Student Haley Ahr and her friend enjoy the warm weather outside. With the pandemic dying down, people feel more comfortable spending time together. / Photo courtesy of Kevin Luu
In March 2020, Millersville students rushed home with excitement after being notified spring break would be extended by a week, but many wouldn’t return to campus until a year and a half later.
College is expected to be a time of firsts. It’s a stepping stone between childhood and adulthood to prepare you for what comes next. Unfortunately for many students today, the college experience they dreamed of was interrupted by a pandemic, leaving many to feel drastically unprepared for life after school and cheated out of a typical college experience.
For alumna Jenna Case, who graduated in Winter of 2020, her final semesters of school left her feeling “unprepared” for her potential career, “My entire capstone lab semester was online,” Case said, “so instead of completing any Nanofabrication labs, I had to watch a professor perform them over Zoom. I felt really unprepared going into the work force.”
As an Applied Engineering, Technology, and Management major, Case had a lab heavy course load, especially in her final year. For Case, access to the labs was a “huge reason” why she chose to attend Millersville to begin with, so that added complication was a huge loss, “I love being in the lab and working on projects,” Case said, “so I was sad that I had to not only leave unfinished ones in March 2020, but also I wouldn’t be able to work in one again.”
Students who have been able to return to in-person classes have also felt the impact of Covid on their potential careers. Senior Rebecca Elias had to experience more than just classes in an online format. “I had not just school online, I had my internship and work experiences online,” Elias said, “I don’t feel that those really helped prepare me for an actual real world, in-person job.”
Professors and employers were just as blindsided by the pandemic as the students and had to move in-person activities into an online format. Many were working online for the first time and were forced to learn along the way, making the first few months of quarantine a joint learning experience for many professors and students.
Haley Ahr, a Junior at Millersville, reflected on the abrupt transition to online school. Ahr said, “I chose those classes, spent money on those classes, and was ready to learn in those classes and either I just read a book to teach myself or I just didn’t learn anything.”
Home was no longer a place associated with time off. Bedrooms and living rooms became classrooms, making a healthy balance between school and life increasingly challenging, “Living at home got difficult and tiring from doing work and school and everything else from the same corner of my bedroom for a year and a half,” Elias said. This lack of socialization began to not only impact school for many students but began to hurt their mental health as well.
For “extraverted” people like Ahr, quarantine’s impact was particularly drastic, “I have never felt more isolated or depressed in my life,” Ahr said. “I feel like I shouldn’t be an upperclassman. I feel like I’m still a freshman or a sophomore.”
Students like Case felt particularly “disappointed” losing out on a traditional graduation, “When I finished my last class, I closed my computer and just sat on my bed for a minute not knowing when, or if, I would get a graduation ceremony,” Case said. Graduation is what students spend their entire college career working towards. To complete years of schooling by closing a laptop in your bedroom, graduates like Case couldn’t help but feeling like they “missed out.” Case said, “I feel like being on campus and surrounded by my friends would have made all the ‘lasts’ so much more special. I really never got to say goodbye to the campus and the whole college experience, it just ended one day.”
Even with classes returning to in-person and life on campus beginning to look a bit more like it used to, the semesters lost are not something students will easily forget. Current students graduating in the next few semesters might be able to have a traditional ceremony, but their college experience will forever be tainted by all the time they lost. “If things would have continued like freshman year and been normal,” Elias said, “I think my outlook on college would be totally different.”