By: Theresa McCafferty
A few weeks ago, students across America were preparing for their spring breaks. The excitement of no class, traveling with friends or spending time at home with family were conversations that filled Penn State Altoona. As of March 6, talk of Coronavirus, for many, was just background noise. However, three days into Penn State’s spring break students received news that they would be home for longer than one week, as they were no longer permitted to return to campus when Spring Break concluded. Due to the rapid spread and increasing threat of COVID-19, classes were scheduled to be held remotely until April 3. Then, on March 18, Penn State students were notified that classes would be held remotely for the rest of the year. The outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting universities across the globe; however, reactions differ from one university to the next.
Some colleges, such as West Chester University in Chester County, PA, did not hesitate in taking precautions early on. On March 5, Christopher Fiorentino, president of WCU, released an update on the status of the university. While he addressed the need for students and faculty to take care of one another and all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the disease, there was no mention of remote learning. The next day, March 6, William J. Helzlsouer, the associate vice president and Chief Human Resources Officer for WCU, announced “all official travel is suspended for University business both internationally and domestically outside of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for faculty, staff, and students.” Not even a week later, on March 10, WCU announced that all academic instruction will be occurring remotely for the remainder of the spring semester.
Even though the precautions taken were for the safety of the University’s community, students were still shocked by the unexpected news. Isabelle Wentzel, a sophomore pharmaceutical product development major at West Chester University from Lancaster, PA, is one of those students.
“I was in disbelief when I first heard the news on March 10,” said Wentzel, “it felt unreal, and I was very upset to not be able to return to college. West Chester was one of the first universities to officially close, at least in my area.”
While Wentzel was upset that she could no longer return to campus to finish the semester, she understood why West Chester Officials made the decisions they did.
“I quickly realized that this is a lot more serious than it was originally made out to be, and how important it was to stay in our homes, isolating from others. Obviously this entire situation is not ideal by any means, but we must make the best of it and continue to follow the guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.” Wentzel said.
With a student body size near 30,000, Temple University is one of the largest schools in Pennsylvania. As a university of such large size, the measures taken to prevent coronavirus at Temple University have affected tens of thousands of students and staff. On March 9, Temple University returned to its usual schedule as spring break came to an end. However, leaders of the University were well aware of the threat COVID-19 possessed to such a large community, and released a statement requesting that all affiliates of the University be “prepared and informed.” Just two days later, on March 11, Temple followed the lead of many other universities around the country with an announcement that the university’s U.S. campuses will end in-person instruction on Friday, March 13, and begin alternative learning methods through the end of the spring semester.
Allie Anghelou, a sophomore biology major from Lancaster, PA, was in her apartment with friends when they received the news that classes would be moved to online and remote instruction only.
“We were expecting it to happen, it was just a matter of when,” said Anghelou. “Before March 11 we hadn’t heard anything directly, but our teachers would speculate with us every class. The environment on campus was tense and filled with uncertainty. Covid was the only thing anyone could talk about.”
For Anghelou, the transition to online learning has been manageable.
“I think remote learning is fine. Many of my classes meet at our regular lecture times, which makes me still feel involved. Writing assignments down in an agenda helps a lot. But a lot of people had the misconception that things would get easier, that’s not the case for me. A lot of my teachers are adding more work in and my labs aren’t the same since we can’t do in-person experiments.” However, for Anghelou, the hardest part about online instruction is not the transition to remote learning itself.
“The biggest problem I have is the mental state this is all causing. Home isn’t too good of a learning environment since my little brothers are home and my parents are worrying about the pandemic. I also have to help out a lot at home and this takes a lot of time away from my education. Additionally, not having a library or some place to do my homework has hindered my ability to stay structured and productive.”
The reaction of colleges around the United States has varied, with some schools being more proactive than others. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, John Lombardi, former president of the University of Florida and the Louisiana State University, said the reason for this is “Each institution will respond in ways that depend on their size, their wealth, the characteristics of their constituencies and the likely risk associated with this virus.”
Mansfield University, for example, received some backlash after waiting what some thought to be an inappropriate amount of time before cancelling face-to-face instruction. Mansfield is a small public institution, whose undergraduate enrollment is less than 2,000 students. By March 11, while many colleges had begun enacting their remote learning policies, Mansfield was still operating as usual. The university defended this decision with an announcement stating “Mansfield’s situation is somewhat different. We are located in a less-populated, rural part of the state, and our Spring Break has already occurred, with students and faculty returning to campus last Monday.”
The ability for universities to be prepared for an event like this depends on a multitude of variables. As stated by Catharine Bond Hill, former president of Vassar College, in an interview with Inside Higher Ed, “The better-resourced universities are in a better position to make the choice of shifting from in-person to online. They have greater access to IT resources, and many of them have centers for teaching and learning with support staff who can help faculty think about how to do that relatively quickly with short notice.”
The outcome of the coronavirus pandemic is still uncertain. The long-term effects are still unknown, and people across the globe will have to cope with such a catastrophe in a number of varying ways.
By: Cherie’ Langenbacher
The last three weeks have tested everyone in different ways due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Thanks to social media, we are able to get information quickly about the changing situation. We have seen classes moving online, self-quarantine, and businesses closing. We understand what is happening here in Pennsylvania, but what are other states doing to “stop the spread?”
I was able to reach out to Lydia Rothkopf, a special education major at Lindenwood University in Missouri, to compare measures taken. Rothkopf told us that like Penn State, her classes were also moved online for the remainder of the semester. Her favorite part of switching to online classes is the ability to work ahead on assignments, so she doesn’t fall behind on assignments. She was living on campus at the beginning of the semester but has since moved back home. She was refunded for her on-campus housing, meal plan, and able to retrieve personal belongings. Also, any non-essential business has been shut down. She has also self-quarantined herself to limit contact with people who may have the virus. The Missouri government set up a text-messaging system for residents to receive real-time updates on the current situation and policies created related to COVID-19.
COVID-19 safety measures have caused little change in her life. She still gets to visit her 3-month old goddaughter and watch movies with the family. The hardest transition for her was moving back home after getting used to living away from home.