As the spring semester comes to an end, freshmen students opened up about their first year at the University of La Verne and agreed that maintaining friendships was essential to keeping the college experience alive in an exclusively online learning environment.
The La Verne class of 2024 is the first to have a fully remote freshman year due to the campus closure following COVID-19 restrictions. Many students said it was difficult, but they learned to adjust after the first semester.
“I was definitely really emotional my first semester. I was hopeless,” Emma Vu, freshman business administration major, said. “I thought, ‘Is it gonna be like this for the next couple years?’”
Nirvana Delev, freshman biology major, said she secured on-campus housing before she heard the University’s decision to remain remote in fall 2020. She said living in a single dorm with strict social distancing rules made her feel disconnected.
Delev said she used social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat to reach out to other ULV students since it felt difficult to connect with her classmates on Zoom.
“If I did not have Instagram or anything, I think it would have been a totally different experience. I would have felt totally alone and I don’t think I would have had as many friends going into this next year,” Delev said.
Arely Jimenez, freshman studio art major, said her creative writing professor implemented literature revolving around COVID-19 into their class.
“I think it was very personal to everyone in our class. It was a very nice experience to see how we could relate our (situation) to our creative writing class,” Jimenez said.
During her first semester, Jimenez said she tried writing notes traditionally with pen and paper but found it difficult to keep up with.
She saved up to buy herself an iPad during January interterm, allowing her to annotate over PDFs of her assignments, and has since then connected with a study partner and learned organization skills.
“It was less overwhelming. I felt like it was a little bit more productive. I’m pretty glad that I was able to find things that fit my learning style and personality,” Jimenez said.
Vu said she found it difficult to learn in long, lecture-based classes, but enjoyed classes where everyone had their cameras on and had active discussions.
Vu said the University’s First-Year La Verne Experience program, designed to place freshmen into a set of classes based on similar interests, made making friends and the transition into college easier.
“It was really fun because we got to know each other and because our classes were discussion based, we definitely felt more comfortable sharing with each other,” Vu said.
Genesis Vargas, freshman biology major, said one of the hardest things for her was missing out on real, in-person biology labs.
However, she said the support of her family motivated her to have the successful semester she wanted despite being a hands-on learner.
“My proudest moment during this time was honestly passing my finals and passing my classes,” Vargas said.
Although students were able to successfully adjust, many felt it was important to address the toll online learning can take on one’s mental health.
“Online school is really hard because you don’t have that accountability. You don’t have to be in person. You can turn in assignments late and not have to face somebody,” Grayson Ruyak, freshman creative writing major, said. “When you have a mental health condition, it really affects your motivation.”
Ruyak said his creative writing professors – Sean Bernard, professor of creative writing, and Angela Thomson-Brenchley, senior adjunct professor of creative writing – did regular mental health check-ins during class. He said knowing his professors genuinely cared about his well-being motivated him.
“The one thing that’s been really amazing this year, the professors have gone above and beyond when it comes to helping students and caring about their situations,” Ruyak said.
Anabel Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.