Commuting and First-Year Students During the Pandemic
By Aaron Jaramillo and Katelyn Espinoza, undergraduate students at St. Mary's University
Life for students, both old and new, has changed drastically for students at St. Mary's University--a Catholic, Marianist university in San Antonio, Texas. The pandemic has forced students to come up with new ways of navigating college life while pushing the virus to the back of their minds. Classes have partially or completely been moved online. Social distancing protocols surround campus, and even professors' usual one-on-one in-person office hours have adapted to an online setting as the fear of contracting COVID runs rampant. It's a unique situation that the average person would not have predicted, and students, whether commuters or first year students, have all had challenges to overcome.
Commuting students had a real change this semester with COVID-19 compared to a normal semester. Before, students had a specific process they had to go through before coming to school. A student would make sure they had the textbooks they needed for that day of class, factor in the commute time to get to class on time, and select an outfit for the day. However during the pandemic, a student does not need to do these tasks anymore since their bedroom, office, living room, etc. are now their classroom. Taking all this into account, many students now stay home to attend class. We can no longer refer to these students as "commuter students" but as virtual students.
St. Mary's is still trying to keep students engaged in the school community by holding events on campus while promoting social distancing and precautions needed to stay safe. Staying connected and student engagement is a big focus here at St. Mary's and they figured out how we as students can do this. As students, we can stay connected on our phones through group chats, holding commute-only specific events, or school-wide events to engage with the ministries on campus.
The New First-Year Experience
The traditional "freshmen" experience has become a false reality to a lot of first-years. With the pandemic taking control of how professors should teach, how schools should run, and how students should live their college lives, it is not surprising that this experience is completely different from the freshmen of 2019. Whether it be a new virtual Zaragoza (an orientation event held on campus for St. Mary's freshmen), the difficulty of joining campus clubs, or investing in anti-pandemic essentials like masks, first-years have had to overcome it all in order to successfully adapt to their unique college freshmen lives.
First-Year Pandemic Study Habits
Normally, a first-year wouldn't have as much as a struggle because they would have access to many of St. Mary's resources in person. However, for many reasons, these are no longer accessible or more difficult to access. Overall, there is a new added stress onto first-years to attempt to figure things out on their own. Some may have to rely on their own discoveries like a student relying on google calendar; some may rely on planners provided by the school. Other students may have also figured out completely new methods no one has thought of. The point of it all is that the pandemic has been real hard on first-years who have to struggle with their first time in college and a worldwide pandemic, but these adaptations have made them stronger and put a whole new meaning behind the "freshmen experience."
Unfortunately, this year college looks very different from a year ago. Our classrooms became our bedrooms. Our Zaragoza became mere presentations on our laptops. Our 2020 college experience is completely molded by our COVID-19 experience. Yet despite all these sudden changes and challenges, commuters and first-years put in their efforts to persevere and navigate the plague year as best as they could.