Online Chemistry Course Brings Environmental Science Students Together

Aya Oulal and Meghan Brady Image by Pat Piasecki
Aya Oulal, second from left, and Meghan Brady, right, catch up with their classmates.

By Brooke Coupal

Like most students starting college in the fall of 2020, Aya Oulal spent the academic year at home, sitting in front of a computer.
“I felt very isolated,” says the honors environmental science major from Everett, Massachusetts.
But Oulal found solace in her virtual classes, especially Chemistry II, taught by Chemistry Assoc. Teaching Prof. Leslie Farris. For group work, Farris matched students together based on their major, allowing Oulal to form connections with fellow environmental science students Meghan Brady, Alex Dickinson and Ryan Sparks.
“Having those ties to other people in my major helped make the unprecedented times less scary,” says Brady, a resident of Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. “We were able to have that sense of community."
When the students began taking in-person classes during their sophomore year, they were excited to see familiar faces.
“It was definitely helpful to have a few people that I knew going to campus,” says Dickinson, a Leominster, Massachusetts, resident. “From there, it was easier to talk to other people in the major.”
The four students who bonded during Chemistry II continued having classes together, where they would often gravitate to each other for group projects. Oulal and Brady’s friendship further blossomed as they discovered common interests such as crocheting.
“We became better friends after we were able to start seeing each other in real life,” Brady says.
The students branched out while on campus. Oulal, who finished her degree in December, became a resident advisor and attended COP28 in Dubai. Dickinson got involved with the university’s radio station, WUML, and Brady and Sparks found internships.
“I'm thankful for the unique experience I was able to have at UML,” says Sparks, from Lawrence, Massachusetts. “And I am looking forward to finally being able to walk for a graduation.”