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College Life

The New College Life: Reflecting on my Siblings’ Experience with Remote Learning

Ivonne Scaglione

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Many screens depicting online learning, graduation, school, and learning

Students studying abroad during the outbreak of COVID-19 had a unique experience dealing with travel bans and new school regulations. My brother was studying abroad in Italy. Andrea, the youngest, was living in her dorm at NYU.

My other sister, Silvia, was working as a professor at a community college in New York City. Though we all live in separate homes in Westchester County, New York, we all share one major experience: living in the college remote learning environment since the outbreak of COVID-19. 

In March 2020, the college life they had always known changed unexpectedly. My siblings and I began to study online. But, their lives changed in a more drastic way than mine. I was used to remote learning; they were not.

I was used to the sedentary home life; they were used to the agitated, turbulent, and exciting life of studying and working in populous cities. My brother had to return from the city of Rome before the semester ended. Andrea left her dorm and her freedom on March 11, when most schools closed due to the pandemic. And, my sister Silvia, stopped commuting to New York City to teach Sociology.

Six months passed, and what they had known of their lives as college students was gone. “Studying in Rome was the greatest and scariest thing of my life,” Angel said. “In Italy, things were getting worse each day. I feel lucky.” Now, Angel gets up in the morning to attend classes in his room where his desk is. “It’s easier to get more distracted when you take online classes,” he said.

Andrea completed her secondary education in Westchester County and was very excited to experience college life at NYU. “I didn’t want to leave my dorm and my school, my friends, but I had to,” she said, disappointed. The college life she dreamed of, only lasted for about seven months before she had to go back home. 

Andrea’s bed at NYU’s dorm with several pillows on top of a striped blanket and pillow sheet set. She spends most of her time here due to remote learning.
Source: Ivonne Scaglione

Angel and Andrea are among the many college students who began studying remotely since March. “Only one of my seven closest friends will be attending classes on campus,” Andrea said. Universities in the city of New York are giving students the option to either study in person or remotely.

The NYU Office of Admission indicated that most of the school’s current college students take at least one class online. It seems clear, as we look at the people around us, that the world of remote learning has expanded. 

Besides students having to adapt to their new learning environment, professors, like Silvia, are also adapting to their new work-life conditions. Many professors like her had no previous experience teaching online.

“Sometimes, it’s difficult for me to keep students engaged,” said Silvia.

She attended virtual trainings by Columbia University that focused on teaching classes online to college students. “It’s important to establish a community in an online classroom,” said Silvia. Building a community is making the class friendly where students feel free to share their thoughts.

The goal of teaching remotely while building a community is for students to feel comfortable enough to reflect on the topics discussed in class freely. “I want to make time and space for them to share their thoughts,” said Silvia determinedly.  Since there is less human interaction with remote learning, it is necessary to build a virtual community to keep that sense of human connection. 

The community college where Silvia teaches offers both classes in person and online; however, her department, Sociology, will be offering only remote learning. “About 83 percent of students in this community college will be studying online this semester,” said Silvia. Counselors and writing centers are seeing students online only and the library is open by appointments only. 

The environment of college life before the pandemic has clearly changed. Yet, in a positive note, Silvia noticed that learning remotely brings flexibility for low-income families. She mentioned that one of her students is a new mother who sometimes asks to shut off her camera to breastfeed her baby.

If there weren’t new opportunities to learn online, there would be less flexibility for her to continue her education. Unfortunately, there are disadvantages to remote learning in low-income families too. Lacking a private space to study and WIFI connectivity are among these disadvantages.

“Some of my students have to go inside cars to find a private and quiet place to learn,” said Silvia. 

Recently, Andrea went back to NYU to visit a friend. She realized how much NYU had changed since she left it in March. “There was a COVID Testing Center,” she said surprised. The noisy, vigorous Starbucks was empty.

