Virtual first-year orientation, Hoover meals to-go, and double rooms turned single. This was a fraction of the unique reality last year’s first-years faced, and while those who were on campus were granted the most fulfilling experience possible––given the circumstances of the pandemic––there were bound to be adverse effects from never having seen DePauw at its best, or normal, capacity.
The Class of 2024 moved in after a sudden campus evacuation that previous March. Under carefully monitored COVID-19 procedures, he first-years persevered through online classes, time-zone differences and commuting from home to campus to learning from their dorm rooms.
“It would be difficult to quantify how the full experience was for the Class of 2024 because everybody had some individual hurdles to go through,” said JC Lopez, Dean of Student Success and Leader of the First-Year-Experience Program.
The introduction to college was certainly different, but the FYE program operated as close to normal as possible. “It wasn't like the 100% we could always give, but it was what we could accomplish given the pandemic,” Lopez said.
Orientation is a key part of getting first-years acquainted with DePauw’s campus and the challenges of being a new college student. With COVID-19 restrictions and at half of campus’ capacity, this foundational aspect of the first semester for the Class of 2024 was a difficult challenge for administration.
“I think we still implemented probably 80% of what we were supposed to do in order to help students in transition, whether that was doing [orientation] virtually or in smaller classrooms or in mentor groups,” Lopez added.
While transitioning last year's first-years into campus life, the 20% deficit may have caused a greater impact in their current year.
“We had no adjustment period. There was no time for us to make the mistakes you're supposed to make as a first-year… we didn't have that room for trial and error, and I feel like we're making those mistakes as sophomores,”said Molly Murphy, a sophomore Vocal Performance major, “And that's okay, but at the end of the day [these mistakes] should have been made last year.
The disconnect between sophomores’ understanding of college academics versus what professors have experienced is also causing an impact on the Class of 2024.
“[Professors] only know what [college] was like before COVID and not teaching on Zoom. And now that we're off of Zoom, they have to adjust as much as we do… they still have a to-do list they have to complete. They have to teach us a certain amount of things in a certain amount of time,” Murphy said.
This sudden change from online to in-person learning has also caused some academic anxiety among students. Grades, attendance, and participation are being watched closer this year, whereas Zoom classes allowed a greater separation between the in-person and virtual world.
“I know in-person classes are more engaging, but there's also more pressure. Last year on Zoom, I felt I talked a lot more, and now in class, I'm overthinking everything,” says Sarah Weeks, sophomore History major, “Your professor is right there, looking you in the eyes. On Zoom, you didn't really look people in the eyes,” she added.
The exposure to online learning was a unique privilege to the class of 2024’s first year at college. Having now experienced two ends of the spectrum -fully online and fully in person- sophomores are reacting differently to these two scenarios.
“I really like in person classes. But some people are actually enjoying online classes better,” says Hang Bui, a sophomore Computer Science major. While in-person classes are more engaging, Bui noted a common struggle among sophomores.
“I think in-person classes definitely have their perks, but 8am classes have been a pain. I'm still trying to adjust to it, and I try to go to classes but sometimes it's just so hard to get up in the morning and walk to class,” Bui added.
From a social aspect, the sophomore class seems to be more disconnected from one another. Commuting students, international online-learners and on-campus students experienced their first year very differently, and its effects are impacting their sophomore year.
“The full class wasn't here to bond and feel the entire DePauw experience from the start...So that does shape a little bit about the inner class connection, and maybe how they’ve experienced DePauw,” Lopez said.
For Bui, being an international student made her first year especially challenging. After being one of the few Vietnamese students on campus last year, she’s noticed this year’s international students who learned remotely last year are facing an unprecedented challenge.
“I was here last semester, but I do know many friends who came here for the first time [this year]. And then, it's weird because they have ‘been’ at DePauw for over a year, but online. So they kind of know people, but not really,” she said.
Bui said that last year she was one of only a few Vietnamese international students, and was only able to bond with domestic students or Pakistani international students. “But now there are many other Vietnamese students on campus… and I just meet more people in general,” Bui added.
Last year was undoubtedly a learning experience for this year’s sophomores. All the challenges have created a resilient, capable class like DePauw has never seen. But still, upon reflecting on freshman year, “We just knew the restrictions––we didn't really know the possibilities,” Murphy said.