KOKOMO, Ind. — Almost a year ago, the simple act of enjoying a hot drink with friends in the campus coffee shop, stopping for a conversation in the hallway with a colleague, or gathering in a small circle for group work was something taken for granted.
Today, as Indiana University Kokomo students and faculty return to campus for the first time since November 20, that sense of community is what they are most looking forward to — even in a physically distanced setting required by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stephanie Edwards, a freshman from Kokomo, admits she was worried what campus would be like when she first arrived. Her experience during the fall semester makes her even more excited to return.
“I was able to have the college experience I wanted, even with safety precautions because of the pandemic going on,” she said. “I feel like I still was able to meet people and learn a lot on campus.”
Her advisors in the School of Education kept students updated on in person and virtual events on campus, which allowed her to make the connections she wanted — and that she’s looking forward to building on this semester.
“I’m excited to make more on campus memories with my friends,” Edwards said. “I got to meet a lot of great people, and I’m happy to be together again to build on our relationships. I like being on campus.”
Freshman Sydney Douglass missed those interactions after starting her first semester in person. Classes were virtual from Thanksgiving break to the end of the fall semester, with the spring semester starting January 19 online.
“I’m really excited to have the warm welcome like I had when I first came to campus,” said Douglass, a nursing major from Peru. “I can’t wait to see everyone again, and have in-person interactions with my professors and classmates. I’m ready to start and dive in again.”
She added that skills learned in her anatomy class have set her up for a successful second semester.
“You have to learn your material, and not just memorize it,” she said. “I’m applying that to all of my classes, to learn what is being taught, rather than just memorizing, like I did in high school. That’s really helped me so far.”
Nash Smith is happy to return in person for his final semester, before he graduates in May with a degree in sports and recreation management.
“I miss seeing all my people. When you do everything at home, online, it doesn’t feel the same,” the Forest resident said. “I just enjoy seeing everyone, and how they are hanging in there even in these tough circumstances.”
It’s not just the students who are excited.
Joe Keener, associate professor of English, said he anticipated being back in the classroom with students, instead of seeing them on a computer screen, and also being able to greet people in the hallways.
“It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult to have the same sense of community,” he said of online classes. “I teach seminars where I am able to have students sit in a circle, I sit with them, and we are all face to face. This cannot be replicated on Zoom.”
He said teaching virtually taught him to be flexible with his usual strict policies regarding classroom management — given the circumstances, he’s applied those expectations on a case-by-case basis, with the understanding that circumstances are not normal. He’s also started each class with some times for students to talk and catch up with one another.
“I normally try to do this on a smaller scale, but I think the students need extra support, and just to be heard,” he said.
Being in person does not mean going back to the way things were pre-pandemic, but it can still be fulfilling.
“I want students to know that I will work with them to create a classroom that is as close to what they would normally get as possible,” he said. “It takes faculty and students to make that happen.”