Students Share Virtual Experiences and Tips for Handling Pandemic

Meg Ruyle, ASA Graphic Designer/Production Coordinator

College students in fully virtual classes are finding new ways to structure their days, stay motivated, and connect with their peers.

Photo of Purdue University Student Jessica Gilbert

Jessica Gilbert

Purdue University senior Jessica Gilbert selected on-campus, in-person learning, but was disappointed to learn only one of her classes would actually be on campus. Gilbert, who is studying applied statistics and data science, said classes with more than 150 students were automatically moved online and others were converted to virtual if the university couldn’t find a large enough space for students to socially distance in the classroom.

“Of course, being in person is ideal. You get to have that interactive element with your professors, where you get to ask questions in the middle of the lecture or maybe stay after class to ask a few questions,” Gilbert said. “But considering circumstances, I can’t really complain about things being switched online. I think it’s the safest option for everybody.”

California State University Monterey Bay didn’t offer the option for in-person classes, so statistics majors Nicholas Vasquez and Matthew Dunham knew from the start they would be taking virtual classes in the fall, and both said they thought CSUMB did a good job of making and communicating the decision.

Photo of CSUMB Student Nicholas Vasquez

Nicholas Vasquez

“And they’ve already called the next semester to be online, as well,” said Dunham. “They’re pretty on top of everything going on.”

However, it’s not an ideal situation, Dunham said, and the lack of routine has been difficult. Students are feeling really unmotivated, he said, and professors seem to be struggling too. “I think a lot of students got burned out. It’s definitely a difficult time.”

“I miss my instructors, obviously, because all of my statistics instructors and my math instructors, the way they teach, it’s just fun. They always make us laugh,” said Vasquez, who will graduate in the spring.

Dunham’s love of statistics has made it easier to stay motivated. He recently switched his major from psychology to statistics. “I feel like finding that passion has made this time online really manageable. Statistics is actually a great major for this online environment. Because it’s a lot of just data analysis.”

Photo of CSUMB student Matthew Dunham

Matthew Dunham

Gilbert agreed staying motivated can be challenging. “You don’t have a library to go study in, then go home and do your socializing,” she said. “There’s no separation anymore. You’re just in the same building or the same room all day long.”

Starting the day by going to the gym, Dunham said, helps add structure and gives him another way to manage his stress. He only started the habit last summer, spurred by the pandemic and all the time spent at his computer. “I’m just sitting around all day long,” he said. “I need to do something.”

When Gilbert finds herself losing focus, she takes a break and does something else—takes a walk, chats with her roommate, or checks the mail. “I think just being in tune with my own needs is the highest form of self-care,” she said.

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Vasquez said effective time management has been the most important skill he has learned during the pandemic. His classes are advanced and time-intensive. He said not procrastinating and completing assignments as soon as they’re assigned has been helpful.

Gilbert added that she’s come to rely heavily on checklists, which help her relieve stress and motivate her to keep working. She also said emailing her professors and letting them know when she’s in the middle of a really busy phase is important. She hopes all professors are as understanding as hers have been.

“Being really flexible with students is important because we want to learn everything and we want to get everything done,” Gilbert said.

Vasquez said his professors and CSUMB have all been extremely helpful, as well, and good about alerting students to resources, including mental health services. “They genuinely care and they’re interested to see if anyone is struggling and how they can help,” Vasquez said. “They’ve just been very, very supportive to all the students during these times.”

While Gilbert thinks her professors have done a good job adapting to an online platform, she said being social is harder. She keeps in touch with friends and family virtually and will sometimes see friends outside, since she lives in a house and not a dorm.

It helps that she’s in her senior year, she said. “I already know a lot of people in my major, so I’m able to connect with them.”

Gilbert thinks it is harder for underclassmen. “I can’t imagine for freshmen, and even sophomores, how tough this is to go from high-school classes straight to college work online, where you don’t necessarily get to … build your group of people who can help support you through your academic career,” she said.