College Looks Different for UPA’s Class of 2020

Graduates Hannah Van Gelder, Sophia Singh and Joel Jaison speak on their lives in college.

UPA alumnus Hannah Van Gelder sits on her bed in her dorm at Marymount Manhattan College. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Van Gelder.)

After finishing the remainder of their senior year online, UPA’s Class of 2020 has started college, albeit differently than how they had imagined when they first applied.

For liberal studies major Hannah Van Gelder, a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College, going to college meant flying to New York City on Aug. 22 to live with one suitemate on campus and take online classes.

“I made the decision to move because I would otherwise have to wake up at four in the morning for classes,” Van Gelder said. “I’m not a fan of that.”

For San Jose State University (SJSU) freshman Sophia Singh and UC Berkeley freshman Joel Jaison, it meant staying at home and starting the school year virtually. Singh and Jaison are both majoring in computer science, with no in-person classes required.

“I chose to stay at home mostly because there aren’t any in-person classes,” Singh said. “It would be pointless and also not many people are living on campus because of [COVID-19].”

Though Van Gelder is now comfortable with online learning, she wishes her college had been more communicative with students when informing them about the college’s online learning plans.

“Everything kind of felt last minute,” she said. “It created a lot of anxiety and stress because I am a person who likes to have some sort of plan, especially when I’m moving across the country.”

Nevertheless, Van Gelder feels actual classes and school events have been fairly well organized. The school offers classes that teach students to use Zoom and Blackboard, an educational platform similar to Schoology. The school also provided a phone number and email address as support lines for students with tech difficulties.

SJSU currently uses the platforms Canvas and Zoom, as well as its regular SJSU portal. Singh finds classes fairly simple and feels SJSU was helpful during the online transition, offering online tutoring and providing resources on how to adapt to online learning. Classes for SJSU began on Aug. 19.

“It’s not too hectic for me,” Singh said. “College freshmen only take about four classes per semester.”

Singh has used her free time to work out, make TikTok videos, meet friends and create posts and stories as a social media ambassador for the club Her Campus at SJSU. She has also joined the sorority Delta Gamma SJSU.

“I’ve been really bored so I’ve been making a lot of [TikToks],” Singh said. “I guess it’s going good.”

Just like SJSU, Berkeley uses Canvas and Zoom, but a few classes also use specific websites and auto-graders, such as Gradescope and Classes started on Aug. 26 and all lectures are recorded, but Jaison still aims to attend Zoom classes live, finding it easier to work more efficiently.

“Since I found that I could pause it, I would get distracted easily and go on my phone,” Jaison said. “When I’m in a live lecture, I have to force myself to keep on task and keep track with what they’re saying so I don’t get lost.”

As for campus life, Van Gelder has observed her peers exercising caution and socially distancing.

“Everyone is being really safe and everyone’s wearing their masks in public,” Van Gelder said. “There are spots on the floors for six feet apart and we’re having online classes. But the campus is open if you want to reserve a space [for studying].”

Van Gelder’s daily routine consists of waking up, making breakfast, attending Zoom classes, taking a short break for lunch, resuming Zoom sessions and then going out for dinner or cooking a meal.

She also spends time with her new college friends, exploring the city.

“I’ve made a good group of friends here and we hang out,” Van Gelder said. “On the weekends and days when we don’t have classes, we’re going out, like to Times Square.”

Back at home, Singh wants SJSU to provide more in-person events.

“I wish they had more opportunities for us to actually belong on campus and not be at our homes all the time,” Singh said. “It’s hard with a pandemic, but something has got to happen […] I wish they had a chance for locals to be involved through something other than Zoom, like social distance meet-ups and stuff like that.”

Nevertheless, Singh feels socializing and meeting new people has been a decent experience, despite not being in-person.

“We’ve made group chats and there have been Instagram pages for our class and it’s been OK making friends,” Singh said. “It would have been better in person, but you can still connect with people in your class.”

Jaison found it has been slightly harder to make friends in the virtual setting.

“I’m not really attempting [to meet new people] at this point,” Jaison said. “I’m just staying in connection with people who already knew me from UPA and stuff. I’m just going to wait until I get there [in person]. Meeting people online is completely different and I don’t like it as much.”

Singh felt that distance learning at college is different from her experience with UPA’s distance learning in the spring. While UPA has now transitioned to a synchronous class approach, it originally started with teachers experimenting with different sites and tools. Some teachers preferred Zoom while others preferred to assign work asynchronously on online platforms such as Powerschool and Google Classroom. This is different from Singh’s current college experience, which utilizes Zoom, the SJSU portal and Canvas on a regular basis.

UPA alumnus Sophia Singh poses at her desk in a corner of her room after finishing her computer science midterm. (Photo courtesy of Sophia Singh.)

“My teachers didn’t do that many Zoom calls,” Singh said. “It was more like you finish your assignments online, and it was different compared to having set times for Zoom call classes.”

Jaison and Van Gelder found their experience at UPA last spring was helpful in preparing them for the transition to virtual learning at college.

Jaison also said UPA prepared him for college’s online workload.

“It’s about the same, I’d say,” Jaison said. “Just doing it at home is difficult. It would be better if I was actually [on campus] so I would have more motivation to get out of bed every day.”

“UPA was on top of it,” Van Gelder said. “They made up their plans and communicated to us quickly. They were very open and understanding to student’s struggles.”

Van Gelder also connected UPA’s small size to Marymount Manhattan College’s small population of about 2000 students.

“They have been very understanding about Zoom,” said Van Gelder. “I feel that the special circumstances that I have been at a school similar to UPA has prepared me a lot for [Marymount Manhattan College.]”