challenges at The Soma Institute. Our culture is all about community and caring. We knew our foundation was going to be tested when we had to close the physical doors to our facility. Our staff, faculty and students could no longer see each other in person every day. It’s a situation many schools and business owners faced.
The most important thing we did was move quickly. There was no playbook, but we knew that doing nothing was not an option for us or for our students. We had to continue to help. We lobbied the state for a waiver that allows us to teach our science classes online so students could continue their education. We were already in the process of beginning a fully online Health and Wellness Coaching Certificate Program that can be taken by students anywhere in the world. But the ability to teach classes online was just the beginning. What makes The Soma Institute great is the relationships and how we care for each other. We knew we were going to have to work hard to carry that culture, that feeling, into the virtual world.
The thing about culture and community is that you can’t force it into being. We can’t simply tell our students and staff to stay connected and cross our fingers for the best. It takes work, transparency and communication. The “why” behind The Soma Institute is my passion for helping people. I want our students to achieve independence and financial freedom through a rewarding career. Many of the people we’re educating at Soma are coming from a place where they felt stuck in a job or were doing work they didn’t get any enjoyment out of. They came to us with hope for a new career and a new life. They’re depending on us to lead them there. They’re at Soma because the idea of a career where they can help other people is exciting. For many, enrolling in our school was a leap of faith. I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to do all I can to support them, and that support takes on a whole new level of importance during challenging times like this. Students needed to know that I am still here for them and doing all I can to help them succeed even if we aren’t in the same building. One of the first things I set out to do is write a weekly memo offering tips and advice to help our students both personally and in the classroom. Those memos are one easy way to stay connected. They are clear and simple with topics like staying positive and finding success as an online student.
We also organized things like virtual meetups so our students could communicate in a non-classroom environment. We set up virtual meditation and yoga sessions to promote our students’ health and wellness during this uncertain time. Our students are balancing parenthood, homeschooling, social isolation and concerns about their current jobs. Offering these additional opportunities for connection and self care is our way to help them as whole people, not just students.
A priority for The Soma Institute is helping students from all backgrounds in every step of their educational and career journey. That has never been tested before like it is being tested right now. But, the best way to get through challenging times is by being clear about who you are and what you stand for. When in doubt, go back to your core and use it as your guiding light. If you do, you just may come out of this as a better person, a better school or a better business than you were before.