By: Jane Hwang
Due to COVID-19 protocols that started in March of 2020, many graduating high school students across the globe not only had to struggle with the transition to online school, but also didn’t get to experience the social and informative events offered by most universities. Pacific, along with many other schools, closed down its campus so everyone could be safe, and promoted virtual events in the hopes of breaking the monotony of online learning. However, some first year students have mixed feelings about this.
Clara Salazar, Computer Science, ‘24, who became aware of the university in 2014 after her step-father introduced her to San Joaquin’s Expanding Your Horizons, a program funded by the University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, did not expect to have her first year be entirely online. Salazar doesn’t mind doing online classes because professors have been very understanding, but she would like to participate in some of Pacific’s events in person with friends because having everything online takes a toll on her.
“In all honesty, I don’t see the appeal of virtual events as we already have classes online,” said Salazar. “It's boring to sit in front of a screen and have to deal with lag, crashes, and things along those lines. If people are finding them fun and enjoying them then all power to them. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes.”
Jane Damon, Music Composition, ‘24, who was prompted by her middle school music teacher and trips to the Conservatory to attend Pacific, also appreciates the efforts made to make first years feel involved and welcomed but also wishes that she could’ve taken classes on campus, especially because she doesn’t feel cut out for online schooling and wants to move to the dorms. She notes that doing classes online makes her feel isolated, stressed, and unmotivated, but isn’t exactly sure if the university can change anything to improve Zoom conditions. Damon also indicates that the Freshmen Orientation was a fun experience but she didn't get much out of it.
“If I'm being honest, I don't remember much from it,” Damon admits. ”I suppose it helped me set up my accounts and information and things like that, but in terms of learning much about the school, I gained little in that regard.”
Phuong Linh, Media X, ‘24, who chose Pacific at the recommendation of her education agent, also feels like she did not benefit as much as she would have if Freshmen Orientation was in person. She believes that it would have been better for first years to meet new people in person because it allows them to build better bonds. Phuong also found it difficult to connect with peers because the only time that they meet is during class time; however, she mentioned that having school online is not necessarily a bad thing because the university provides accessible information on its resources and she can find her assignments all in one place to stay on track.
“I’m fine with learning online since I can stay at home with my family,” said Phuong. “But I still want to do college in person so I can experience college life. It will be meaningless if I choose to study abroad without going abroad.”
Tiffanie Jiang, Biochemistry, ‘24, who decided to follow her father’s and cousin’s footsteps by attending Pacific, realizes that there is more appeal to being on campus now that she is taking courses online. Though she doesn’t mind listening to virtual lecture classes, Jiang commented that she would much prefer having labs in person, especially because she feels that little knowledge and learning is acquired if she just receives lab kits and fills out report sheets. Jiang also thinks that being online does very little to benefit both students and faculty alike.
“I think it'll be much easier to get to know people because of face to face interaction rather than just staring through a screen or at their name on Zoom,” notes Jiang, “I also think how students approach exams and quizzes would be much different in person since this semester most of my exams are open notes and more contextualized, which changed how I study for them. I would also be more likely to attend extra sessions like office hours in person since it's less awkward than setting up an appointment and opening up a Zoom link for one on one conversations.”
Dr. Zhou, a Professor and the Chair of the English Department, mentions that first year students are unable to experience some of Pacific’s well-attended events such as the poetry readings, cultural group meetings, and open mic sessions, which saddens her because she thinks that it is critical for first year students to meet others and build a network that is composed of peers, mentors, and faculty. She also stresses that the online experience doesn’t really allow first year students to have more intimate interactions and encounters that would inspire and compel them to learn more about themselves.
“It's very important for them to have a sense of learning community, a community to which they feel like they belong.” claims Dr. Zhou, “They should be able to reach out to other groups, whether the groups are cross discipline or culture, particular interest clubs. They have less access because of a lack of mobility; they can’t move around on campus to reach out and connect. It’s also important to expose first years to what kinds of resources are available like the library, Pacifican, and internships/career resources center.”
Virtual classes and events have their own pros and cons, especially in the time of a global pandemic, but many agree that being online hinders first year students from reaching out because of fatigue, concerns and other factors. Though the future of online schooling is yet to be determined based on COVID-19 outcomes, many first year students have very intriguing perspectives and inputs about Zoom.