Student Story: As Colleges Make Return Plans, Students Share Concerns

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By: Thomas E. Edmund, Jr.

NATIONAL PARK, N.J. — During the coronavirus pandemic and quarantine, individuals have had a sense of normalcy stripped away from their lives. Certain commercial businesses are closed, families are stuck at home with each other, and colleges shutdown with their students heading back home, mid-semester.

Nicole Hanson, a recent graduate of York College of Pennsylvania’s Hospitality Management program detailed her experiences during the health emergency. Initially she thought that she would be able to return to campus to finish her last year of school, but ultimately due to the intensity and seriousness of the situation, she was unable to do so.

“When I first found out I had to leave my dorm, I was upset,” Hanson said. “We were told that we would be back a few weeks later. That ended up never happening and that was even more upsetting. I was very involved at college and missing out on a lot of weekend and senior year events was devastating. My personal belongings ended up sitting in my dorm for three months until I could move them out. I knew my senior year was going to feel very incomplete.’’

Due to the COVID-19, many academic institutions such as high schools and colleges alike had to transfer all course materials to an online format. Hanson expressed that she was nervous about virtual learning, despite having one class online already. She said that she found having all her classes online to be overwhelming.

“College courses are very participation heavy, and I knew it would be hard to continue that virtually,” she said. “For one of my classes we had to transform a 60-minute presentation to an online platform. That was my biggest challenge.”

Hanson also stated that she has been concerned as she has seen the hospitality industry hit very hard; restaurants have had to resort to outdoor dining in efforts of bouncing back in a struggling economy and couples and families unable to celebrate weddings and other special events with loved ones. She stated that these are the places/events that she wants to work, but that it has been a struggle trying to find a job.

Maria Triantafillou, a student who attends college in New York City conveyed that she was disappointed to find out that she, along with her peers, would not return to campus following Spring Break.

“I had only packed clothes for the week and all of my stuff was still in New York City,” Triantafillou said. “It wasn’t until a month later when I went back to get my belongings and move out of my dorm.”

Triantafillou said that she expected to be able to see her friends and professors in-person again but that everything happened so fast and that no one could possibly have seen [it] coming, referring to the coronavirus.

For Triantafillou, virtual classes were a challenging adjustment as her professors created additional assignments to make up for not being able to meet inside the physical classroom. She has had to find balance with the extra coursework and her regular workload. Eight hours a day she would spend on homework and “going to class” via Zoom, but she made it clear that her professors were very great in understanding about extra time and additional help when necessary.

“It was nice that we weren’t alone, and we all went through this together,” she said. “It was important to be understanding. Online professors receive training, none of my professors were prepared. We helped each other getting through the semester. On top of school, I was still working at my internship remotely.”

The hardest part for her was finding focus. She mentioned that she usually relied on going to libraries and cafés to get work done. Her biggest struggle was sitting at her kitchen table completing assignments surrounded by distractions: “It was extremely hard to keep motivation and adjust to my new learning setting.”

Right now the college Triantafillou attends in New York City plans on resuming campus operations for the upcoming Fall 2020 semester, but she is notably worried that since New York is a densely-populated city that there could be an uptick in coronavirus cases that could lead to closures again. She would love to return to campus, as she planned to study abroad next year, but due to travel restrictions, she is safe in stating that that going to have to wait for another year. Even though everyone is at home right now, she hopes that her school can still host virtual versions of social events and remain united as a campus community.

Owen DePasquale will be a sophomore studying Criminal Justice at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania this fall.  He is hoping to continue working hard to become a police officer in his community. As an African American living in the period succeeding the George Floyd case, DePasquale feels motivated to make a difference and bring about change to modern American society.

“I believe that many people in lower-income communities see police officers as bad people,” DePasquale said. “Hopefully one day I can become a cop to show that cops aren’t bad and maybe I can change some minds about how police are treated in the future.” He went on to say that after a few years as an officer, he hopes to one day become a negotiator at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Like many college students at this time, DePasquale and his friends were informed about leaving campus over Spring Break. He believed it to sound strange to people that he actually enjoyed moving back home because he identified himself as someone who may be considered as a “homebody’’ by certain ones who really likes spending time with family. He also acknowledged that while his friends were disappointed about not returning to school, one of the most challenging parts for him was having to pack up all his personal belongings and go back home.

DePasquale explained that at first, he did not relish in having to transfer to virtual learning from home because he enjoyed walking to class every day and sitting down with friends for classroom lectures. One of his professors, Dr. Tamson Six of the Criminal Justice Department, made the lectures optional for her students. Only “going to class’’ once a week, he said that he spent the other days of the week either sleeping in or with family. DePasquale remarked that he enjoyed attending his virtual classes and that unlike his many peers, he preferred communicating with professors in-person.

Thomas E. Edmund, Jr., “TJ”, is a 2020 graduate of Gateway Regional High School in Woodbury Heights, NJ and a former intern at SNJToday.com. He will be attending Rowan College of Southern New Jersey to begin his quest to become a journalist. 



SNJ Today is a Southern New Jersey news and information source that is dedicated to providing current stories related specifically to South Jersey.

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