There are no seating commodities anymore. Students are prohibited to visit another student’s dorm, and as expected, students are mandated to wear masks. She misses the late nights talking with friends, tasting the freedom of college life.

NYU COVID Testing Center - beautiful brown building with man windows overlooking a quiet courtyard with several people walking by
Source: Ivonne Scaglione

As opposed to the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, this pandemic came in a good time for education access. The US Department of Education found that 89 percent of all households in the United States have internet access.

About 6.9 million students were taking classes in the Fall semester of 2018. This fall, about 19.7 million students are attending colleges and universities nationwide. We can assume that at least 50 percent of these students are attending classes online. 

 “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change,” Biologist Charles Darwin said about his theory on the Survival of the Fittest. As college students pursue their careers online or on campus, they also adapt to be part of a safer future.

Before this time, humanity showed its great resilience to survive wars. Now, college students are fighting a battle against invisible infectious agents. This proves that this generation is tough. This generation fights disease through adaptation. It fights to prevail. It fights for existence. 

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College Life

4 Ideas for Celebrating Thanksgiving at College

Nicholas Cordes

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Large dining room table beautifully set with a full thanksgiving dinner spread

As COVID-19 cases surge in the United States and travel becomes more difficult,  many college students are making the decision to remain at their university for Thanksgiving break. With many families making the safe decision to cancel any gatherings, many students will celebrate the holiday in an unusual fashion this year. However, there are still a number of ways to get festive this year, even with an abnormal climate surrounding the holiday season.

1) Zoom Thanksgiving Feast

By now, Zoom and other video apps have become a go-to solution for friends and family looking to connect amid the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. With its easy accessibility, large capacity for meetings, and simple design, Zoom has quickly become the staple home for meetings and classes. Family gatherings don’t have to be an exception.

With everyone able to join a video call, Thanksgiving meals can be shared over the phone. While it might be difficult for college students to cook the more elaborate dishes of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, students can hopefully make do with what they can find at the local grocery store. Additionally, there are countless ways to get creative with a dormitory microwave, especially with simple potato recipes and the now-iconic mug desserts that can be easily manipulated into the resemblance of a classic Thanksgiving pie.

An old recipe for rolls, on a stained lined paper, a recipe that has been in the family for years and modified over time.
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Because of the pandemic, the distance between college students and their loved ones is highly impacted, making, gathering for Thanksgiving dinner complicated and, for many, unsafe. However, by making use of today’s video technology, students can still share the upcoming holiday with their loved ones, no matter where they are in the world.

2) Pass on Traditional Recipes

One of the classic traditions associated with Thanksgiving is the food. No other holiday sets such a precedent for its meals, and Thanksgiving has established some of its dishes as once-a-year meals. With the distance between individuals at this time of year, it can be difficult for everyone to share their favorite recipes, but perhaps it’s a sign to pass on these traditional recipes to the next generation, who can create their own versions. 

The aforementioned dormitories can make this trickier for students, but there are still plenty of ways to get creative. While a whole turkey is difficult for anyone to perfect, some of the smaller recipes can be easily recreated with a little time and thought. Of course, guidance from parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles would be appreciated, and it would create an innovative tradition for these unusual times.  

3) Express Your Thanks

For some, this might be an obvious idea. Still, it can never hurt to express your gratitude a little more. This past year has drained everyone, so we must be especially aware and appreciative of how much we still have left. We’ve learned how much we take for granted, so now is the time to show love and gratitude, ether for one’s health, friends, family, home, or even work. On the days leading up to and following Thanksgiving Day, we should be sure to share our appreciation for the people closest to us and thank those who help make our lives a little easier.

A person in a blue shirt, standing and holding the fortune from a fortune cookie towards the camera, with the caption "You have so much to be thankful for."
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Many families go around the dinner table at home and share what they are most thankful for. For those celebrating together this year, that tradition can continue as planned. However, for those practicing social distancing or staving off the long trip home this week, there are several ways to show your recognition for the things that make your life better.

