We Miss Our River Hawks

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Students Study Online, Clean House and Take Walks

Medical lab sciences major Erin Snow took a walk on a nearly deserted UMass Lowell South Campus Image by Edward Brennen
Erin Snow takes a break from the first day of online classes to walk to a familiar spot on campus.

By Katharine Webster

Midway through spring break, students learned that the campus would be switching completely to online classes, due to the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Everyone got a two-hour window to move out of their campus housing – or apply to remain if moving was a hardship. That wasn’t the joyful reunion with friends that first-year honorspsychology major Caroline Finn had been anticipating.

“When we left for spring break, the goodbyes I said were for a week,” Finn says. “It’s sad not seeing my friends and definitely weird to go from people all the time, living with five other girls, to seeing no one. So it’s definitely a transition, but we know it’s for the best.”

As students transition to the new normal – taking classes online and practicing social distancing – they’re finding different coping strategies, from spending more time with family to watching more television.

Students say that professors, advisors, tutors, health and mental health counselors and others are available to help them through an unprecedented time. The resumption of classes, albeit online, is providing a sense of stability as they adjust.

Zoom Me In

Finn lives way out in the woods in Manchester-by-the-Sea, with no cable connection and spotty internet service. That means she and her older brother, who’s working remotely, have to go to their grandparents’ house to get online – while keeping a safe distance from them.

The woods are great for rambling, though. So Finn and her mom have set a goal to walk four miles a day together.

“The social distancing is definitely not ideal, but I’m trying to make the best of it, and usually my family are all running in all different directions, so it’s pretty nice to slow down and have some family time,” she says.

Graphic design major Benjamin Kamin waits for a shuttle bus on a nearly empty UMass Lowell campus Image by Edward Brennen
Benjamin Kamin waits for a shuttle bus on a nearly deserted campus.

First-year honors biology major Madison Boisvert says that most of her online classes are being held at their regular times via Zoom, a videoconferencing app that students can download. Her chemistry and biology professors are finding resources so that students can do virtual labs, too.

Boisvert says her science professors aren’t requiring students to attend the Zoom sessions, knowing that they may have other obligations. But Boisvert, who is studying from home in Essex, says she’s planning on attending all of them.

“It’s still the same workload. We’re just doing it differently,” she says. “I’m the type of person who needs structure.”

Boisvert’s science professors have sent reliable information about COVID-19 to all of their students while warning that there’s a lot of misinformation going around, she says. Assoc. Teaching Prof. Naomi Wernick, her Biology II professor, will incorporate COVID-19 into her lessons on viruses and immunity later in the semester. And Wernick also sent students a link to a meditation app they can use when they’re feeling stressed.

“She’s always so open, and very knowledgeable about everything,” Boisvert says.

Sophia Gatie, a first-year mechanical engineering major from Marshfield, has never taken an online class before and finds the transition difficult, she says. Added to that is her part-time job at Roche Bros. supermarket, where it’s all hands on deck as shoppers stock up for a lengthy period of social distancing.

“It’s hectic. It’s been crazy stressful,” she says.

The closure of classrooms and computer labs is hitting Benjamin Kamins, a sophomore graphic design major from Marlborough, particularly hard because he doesn’t own a computer. But he says the university is “working on getting a computer for me” that will allow him to run the software necessary for his classes, including Photoshop, InDesign and Adobe Illustrator.

Anshel Isles, a first-year bachelor of liberal arts major and a varsity track and cross-country athlete, says he’s found the transition to online classes difficult and time-consuming. He runs near his home to reduce stress after all Division I sports were canceled.

“Running gets my blood flowing and makes me feel better. I expected to be living at home this June, not in March. It completely caught me off guard,” he says.

David Morton, president of the Student Government Association (SGA) and a senior double-majoring in business and political science, says Zoom meetings have helped him and his fellow SGA members retain a sense of normalcy.

While they have decided to postpone the SGA elections by two weeks so everyone can prepare to hold them online, the SGA is otherwise sticking to its meeting schedule – virtually – including the executive board’s monthly meeting with Chancellor Jacquie Moloney and her leadership team, who have also been consulting with SGA leaders regularly on how best to help students.

“The chancellor said it was the highlight of her week to actually see us on Zoom, and I can say the same,” says Morton, who is also a campus EMT. “It’s great, because their priority really is the students and how they’re coping with this situation, and trying to make the best of it for us. We really appreciate that.”

On and Off Campus

Not all students have moved back home. Hikma Abajorga, a senior plastics engineering major from Ethiopia, can’t finish her classes from home because there’s no reliable internet service. The university granted her permission to remain in her suite in Merrimack Apartments, where she cooks her own meals.

With the university closing to only essential personnel, she has lost her research job in a campus lab, an important source of income. But for now, she’s trying to stay upbeat, aware that emergency aid is available for needy students.

“I have a little bit of money saved up for a month, and I’ll figure it out,” she says. “I’m going to be taking classes, watching a movie. It’s all good.”

On an otherwise deserted South Campus quad, senior medical laboratory sciences major Erin Snow of Pembroke took a break from her first day of online classes to go for a walk and get some sun.

The contents of Abby Lipski's go bag Image by Abigail Lipski
The contents of Abby Lipski's emergency "go bag."

She’s staying in her off-campus apartment because she had planned to resume her per diem job at Lawrence General Hospital again next month, after she finished her required clinical rotation. Now her work availability is up in the air because her clinical rotation was put on hold. She is trying to take the uncertainty in stride.

“Now I don’t know when it’s going to finish,” she says.

Abby Lipski, a senior criminal justice major with a concentration in homeland security, lives off campus. Long before COVID-19 came along, she stocked extra supplies, thanks to a class in crisis and emergency management with adjunct faculty member Jessica Kuron and free online emergency management courses offered by FEMA.

Lipski’s completing more of the FEMA courses while holed up in her apartment. In addition, a friend she made through her service in the Coast Guard Auxiliary has volunteered to act as Medford’s pandemic incident commander, and Lipski is helping him to set up a robust emergency management system for the town.

“You never know when there’s going to be an emergency,” she says. “To actually be using these skills in this situation is a validation of that learning.”