How COVID-19 has Impacted First-Time Rowan Students’ College Experiences

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Many of us can recall our first semester at Rowan with great joy.

We made new friends, experienced the flexibility of a college schedule and learned through the hardships that came with our new-found self-accountability. We had experiences that we may never forget, some of which have paved the path for the rest of our time in college, as well as after we graduate.

With the ever-looming presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything has been changed at Rowan — from holding classes online, limiting capacities of public spaces and hosting events virtually or within social distancing guidelines, to simply just wearing a mask in public. For returning Rowan students, these are all just new obstacles to face as they continue on their educational path.

For students who are new to campus, however, these COVID-19 rules are the standard for their college experience at Rowan.

For Sophia Wagner, a freshman musical theater major from Cinnaminson, her college experience has been as close to the norm as it can get during these times. Due to her major, many of her classes would ideally be held in person, but currently they’re still remote.

“Some of [my classes] are hopefully moving to in-person,” she said. “I’m actually in the main stage fall play, so we’ll be meeting in person for that.”

One thing Wagner noted was that she auditioned for Rowan’s theater program shortly before things began to shut down in March, which has helped her with creating a social life in her new campus environment. Because she had auditions, she has already connected with people in her major.

“We made social media group chats before we moved to Rowan, so I kinda knew some of the people, but we hadn’t met face-to-face,” Wagner said, “but now most of us have met face-to-face.”

“Despite the guidelines and stuff, we still make it work, we still go and have meals with each other and do activities and go to the theater meetings and stuff,” she said.

The only lacking parts Wagner has experienced thus far is that her at-home voice lessons will be held over Zoom, with which she had a less-than-ideal experience due to nature of video communication.

Like Wagner, Noah Garcia, a freshman exploratory studies major from North Jersey, has had little trouble making friends on campus. He has been able to meet a lot of people and has found ways to enjoy his time at Rowan as much as possible, whether it’s by hanging out with friends in his residence hall or spending time with his brother and his group of friends at their off-campus residence.

Garcia has had one in-person class, but most of his classes have been held virtually on Zoom. In comparison to how his high school managed virtual classes, Rowan’s approach has been much more effective for Garcia.

“College online is definitely way better than high school,” he said. “In high school, they would just post things on Google Classroom but we didn’t have any Zoom meetings. If they did, they’d be at 7 in the morning… but I give the teachers some slack because no one was ready for that. Now they were able to prepare for that. The Zoom classes, it’s really not that hard to pay attention in them — it’s not as bad as I thought. But I definitely prefer in-person.”

Garcia’s main concern now is what will happen if the number of coronavirus cases increases significantly due to Rowan’s in-person modes of education.

“If cases rise here, I think sending people home is the worst thing they can do – and that’s not just because I want to stay here and I don’t want to go home,” Garcia said. “Say I get sick and I get sent home, then I can spread it to even more people…it makes more sense to contain it.”

Although some students have found their place at Rowan already, for transfer students, making friends on a new campus can be difficult because many people in their graduating classes live off-campus and have established friend groups already. With imposed social distancing measures, the friend-making process has been made even more difficult.

Zach Myrtetus, a transfer law and justice major from Raritan Valley Community College, initially encountered problems making friends on campus, especially since he lives in a double-occupancy room by himself.

“I don’t have a roommate, so the first week was kind of weird because I didn’t have anyone immediately that I know, and I didn’t really know anyone else here,” Myrtetus said. “So it was a little more isolating, especially with everything going on with [coronavirus].”

Luckily, Myrtetus was added to a GroupMe conversation for new transfer students this semester, which was created by Mayra Arroyo, a faculty member of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Through this group, Myrtetus has been able to meet people who are going through the transfer experience alongside him and create a network of people in his new environment to spend time with.

Though this year is certainly different for the Rowan community, newly enrolled students have still made the best of their first moments on campus despite the circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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