The Power of I: How Students Adjust to a Historic Fall Semester


By Samantha Ruiz, Political Science and Communication Class of ‘22

It’s no secret that this semester is unlike any other in recent history. Like many other units on campus, Technology Services at Illinois spent months preparing for the return to campus (while also rolling with the punches) to ensure that students have access to all the necessary resources both on and off campus for a successful semester. The real heroes, however, are the students, who despite all odds, and with remarkable speed, shifted their plans and schedules, uprooted their living situations, and altered their idea of "college life" to continue working towards their degrees. We got in touch with Samantha Heyman, who works with Tech Services on campus, and Rowan Ewangan, a student learning remotely, to look at their goals for the semester, their adjustment to online classes, and what advice they have for everyone else!student smiling with trees behind her

When classes shifted completely online this past March, many students experienced a whirlwind of confusion and anxiety about the last half of the spring semester. Rowan had a bit of a difficult transition. “I had a pretty spotty internet connection my first week back to classes... and for me, being at home is not a place I can focus or learn in.” Samantha, on the other hand, was in the middle of a study abroad program in Australia. “It was just sad! I love meeting with people in person, and going from hot and sunny Australia to cold and snowy Chicago was crazy.”

For a while, it was unclear whether the university was going to allow people to come back to campus in the fall. Some students, Rowan included, knew for sure they didn’t want in-person classes to resume. “Honestly, I am pretty scared of getting sick.” As difficult as the transition to online classes was initially, he got the hang of it, and decided the risk in-person classes was too great.

For Samantha, things were a bit different. Closer to the beginning of the Fall semester, the university announced how students would return to campus. Everyone would be required to test twice a week. Using an innovative and noninvasive saliva test, Illinois had the most comprehensive testing procedure of any university in the nation. “U of I’s been doing such a good job handling everything,” said Samantha, “and that’s why I wasn’t as nervous coming back to campus.”

student smiling in his car with black and white dog in the backseatWhat does a typical day look like for these students? Rowan, who is fully remote this semester, starts his day off with whatever online classes he has that day, usually astronomy or spanish. After that, he works remotely for an internship with the Office of International Programs, and some days works at another job for extra income. “Other than work, I have three classes that span the full semester and an additional one that is a half-semester course.” In his free time, Rowan spends a lot of time with his dog, Miles, going on hikes and lounging inside.

Like Rowan, Samantha’s classes are all online. After classes are over for the day, she heads over to her on-campus job at Tech Services, working as a site-con with Instructional Computing Services. Depending on the day, she works at the computer labs in the English lab, Illini Hall, or Wohlers Hall. “I really just help professors set up their tech, print posters, and clean up when we’re done.” Samantha proudly explained how much cleaning is an important part of her job now. “We wear gloves and face masks and make sure that computers have keyboard covers.” She works hard to make sure that commonly touched surfaces are clean and safe, and that students and teachers have all the technology working properly.

Towards the end of our chats, I asked Rowan and Samantha how they felt about the rest of the year. Rowan’s feeling positive. Now that he has his own apartment, he feels hopeful about getting organized and staying that way. When discussing next semester and in-person classes in the future, he wasn’t entirely sure of his preference. “Although I do miss in-person classes, I don’t think I’d want to be in them until I know it’s safe.” As bleak as the semester may seem sometimes, Rowan had some great advice for other students: “Talk to your professors or TA’s! Many of them are incredibly understanding. Some people have a hard time learning remotely and that’s okay.”

Samantha also feels optimistic about the rest of the year. Although she is disappointed she won’t be able to socialize like she used to, she doesn’t find it difficult to learn. When I asked her for advice for students who might be struggling, she had great tips: “Talk to your TA’s, get super organized, and we have so many awesome resources available to us, use them!”

Speaking of resources, Tech Services offers a variety of articles, training, and services to make sure you get the most out of your tech! Check out our article about Continuing Key University Activities. For more advice on remote learning, check out Six Things to Expect from Online Learning this Fall, and visit the Illinois Remote Learning page for more tips and resources.

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