Stories from College: students recall abrupt ending to spring semester while trying to plan for an uncertain future

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When I started my freshman year of college, I certainly had a lot of mixed feelings. I was anxious to get started, nervous about being in a new place and wondering what life would be like at my new school.

Of course, I never anticipated my first year would get interrupted by a worldwide pandemic.
So, like so many other students, I finished the school year not on campus but at home. And needless to say, it was a pretty remarkable experience on a lot of levels.

To get a better sense of what life was life for first-year college students during coronavirus, I interviewed seven of them from a variety of schools (large, small, public, private, in-state, out-of-state, satellite, etc.). I’ll be sharing these as a series of posts in this space.

Here’s the fifth installment in this series – Nathan Mitchell is a rising sophomore at a large, local public university.

What college do you attend, and what is your intended major/s and possible minor/s?

I attend the University of Washington at the Seattle campus. I am in the Anthropology: Archaeological Sciences major and I intend to also minor in Russian Language.

When and how did your college react to the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’d say that the University responded quickly to the pandemic we received our first indication that class would move to an online format with an email on March 6th, and classes as of March 9th would not meet in person for the foreseeable future. This was in response to people within the UW community contracting COVID-19, and overall the decision for social distancing seemed to come early enough for the virus not to spread excessively at UW.

How were you impacted by the transition to social distancing and online learning?

One big impact was moving all my dorm room stuff home. Also having to create an at-home workspace capable of supporting university quality schoolwork was challenging, especially in a busy household. Everyone was looking for a place to do their work, and it took a couple of weeks to get it all organized.

The use of Zoom video conferencing has created a strange dynamic between students, as often we talk to faceless names or just ignore class discussion time. Being online also means that I don’t have the opportunity to volunteer in a research laboratory like I was planning.

Nathan mitchell

What were the benefits and drawbacks of your college online learning experience?

The online experience has the benefit of not endangering people with the virus. However, there are drawbacks in the capacity for professors to foster a classroom environment where students can ask questions and hold discussions. The use of Zoom video conferencing has created a strange dynamic between students, as often we talk to faceless names or just ignore class discussion time. Being online also means that I don’t have the opportunity to volunteer in a research laboratory like I was planning.

To what extent and how did you keep in contact with your peers and professors at college?

I keep in contact with my friends from school by trying to have weekly(ish) zoom nights where we get the group together and hang out. I’d say that it has significantly impacted my communication with professors. I consistently attend one professor’s office hours over zoom, but it’s harder to develop relationships with professors without the in-person conversations that often happen before or after class.

Has your college announced its plans for the fall? Are you considering changing your plans to return based on what your college does? If so, would you consider taking a year off to work or do something else, transfer to another school, or plan to return no matter what?

UW has stated that they are going to release plans for the fall at the end of May or beginning of June. Although in a town hall held on May 1st, and a recent interview with UW President Ana Mari Cauce on KUOW news seems to indicate that the University would like to have students back on campus in the fall, but they are still working on plans to facilitate that. My plans will not change based on the University’s decision; I intend to stay at UW and attend in person or online as the case may be in the fall.

How will you remember your first year of college?

While I think that the pandemic will have a large impact on my first year of college as a whole, I will remember it for the people I met, the friends I’ve made and the classes I took. My first year of college will be shaped by my changing interests, my involvement in a research lab, and the student organization I became a part of. I’ll definitely remember it more for the time I spent on camps instead of this blur of online lectures, but overall I’ll remember it as the beginning of discovering what I want to do with my life and making plans for the future.

Editor’s Note: Cami Brix is a former intern at EEN who recently completed her first year of study at Swarthmore College.

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Our seven-part series “Stories From School” shares the personal experiences of first-year college students from a variety of campuses during the coronavirus pandemic. Their perspectives on how things went can help guide colleges as they go about re-opening this Fall.

Béatrice Duchastel de Montrouge (Brown University)

Rachel Lawson (Fordham College of Rose Hill)

Olivia Sasson (University of British Columbia)

Nathan Mitchell (University of Washington)

Kara Leinenwever (UW Bothell/Arizona State)

Sigrun Payne (University of Puget Sound)

Cami Brix (Swarthmore College)