Again, Zoom and phone calls can play an important role here, but there are still plenty of opportunities to branch out for a long text, giving yourself a moment to think about what you want to say to precisely describe your love and appreciation for your friends and family. A mailed letter can be just as effective and even more personal. Even modern Facebook and Instagram posts can be shared with everyone. Regardless, it is all too important to show your love for those closest to you, especially at this time of year.

4) Delivery Meals

With social distancing being an important part of limiting the spread of COVID-19, many families will limit their gatherings or even forego them entirely this year. Traditionally, the week and day of Thanksgiving would involve all sorts of sharing of food. To maintain safety measures, our ability to do that has decreased substantially. However, it’s still possible to share the feast with our friends and family without gathering together in one place.

With just a few plastic Tupperware containers, you can easily package up Thanksgiving dishes for at-home delivery. Simply let the recipient know to expect it (or don’t, for a surprise!), drop it off at their door, and share the home-cooked food that is a custom of this holiday. This can especially be a treat for other college students living nearby, as many don’t have access to cooking their own meals in the dorms.

Regardless of how you celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this year, it’s important to maintain safe practices and social distancing when possible. College students are acutely aware of the danger that comes from scattering nationwide for a week. With these few ideas, you can help to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while still celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

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College Life

The State of College Football in 2020

Ian Wentzlaff

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Football player carrying the ball and running towards the end zone as the other team hustles to catch up to him

This college football season feels different than any that have come before. Perhaps it is the fact that teams in various conferences experienced a staggered start to the season. Another explanation is that the typically packed stadiums are half-empty, with fans being socially distanced inside. Certainly, the black cloud of COVID-19 looms over college football.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out earlier this year, fans and players begrudgingly relinquished their sports seasons. Several professional leagues, including the NBA and NHL, successfully crowned a champion, finishing their seasons off in a fashion that satisfied even the most die-hard fans.

However, doubt still lingered as to whether football season would kick off as normal. Other sports were able to successfully finish their seasons, but football would attempt to start and finish a season without batting an eye. Another wrench in the works: college teams would still need to travel in order to play against each other. The NBA, NHL, and MLB were able to significantly mitigate the risk to players and coaches by moving all teams to one or two “bubble” locations where they could isolate from the virus.

The decision to hold a 2020 college football season was met with mixed reviews inside and around the NCAA, the governing agency of college athletics. Certain conferences opted to sit out the entire season, citing that the revenue simply did not justify the health risk to everyone involved. However, after several weeks of sitting out, some of those conferences decided to take part in the season anyway.

A football laid down so the grips are facing up, a white stripe on both ends of the ball
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This indecisiveness caused many schools to play an odd number of games. Currently, the NCAA is 5 weeks into the season. Certain teams, such as the Alabama Crimson Tide, have played in all 5 weeks. Others have only played one game so far, and others still are determined to place the health and safety of their universities over the opportunity to make money. 

An argument has been made that the risk the virus poses to young people is minuscule, and the economic opportunities provided by NCAA football is sorely needed now. However, consider the fact that young people can still die from this virus. In fact, unlike the NBA, which did not record a single positive test throughout the bubble, college football players have already lost their lives to the virus.

Adding to the concern, universities across the country are reporting new COVID-19 cases every day. Many of the nation’s top football programs have cases numbering in the thousands on their home campuses. Still, the NCAA is willing to gamble on the lives of young people.

This is certainly not a new development for the NCAA, which uses an unpaid labor force of student athletes to generate massive revenue every year. Additionally, some programs made it clear that if their players opted out of this season, they were off the team. Subsequently, many players decided to return to the field, more afraid of losing their scholarship and education than of contracting the virus.

Now, as the 2020 college football season approaches its halfway point, many still wonder if it will reach its intended conclusion. The impact of the virus has of course been felt on the playing field. Teams have been forced to resort to backups more often as their starters have fallen ill; one game even had to be cancelled when Vanderbilt could not field a healthy team of the 53 players required by conference regulations. 

