“Get out of here! Get away!” Kendall Crookston, a fourth-year early childhood education major in the College of Education and Human Ecology, said to her roommate, after Crookston tested positive for COVID-19 in September.

During the seven months since coronavirus escalated in the United States, many college students have stories about coming into contact with the virus. As the reality of the pandemic becomes commonplace, students have the unique opportunity to pause, relish our alikeness or rest from society’s breakneck pace.

“I wasn’t that sick, really,” Crookston said, but she found her brush with the virus gave her a reprieve from the pressures of social life. Similarly, many students are discovering innovative ways to connect with peers and their surroundings as they are forced to trim the number of friends they see in person.

As time and the virus march on, these students reshaped their lives in innovative ways.

Finding order within pandemic chaos

Ohio State student in face mask
Kevin Morrissey

Kevin Morrissey, a third-year world language education major, discovered how the pandemic could mold him into a more productive student. He built a routine that balances school, work and social interaction.

For one, he started a job at a gym that offers spinning and biking classes. That work culture allowed him to befriend coworkers, replacing some of his lost interaction with peers.

“I just really liked the community that's already cultivated within that environment, and it's nice to have a chance to get out of the house …throughout the week,” Morrissey said. “So, I have periods of time I know I'm gonna be able to leave the house to go do this, or go to work…. It's nice having that sense of establishing a routine.”

Crookston, who recovered from COVID-19 in September, also has a job that lets her get out on weekends. She finds her activity as a fitness instructor has been beneficial to her mental and physical health.

Even going to the grocery store or walking to get coffee with roommates is an excuse to go outside and, finally, quit Zoom after a day of online lectures.

“It’s good to just kind of take a second to do some stretching, some strength stuff … breathe and not worry about schoolwork, because this has very much become the place where I do everything,” Crookston said, referring to her room in her off-campus house. “So, schoolwork does exist in a space where it didn't really used to as much. (I’m) trying to take a moment away from that.”

Female Ohio State student in mask
Cadence Downey

In her free time, Cadence Downey, a first-year, pre-integrated language arts major, hangs out on the Oval or rides around campus on scooters with her friends. She likes exploring the university without the pressure of having to get to a class.

Downey found that online classes have actually made college life a little easier. “I am not stressing myself out about getting to x, y and z places,” she said. “I'm able to have a home base of my room and my building.”

Campus may look deserted, but faculty enliven it

Despite many students choosing to return to the university, walking around a practically vacant campus can feel disorienting.

Not everyone realized how big the change would be, with most classes now online.

“I think part of me, before I moved back, somehow thought everything would miraculously kind of go back to normal and everything would be fine,” Morrissey said. “So…it didn't hit me until I came back here …. I kind of realized, ‘Oh, this is still very much a big concern. This is something that must be taken very seriously.’”

Still, online classes provide an opportunity for students to connect with peers they normally wouldn’t interact with, and for faculty to develop innovative ways to keep students engaged.

Professors have played music before class. Pets interrupt lectures to beg for attention. These “human moments” break up the banal reality of learning at home. Breakout rooms eliminate the awkward tension of finding people for projects or discussions.

Smiling female Ohio State student
Kendall Crookston

“Some of the smaller classes have a great impact on that,” Morrissey said. “With my education classes, they're a little bit smaller…. If we do breakout rooms … we can actually get to know people we're talking with and really engage with (them). So, with some classes, there is … a community aspect that is growing.”

Morrissey especially appreciated his Spanish professor. “It was just really cool to see how she wants to make the class experience as accommodating and as comforting as possible.… With how crazy and stressful COVID has been on this year already, it was nice to have a professor really take the time to reach out to us and ask how we were doing and want to make the classroom experience as enriching, and as positive, as it possibly could be.”

Having in-person classes has become a special occasion for students to dress up and get excited. It’s another mundane activity that has transformed into something for students to cherish and celebrate together.

When the world is changing so rapidly, people may see only the negative. But these inspired students still find so many reasons to rejoice.

Whether we are taking time to be mindful of our health or bonding in breakout rooms, in times of unrest, our sense of community can grow stronger.

“Day by day,” Morrissey said, “the adjustment becomes easier.”

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