Students and faculty reflect on one year in a pandemic

Photo Illustration by Camille Grochowski | Banner

One year ago, California Baptist University students’ spring semesters got cut short due to COVID-19. To keep families safe, students and educators around the world have had to adapt learning opportunities to a virtual or hybrid learning format. One year later, most classes are still online while some have returned to a COVID-19 safe in-person format.

Dr. Victoria Brodie, department chair for the Communication Arts department, described the grit and collaboration it took for departments to adapt to online learning.

“There was a lot of collaboration because we ultimately wanted to serve our students, so we shared tools and things that we had learned,” Brodie said. “Everyone was really adaptable and flexible but it really allowed us to be able to play in that space which expands our skillset, so if we can deliver content face-to-face, we can deliver it online face-to-face, we can deliver synchronously. It just allows us to be a more robust department, to be able to deliver the way we need to, whatever the future may hold.”

Reflecting on this year, Brodie was proud of how far staff and students have come to be adaptable in an unfamiliar learning environment.

“If you have a learning mindset, if you’re adaptable, you are critical, you can critically think through things, then you’re going to find your path, No matter what comes in front of you, you’re going to work to find a path,” Brodie said.

Students and educators alike, have faced challenges this last year with online learning. Ben Higgins, senior criminal justice major, struggled with finding motivation and learning in virtual format.

“I don’t learn well online,” Higgins said. “I’m very easily distracted. The challenges with internet times from my professors, and also my own internet is frustrating. For so many students just having the ability to congregate outside are the difference between a good semester without any mental health issues and a really depressing semester where they’re struggling.”

Higgins had spent the last three years at CBU learning in person. Reflecting on this year, he has learned to be disciplined with his learning and friendships. 

“Regardless of how far away I am from those I care about, still being intentional with communicating, and communicating what I need for the friendship to remain healthy through distance,” said Higgins.

Owen Colombo, freshman aviation science major, has not had the opportunity to have the traditional college experience. The class of 2024 missed out on the customary freshman experience and CBU traditions.

“I think it was a bummer that there’s not the actual college experience, but I think it is good because it was a good transition from high school to college,” Colombo said. “Not getting caught up in so many of the busy events and stuff like there’s actually an easy, peaceful transition to my major and studying. But, I feel like it’s harder now to make friends because there’s nothing to go to.”

Like most students, Colombo looks forward to next semester’s in-person learning experience. He said he is going to have to relearn how to go to class but is excited to be able to connect with classmates.

Joshua Freeman, ceramics professor, understands the challenges of not having an in-person experience. Ceramics is a collaborative class, and teaching in a hybrid format has had its challenges for professors and students.

“I think the most difficult thing is having to let my students go and have to learn a lot more on their own instead of being able to be there, class after class, in person, where I can maybe stop them if they’re making a mistake or guide them if they need some help,” Freeman said. “It’s challenging, and I feel like students maybe aren’t getting the full experience having to watch something on a glitchy screen.”

Like many classes, the ceramics classes have had to adapt at CBU to maintain social distancing guidelines to keep students safe. The ceramics professors have created a user-friendly safe space for students to be creative and connect with classmates.

“I think the sooner you can reach out to the professor the better,” Freeman said. “If you’re needing help or struggling in any way, don’t wait until the last minute to reach out. We want to see our students succeed and want to be able to provide equity between students that maybe are thriving in this environment and where other students are struggling.”

All majors have had their fair share of struggles with online learning. Beau Morton, sophomore mechanical engineering major, said he liked the ability to have lectures and notes available anytime.

“The benefit to being online is that a lot of teachers record their lectures, so if you miss something you can go back or they handwrite their lecture notes,” Morton said. “They upload those so you can see how they took notes to advance how you take your own notes – it’s like learning from the teacher. I feel like that’s something that you don’t get in an in-person class.”

Reflecting on this year, Morton has learned to dig deeper and do his own research when it comes to controversial topics. In 2020, the world was faced with a ton of new information regarding COVID-19 and a highly publicized U.S. presidential election.

“This year opened my eyes to do my own research and not just listen to what others say,” Morton said. “I now like looking at more sources, trying to figure out whether this person is actually telling me the truth.”

This year represented a lot of change for CBU and the world. Amy Wenger, junior interior design major, has learned to be ok with change.

“I know very obviously and very clearly that I am not in control,” Wenger said. “God is in control. He knows what’s going to happen. He’s got it all in his plan, but on the other hand, I have no idea. I can’t control it all but that’s gonna happen and I have to accept that.”

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