Across the nation, college students everywhere are continually adjusting to the unpredictable pandemic and what the unknown holds. A large majority of classes are being taken online with weekly lecture meetings on Zoom, masks are required to be worn at all times while on campus, and the opportunity to meet new people has practically been stripped away.
But for first-year students, this is the only college experience they know.
Creating lasting friendships or even partaking in small friendly chats with strangers has been more difficult this year than ever before. Freshman Allison Gibbons, a resident of University Tower at IUPUI, had to adjust quickly to feel at home here on campus. "Being an out of state student from Wisconsin, making any type of in-person connection was not easy. When I originally applied to IUPUI, I knew I had the opportunity to experience different people and events than what I knew back home. As you can imagine, covid had different plans," she said.
Gibbons resides at University Tower on campus for her freshman semester, but as one would assume, dorm buildings have their own set of strict rules to ensure the safety and well being of all students. Only two people accompanying the elevator at one time and residents being allowed one guest per resident in the dorm are two main rules enforced this semester by IUPUI. All students living in the Tower were told they needed to leave by November 23rd and cannot return until February 8th or pay up to $1,500.
As students head home for the winter, many still feel as though they did not make the connections they were hoping too. Other students used IUPUI’s clubs and organizations to stay connected virtually and to make friends.
“Luckily for me, joining a sorority this fall has helped tremendously for finding those friends virtually that I share common ideals with. Although I am back at home, being able to connect through GroupMe and FaceTime has helped me feel less alone this semester," said Gibbons. "My first month at IUPUI was incredibly lonely without my sorority, but they make it feel like home here now. The city does not feel alone now, and they make me excited for my years to come here in Indianapolis."
Many first-year students rely on their college courses as a second outlet for meeting people with their same major. Still, the transition from in-person to online mode of instruction has posed a significant roadblock.
"It is not easy to start up conversations during a Zoom lecture and feels pretty unnatural, plus it does not help that most of the time I am exhausted and want to progress on with my day." said freshman Abbi Rance.
Rance came to IUPUI ready to make new friends with other first-year students within her major, being that they would have some commonalities. Hearing from her older siblings how helpful it can be to have those connections, she would make it her goal to talk to whoever sat next to her that first day of class. COVID-19 changed her plans, and now Rance has struggled to make those networking connections she heard about.
"I can be shy, especially in new situations, so when I made that promise to myself before the semester started, I wanted to try to step out of my comfort zone. Stepping out of that comfort zone on Zoom is not easy," said Rance. "I am holding onto the fact that every other freshman is in the same position as me, and we all are eager to meet new people. I mean, that is what college is about, experiencing outside your hometown and getting all the education you can."
In terms of an actual freshman year experience, students lost hope in the fall and are clinging to any positive news for the future.
Gibbons and Rance both resided on IUPUI's campus this semester, giving them the chance to develop relationships with their roommates and other students who live on their floors. A large percentage of students that attend IUPUI are commuters, meaning they do not live on campus and instead drive to attend classes. For freshman commuter, McKenna Weidner, the most challenging part of transitioning to college life has been accepting our new reality.
Weidner’s commute from Greenwood to Indianapolis is roughly a thirty-minute drive, but during this pandemic, she feels more separated from the city than before.
"Saving money was why I decided to commute my freshman year, and I knew I was going to have to step up and make those connections myself. With virtual classes and no reason to be on campus, I feel disconnected from everything," said Weidner. "You think being so close to the city, I would not feel so separated from it, but I do."
Aside from the social aspect, a large factor of freshman year is getting adjusted to the new workload college brings on.
As a marketing major aiming towards the Kelley School of Business, Gibbons put a lot of pressure on herself to ensure she was getting the grades she needed. "Being virtual for lectures meant I had to pay extra close attention and take notes to avoid any distractions," Gibbons said. "I would have loved being able to sit down with my professors and ask them questions face to face, but that, unfortunately, did not happen."
Other students discovered virtual classes were more difficult for their style of learning.
"I found out pretty early on that I learn more in a hands-on environment, which is not something you get with all virtual lectures. I am unsure if my major is just not right for me or if it is just the mode of instruction. Hopefully, next semester I will get some more answers," Rance said.
Students at IUPUI understand that they did not receive a typically first college semester, but many of them are ready to put their best foot forward for the spring.
Overall, as this is not an experience that more first-year college students had in mind for their fall semester at IUPUI, it will nonetheless be a year they will never forget.