College in the Modern Age by Hailey Clausen

As a kid, I had a very clear image about what college would be like -- my greatest worries would be what to wear to the football game or how to run to classes across campus in the fifteen-minute break between. I never would have imagined that I would be more concerned with the quality of internet in my dorm, how my background on “Zoom” looked, and turning in a paper by 8pm on a Saturday night.

This is the reality of college students of 2020.

As a freshman, the adjustment to college had a major roadblock thrown into it when I had to learn how to adapt to online classes and gain the most critical skill of our day and age: time management.

With classes being a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous, most days I was given flexibility to make my own schedule and work at a pace that was best for me. Another benefit of the online school life is that I could work anywhere I wanted to, whether that was rolling out of bed three minutes (true story!) before needing to be logged into my class or exploring a new building’s study area on campus. I was also given the freedom to complete all asynchronous work early in the day to make time for activities that I enjoy in the afternoon, such as catching up on the latest episodes of “The Bachelor” or carving in some time for the gym.

What an incredible opportunity this has been to expand the scope of technology that we use! I have made many connections this year that would not have been possible without Zoom and Skype, such as interviewing an applied economics alum with a career I am interested in, but who now lives across the country! Teachers like Professor Frances Homans and the entire Applied Economics department in CFANS have gone above and beyond this semester to not only adapt their lessons to the demands of an online format but also to add unique touches, such as special guests who we would not have been able to connect with without Zoom.

The ease and accessibility of reaching my major advisors has been another benefit. As a freshman with a lot of questions, being able to drop into a Zoom room whenever I needed to for advice on classes eased a lot of anxiety and is something that I hope continues, even when we make it out of the pandemic.

What has surprised me most about my first semester of college being online has been the network of friends that I have been able to find. Although social events have been minimal, the mix of virtual recruiting events done by my sorority Lambda Delta Phi and the weekly emails from the Student Union showcasing clubs on campus have helped me meet students with interests similar to mine. Even without crazy Gopher football games (which I still need to experience for the first time- I cannot wait!) we could adapt with Zoom viewing parties complete with dorm microwave safe “tailgate” snacks.

Now, as glamourous as it sounds to roll out of bed and wear PJs to class, my first semester at Zoom University was not a walk in the park filled with sweatpants and open note tests. Forming study groups for more difficult classes was hard, making tough exams lonely and daunting. I never imagined taking an entire class and not meeting a single classmate or professor in person. So many hands-on classes lost major enjoyment factors. Classes that were not meant to be taught from a textbook were adapted the best they could be, but those experiences simply cannot be replicated on a Canvas page.

As a passionate Gopher fan and lover of academics, this year was a challenge. I feel like I missed out on a lot of freshman year experiences that won’t be the same if replicated as a sophomore. The important thing is that, in the midst of challenge and adversity, we take advantage of the new opportunities presented and position ourselves to bounce back. I have made so many memories this semester and have countless stories to tell my children someday. What we think becomes our reality, and I think this semester was one of unimaginable growth, friendships, and adapted learning.

Note from Frances:  The Orientation class this year featured visits from alumni in a video format.  Our alumni sent words of welcome, wisdom, and hope, and offered to connect with students new to the department, emphasizing the importance of making and building connections.  Hailey took this to heart, reaching out to Alissa (Demmer) Gardner, currently at the Great Basin Institute in Las Vegas. Thanks to Alissa and to Will Collins, Nick Dorsey, Gretta Hanson, Meredith Leung, Mike Linton, Blaine Nelson, Francis Smith, Zophia Raleigh, and Sierra Williamson for contributing videos to help make students feel welcome in their first year at the University of Minnesota. 

What advice do you have for first-year students?  Whether you’d like to send it in written or video form, I’d love to use it to welcome next year’s Orientation class.  To participate, send me a note at fhomans@umn.edu.