In contrast to the virtual learning used last school year, students returned on the bricks for in-person learning this fall semester. The first day of classes for the 2021-2022 school year began on Aug. 23.
The transition back to in-person for prior students is truly more of a return, rather than a completely new experience. For current first-year student it is entirely new, most never experiencing college prior to the pandemic. Many second-year students, who did not get to spend much of their own first year attending the campus, are facing a new experience as well.
In person classes, especially with the university welcoming their largest first-year class in six years. For most, it seems to be an exciting one. Holly Dunn, a senior, shared some of her own experience with the transition from being on campus before COVID-19, to virtual, and then back in-person.
“At first, I was a little worried about returning,” said Dunn. “But being back in class just the past couple of days has made me so happy. Before I was really introverted, but the quarantine period of being virtual, and now being in person, really seems to have brought me out of my shell. I want to talk to everyone I see now.”
Sophomore student Abigail Hueton spent half of her 2020-2021 school year virtual and the other half on campus. She assumed that being hybrid last school year would have prepared her for everyone returning but that was not the case.
“It is really exciting seeing everyone. I feel like I’m really getting to communicate with people now,” said Hueton, “But it is also sort of overwhelming. There’s just so many people.”
Dunn echoed the sentiment about communication, sharing that she felt it was more difficult to connect with her fellow students while being virtual. Technology buffering made class discussions difficult. She is enjoying conversations that do not have to factor in the minimum two seconds of lag time that seemed inevitable on Zoom.
Both Dunn and Hueton agreed that being back in person felt more like a challenge to see if they remembered how to use their basic social skills. Especially in situations like visiting the cafeteria, which Dunn described as being startingly empty last year, versus having lines out the door this school year.
Donna Murphy, a supervisor for the cafeteria, shared her feelings on the returns of students. “Seeing everyone back is so exciting. I have been here for almost thirty-eight years and spending last year without the kids was tough. I feel very connected to them and though it has been busy, it has been entirely worth it to see everyone again.”
Murphy emphasized that “seeing co-workers again and how they interact with the students is great.” She pushed the idea that teamwork was what really kept the cafeteria going. She said that head of dining, Jason Quarles, and secretary, Sandra Brickler continues to work with Murphy and other cafeteria workers and supervisors to ensure that all visitors to the cafeteria feel safe.
Dr. Danielle Deavours serves as an assistant professor of multimedia journalism in the Department of Communication at the university. She has worked for the university for over a year and spent her first teaching virtually.
“Being back in person is very exciting. I think it is just very helpful for the students to be back learning in a classroom again. It really increases knowledge and learning and helps pull everyone out of isolation,” Deavours explained. “We’re able to have a social relationship with one another which is an integral part of learning, particularly here at UM.”
While students, faculty and staff enjoy being back in person, COVID-19 cases continue to rise within the state.
“The most surreal thing about being back in person really is the amount of people here now. It is a little nerve-wracking actively being around all these people with the circumstances still regarding COVID-19.” Hueton shared her worries. “I’m just following the mandate and wearing my mask.”
With the recent approval of the Pfizer vaccine by the FDA, students, faculty and staff hope that in person learning will be able to safely continue throughout the rest of 2021 and into 2022. The university continues to encourage everyone on campus to be vaccinated in many ways. One way being through hosting vaccination clinics on campus, the first of which was held Friday, Aug 27.
Deavours spoke highly of the university’s planning and procedures concerning the pandemic. “They have done a wonderful job trying to find ways to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff.”
Overall, the return to campus seems to be an experience most are excited about. Deavours urges everyone to be graceful and forgiving as they navigate the changes and welcome each other back. The University of Montevallo aims to have all students, faculty and staff safely back on the bricks.