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Rutgers first-year students discuss transition to online college classes

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As Rutgers students begin to adapt to a fully-remote semester due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, incoming first-years must learn to navigate college for the first time when working from home. 

When COVID-19 first emerged during the Spring 2019 semester, it was unclear how the Fall 2020 semester would be affected. On July 6, University President Jonathan Holloway announced that the fall semester was going to be remote.

“I want our students to know that Rutgers faculty are busy preparing for remote undergraduate instruction and building on lessons learned from the spring semester,” Holloway said, according to the release.

This year’s incoming first-year class includes 5,695 students from New Jersey, 481 students out of state and 763 international students, said Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Salvador B. Mena. 

He said that in a typical year, a high percentage of students would be living on campus. But there will only be  approximately 1,000 students in total living on campus this semester, with 240 of them being first-years. This means the school will only fill approximately seven percent of its approximately 16,000 resident student capacity.

“It is important to note that Rutgers has worked diligently to make decisions with the health and safety of students in mind,’’ Mena said. “There has been a commitment also to the academic success of students in a virtual environment and to ensuring that students have access to the resources they need to be fully engaged remotely and connected with Rutgers.”

Mena also said the college experience is about more than classes and said new students will miss out on some of the most important experiences of campus life. 

“At this time of the year the campus is alive and buzzing with the welcoming of new and returning students,” Mena said. 

Kiran Kumaranayakam, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said she had been looking forward to life on campus.

“At first, hearing about online school for my first semester in college was disheartening,’’ Kumaranayakam said. “It left me wondering how hard the transition into college would be without being able to make connections with peers in person. (But), as time had gone on I realized that the safety of my peers and myself (is) much more important and being able to adjust to college may not be so bad.”

Kumaranayakam said having clubs, organizations and other online resources available can help provide new students with a college experience. 

Ryan Lese, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said he was looking forward to starting college in New Brunswick. Instead, Lese will be spending his first semester at home.

“I wish I could be at school because that was something I always was excited for but it is what it is,” Lese said. 

Stacey Zhang, an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy first-year, said she is excited to be a part of Rutgers for the next six years. Although Zhang said she feels disappointed about having to stay home, she plans on taking general education courses, which she said would likely be better than taking virtual, major-specific courses.

“I am still extremely excited to get a feel of college leveled-courses and getting to meet new people — even though it is all online,” Zhang said. “There is still something really exciting about getting to plan your own schedule and having more freedom to control your education in comparison to high school.”

Other first-year students ultimately decided to defer their enrollment, including Mai Chiaet, who was admitted to the School of Arts and Sciences. She said it would be hard to stay motivated without the experience of going to class and meeting new people. 

“I think the social and independent aspects of college are hindered by online learning. From what I was told, the college experience is where you grow intellectually and independently,” Chiaet said. “Although it was a necessary decision to go virtual, campus life practically vanished. Clubs and events just don’t feel the same on screen than in person.”

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