While there have been several changes in the Penn State curriculum these past few weeks due to the coronavirus, students and young alumni alike have been finding several ways to both cope and adjust to the abrupt transition. Although recent announcements have shown that many celebratory events have been cancelled for the rest of the semester, the key to adjusting to these changes has been to remain positive and stay somewhat productive when possible. To gauge the overall climate of Penn Staters, I got in touch with faculty members who work directly with students, paid attention to conversations online via social, and spoke with our interns. Here are a few ways in which members of the Penn State community have been managing their time and adjusting to online learning! —
One of our main concerns at 1855 Capital, and the concerns of many departments on campus, was to first check-in on the mental health state and environment of students who were understandably displaced from their normal on-campus setting. I spoke to Louis Martarano, who is the Executive in Residence of the Penn State Science BS/MBA program and who often works directly with students. After surveying participants in the program, Mr. Martarano shared that when asked how they were coping with this transition, 15 students replied with “just fine,” 3 students had a few “difficulties with labs,” and 1 student in the program was having a “hard time,” which may lead them to choose the optional “Satisfactory/Pass” grading system that the university implemented last month. This feedback is also seemingly similar to many other students who have shared their experiences online via social media. While some students have been able to adjust relatively smoothly, others have voiced that they have faced a few challenges when it comes to remaining productive, as working and learning from home can be a difficult thing to master when unexpected.
Other interesting and more in-depth perspectives have come from two other interns at 1855 Capital, Jason Li and John Zachariah. When asked about their overall experiences while taking classes and/or working virtually, Jason, who is in his final semester at Penn State, responded by saying that there “hasn’t been too much of a change as most of the work could’ve been done remotely, but [he] is definitely missing the office, and in-person dynamics.” On the other hand, John, who graduated last December and is now a Teaching Assistant in the Accountant Department, expressed that he “definitely sees the benefit of being able to work with students in person.” Moreover, John found that “students have tuned in less” frequently to his virtual office hours, which could indicate that some students “are not benefitting from this shift.” Looking ahead, John does hope that the university can improve engagement with students online before the summer semester begins.
Because these changes were implemented so suddenly, it is normal for the experiences of students to vary. In my own transition to learning and interning virtually, I have found that my experiences have certainly varied as well. Although I was able to make significant progress on my senior thesis, I have also found that my levels of productivity have fluctuated depending on the day. Overall, I am learning to take things one day at a time, and not be hard on myself when I am unable to complete every single task.
Of course, with every situation that we experience in life, there can be pros and there can certainly be cons. To appropriately gauge this transition, I also had Jason and John answer a few more questions about their overall experiences during these unprecedented times:
How has this shift affected you? Any positives or negatives?
Jason: Positives are that I got more time for myself and to explore things that I didn’t have time for before. Negatives are the lack of time with friends and time spent outdoors.
Have you been able to pick up any hobbies now that you are home?
John: I have picked up playing guitar again, but I have been dearly missing the NBA and college basketball.
Jason: Trading stocks and cryptos is the main thing that I picked up now that I’m mostly inside, and I have also watched Tiger King and Ozark on Netflix.
Is there anything you’re looking forward to once this is over?
Jason: Eating in a restaurant and travelling!
John: Attending concerts, eating at restaurants, attending sporting events, and traveling!
During this transitional period, it is important to pay attention to both our own needs and the needs of those who may be having a difficult time. Although we are not physically together, I hope that as a Penn State community, we can all lean on each other and offer a (virtual) hand to one another in any way possible. Lastly, although many events and celebratory ceremonies have been postponed or cancelled, let us remember that the spirit of the Penn State community can travel beyond our campus grounds.