Zoomed out, aerial shot of the Rose Bowl Stadium
Source:

Across the programs of the county, dozens of players and coaches have caught the virus. Even the sports’ biggest icons have not been immune. Nick Saban, the head coach and architect of Alabama’s recent dynasty, tested positive just earlier this month. All of these players and coaches missing games has led to one of the most improbable starts to the season, where a major upset seems likely to happen every week.

Still, what will it take for an improbable end to this season of college football? When will the NCAA admit it has made a grave mistake by risking the lives of so many people, especially when most are unpaid, poor college kids? The long road to winning a championship is paved with the hardships that have been overcome along the way, but perhaps now is the time to stop and rest, to recover before any more lives are unnecessarily lost for the sake of sports.

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College Life

Five Easy Ways to Reap the Benefits of Virtual College Tours

Abrar Shah

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Man in a suit giving a virtual college tour

Even with a ranging pandemic dictating the American way of life, little can stop the desires of up-and-coming college students to know more about their schools. This opens up one of the few possible alternatives: virtual college tours. Whether you are on a budget, don’t have the means to travel extensive distances, or simply do not want to travel in this climate, virtual tours may be the gateway to help you determine how to push through your higher education. 

  1. Snatch the opportunity to see what classroom and building interiors are like

Unlike middle school and high school tours, college tours do not offer visitors the liberty of seeing a class in action or even allow them to see a classroom at all. Virtual tours, however, allow you to see the inside of nearly any building you may be using on-campus, depending on how much coverage the particular school decided to allow for their virtual tours. For some people, this alone is a game-changer, so make sure you exercise this opportunity to the fullest.

  1. With classes now almost exclusively online at many schools, see if you can sit in on on

This is something you should check in on with school representatives if possible. Many campuses across the country are now using Zoom or other distance-learning methods, and it is very likely that you may be allowed to join one as a silent observer. Of course, this can only be discovered when you enquire about it, but many schools will be happy to allow prospective students a front-line look into their academics. I recall quite well that in the various incarnations of grade school, there would be prospective parents sitting in the classroom for some classes.

Since actual campus tours wouldn’t allow that, it should be much easier to do it virtually. 

  1. See if you can simulate a day at school

You will often understand a concept better through practice, so take advantage of simulating a day on campus and determine whether you can truly see yourself existing on the campus for however many years you intend to be there. Timing is everything and this can be a useful way to determine how much you will have to move around on any given day. 

  1. You can always decide to visit later if you feel that it’s worth it

Arguably the best advantage of virtual college tours is that you can do it within the comfort of your own home, while also being able to avoid the potentially lackluster in-person experience. Virtual tours will allow you to decide whether it’s worth the time and money to visit a certain school of your interest in-person to get the full authentic feel you may need to complete your decision. Additionally, virtual tours will also allow you to determine whether you will \need to keep a school in mind for the future; take advantage of the process of elimination whenever possible, especially if you are the kind of person that applies to many schools.

  1. Discover what matters to you (and ask all the questions)

The ability to see more means that you now have a reason to ask more questions than you would if you were actually on campus, since you would most likely be in a group and tours have strict timing and schedules. Do you need space to throw your javelins or do you derive satisfaction from simply watching basketball games?

You can approach your virtual tour as you see fit and you’ll very likely think of things you probably never would have ended up asking in person. When it comes to the college process, your genuine interest in a school does make a difference. However, you need to be very careful to not make your interest appear artificial, as people who spend their days handling college admissions will be quick to figure this out.

At the end of the day, you’re in charge of what you believe is best for you, and being prepared for what may lay ahead is only beneficial. Do not let something take more time than it needs to and swipe away opportunities now that you may not be able to get again later.

Perhaps it is the virtual tour that can justify your dream school or turn one that never was into one. Exercise your options effectively and you will reward yourself with the place you’re meant to be in going forward.

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