What’s student life like during a pandemic?

Annemarie Mountz
November 18, 2020

There is nothing “normal” or “routine” about this academic year. Because of the pandemic, this fall has been different from any other, with some classes being in-person or mixed mode and some remote; the need to wear masks and observe social distancing; and the restrictions on gatherings.

When “Back to State” plans were announced on June 14, some at the University wondered whether students – and first-year students in particular – would come to campus this fall to learn in such an altered environment, or opt to take a “gap semester.”

In the College of Education, the freshmen came. Penn State’s official fall enrollment figures show College of Education undergraduate enrollments are up for the fifth straight year, and are almost 12% higher than in 2016.

“We are grateful to our students and are working hard to earn the trust they put in us to deliver an excellent education regardless of delivery mode during this pandemic,” said Dean Kimberly A. Lawless.

Some of our freshmen shared how they are navigating college during a pandemic, and ways they are finding to have fun. Here are snippets of their stories, in their own words:

Angie Busch

It was my dream to come to Penn State after hearing all my dad’s stories about his time as a student. It’s obviously hard for everyone to adjust, but I make sure to do my part because I don’t want to leave the happiest place on Earth.

With all the protocols in place, I have been able to explore a lot of campus with my roommate. We have found a good group of friends to hang out with in a socially distant manner. We aren’t going to let this virus ruin our time here.

Nya Cherry

This fall is different just for the fact that I thought I would be living on the University Park campus. I keep in touch with friends on Zoom and join in on virtual activities including games and movies with other Penn State freshmen.

Physical activity is important for me so I workout to my favorite blogilates and YouTube videos outside of class. Also, this past summer, I read to my kindergarten neighbor, Sophia, to keep up with her reading, listening and comprehension skills.

Tommy Doughty

Since I have one class in person per week, things are a little different. But I’ve been able to adapt and so far at Penn State I have been having a great time.

Since this is my first college experience, it’s weird. However, we have to make the most of it, and I am only here for four years so I have been trying to maximize the amount of people I meet. I have learned over the years that positivity is key, and that even though our classes aren’t in person, there is still tons of fun to be had at Penn State.

Alyssa Galban

This pandemic is making college turn into something I never pictured it would be, but I understand that wearing masks and social distancing is my responsibility and the only way we can get back to a “normal” college experience.

My friends and I always wear masks and be sure to keep our activities outside. We often play cards on the HUB lawn, go hiking at the Arboretum or just picnic.

Anna Greatti

Anna Greatti
IMAGE: Photo provided

Even during a pandemic, I think we are still getting the basics of a college experience. We are still experiencing that new sense of freedom and new responsibilities that are experienced by freshmen every year. It is disappointing that we cannot meet with some clubs in-person, because that was something I was looking forward to. It is also disappointing that I have not met as many people as I would have in another year, but I still think I have made some good connections given the circumstances.

The RAs of my dorm planned a socially distant tie-dye event, which was really fun. Overall, I think there are still a lot of fun things to do on campus.

Valarie Hibbard

Valarie Hibbard
IMAGE: Annemarie Mountz

Building relationships on Zoom is certainly manageable, albeit more challenging, but being in person provides me with the opportunity to make face-to-face connections with my peers.

The University has taken strides to ensure that in class we are safe and socially distant which has helped ease a lot of my unrest about in-person activities. In Blue Band specifically, we are separated from each other in a radius about eight feet away to ensure that we can perform without fear of the virus.

Being in person allows me to get a taste of what Penn State would be without the pandemic, and makes the University feel just a bit more like home.

Emma Leister

Emma Leister
IMAGE: Photo provided

Honestly, I’m really just enjoying being at college. I have never been a part of a “normal” college experience before, so any little aspect of being at college and away from home excites me.

I’ve been taking plenty of walks and hikes. My first week here I think I went on at least two long walks a day, which in the end, really helped me become acclimated to campus and the downtown area. The hiking trails around here are amazing and I’ve had a lot of fun discovering them with friends.

Huiyi (Lilly) Li

Huiyi (Lilly) Li
IMAGE: Annemarie Mountz

Because I am an introvert, taking classes online has made it harder to make friends. Fortunately, I ran into a kind girl in the dormitory corridor and got my first friendship at Penn State. I applied for the College of Education Student Council, and participate in the activities held by the college, such as the mentorship activity and the “ice cream Grab and Go.”

It is very touching that even under such special circumstances, everyone on campus is working hard to create an interesting college life. We are a warm family. Although we are not able to interact face to face better, and it is uncomfortable to stare at a screen every day, I am really enjoying my freshman year at Penn State.

Paige Ochoa

We all knew this fall would be different as was the end to our senior year in high school, so honestly at this point, it just kind of seems normal because nothing these days is “normal.”

My roommate and I have tried to make some friends but living in West Halls makes it a little more difficult, so we usually have to trek over to East Halls to meet people. However, we always wear our masks and try to remain as socially distanced from people as possible. That is really hard to do when you’re trying to get to know people you’ve never met before.

Michael Parrish

Michael Parrish
IMAGE: Photo provided

I have been dealing with circumstances very well. I have just accepted the fact of the situation we are in today and the guidelines we must follow. Although we must wear masks, social distance and have online classes for the most part, my experience has been good. I am also grateful that I am on campus right now.

Outside of class, I am part of the Newman Catholic Club and we have been doing activities where we are still having fun but also following the guidelines. It’s been one of the best decisions I made so far on campus. I also have been watching The Office on Netflix and playing video games with my friends outside of class.

Sarah Strent

It is definitely very challenging to enter freshman year of college with many restrictions and limitations. However, I am trying to make the best out of what we have and am extremely grateful to even be on campus in the first place.

My friends and I spend a lot of time outside, either walking around, playing sports or sitting in a socially distant circle. As hard as it is, we make it work and have a great time.

Kailee Warner

Even though it is hard to meet people and get the full Penn State experience, I am just glad to have the opportunity to be on campus since other universities and colleges haven’t had that luxury. I have been going to dinner with people on my floor, and we often play cards, with masks on, of course.

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Last Updated November 18, 2020