The ‘freshman experience’ at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County usually includes the bonfire, Involvement Fest, kickbacks in dorms and D-Hall trips. But for this year’s class of incoming freshmen, many of whom lost part of high school, everything is different now — socially-distanced, hybrid or online.
Roshnee Roberts, a biological sciences major and psychology minor, knew March 13 was going to be her last day of high school. Her track season cut short, her plans to speak at graduation cancelled, senior activities and hanging out with friends suddenly not allowed, and her life radically altered.
This fall, she’ll be attending UMBC from her home, opting not to live on campus. “Unfortunately, I was really hoping [that I would be living] on campus. But you know, the way money is set up [it’s] not happening, which is totally fine,” she said.
She was excited to get a placement in a lab, but she’s still not sure if she’ll be able to even go on campus, Roberts said. “Everyone else gets to experience all the fun senior activities and I didn’t. Now, I’m also missing out on freshman year, which is probably the best year, because you’re meeting everyone [for the first time],” she said.
It leaves her wondering what the future will look like when she’s finally able to be on campus under more typical circumstances. “Am I going to feel like a freshman? Because everyone else is going to know the [campus],” said Roberts.
Luckily, Roberts was able to earn a full scholarship through the Dawg Days: Jumpstart Scholarship to take online classes this summer. “I’m taking a summer class right now, completely free of cost, which is very exciting,” she said. “I’m taking Math 105, just to get my math credit out of the way.”
Computer engineering major Kwadwo Ansah Baah, who lives in Baltimore, is also taking a math credit to get ahead with the help of the Jumpstart Scholarship, and while it’s not exactly what he had envisioned for his summer, he really likes his professor and class. “We all crack jokes to lighten the mood. I’m getting to know other people. The Jumpstart Scholarship community is great. We have game nights and everything too,” he said.
His outlook is mostly positive, even faced with the adversity of missing out on some activities, he’s choosing to look at the situation realistically. “I was looking forward [to campus life], but [it’s] all right. I really understand the way the world is at this moment,” he said.
While taking classes from home, his parents have been supportive throughout, giving him the space he needs to complete his schoolwork uninterrupted. “My mom and dad understand that this is very important for me. When I’m having classes, they’ll text me rather than barge into my room,” Ansah Baah said, laughing.
His sense of humor hasn’t been diminished by the situation at hand, either. He doesn’t plan to let the virtual classes stop him from meeting other people or from making others laugh. “I believe I can still have the UMBC experience. I still crack jokes [in Zoom or Google Meet] as if you were in an in-person class. I know this pandemic is not going to go on forever,” he said.
For others, the pandemic has made them reevaluate what the future looks like. Sarah Nove, an English major, originally thought she wanted to be a journalist while she was working at her high school paper, but when the pandemic hit and the news became more stressful, she had to start turning it off for her mental health. “I will say that COVID definitely impacted my ideas, and what I want to be when I grow up and what I’m interested in,” she explained. And while she still loves editing, she’s not sure that being a full-time journalist is the job for her.
When school went virtual in March, her high school newspaper training was turned upside down. “I was in charge of training pretty much everybody with the help of some of the section editors. I felt bad on one hand for not being able to pass along the skills that people passed along to me. It was hard for me to feel like I was letting them down but also knowing I couldn’t do anything about it,” Nove said.
Though beach week wasn’t on the docket for Nove, she had plans with her mom to visit Paris and Austria, something that they had been wanting to do for a long time. “And thankfully, we’re pretty confident that we’ll be able to make it work at some point but going on this trip before you become a college student, and have all the responsibilities of college on your plate, it did suck to miss out on that,” she said.
She’s spent the summer taking classes and working as a babysitter, a job she loves. However, when it came to making the decision about living on campus, it was devastating to not feel comfortable enough to live in the dorm. “I live in a condo with a single mom and a dog. I love it here and it’s the perfect amount of space for the two of us and our pup. But I was really looking forward to moving out and my mom was really looking forward to having alone time for once in her life,” Nove said. “Of course, it’s been hard on her just as much as it’s been hard on me, so there’s the factor just wanting to be out on my own so badly and not being able to. And then on top of that, I’m not a person with a huge circle of friends. I was really looking forward to branching out and meeting other people that shared similar interests and values.”
While some are opting to stay at home, others, like Francesca Burton, a neuroscience and biochemistry double major, are living on campus this fall. After her plans to visit Canada with her mom and her plans to go to Florida with friends vanished, Burton spent her summer working at the local Boston Market. She hopes that spending the last few weeks of her high school career online has prepared her for online learning in college.
“I’m definitely disappointed we’re not going to have in-person classes because I have found I learn better in an in-person setting. But I think by now, I’ve just gotten so used to the fact that we will probably have this weird online semester. I’ve kind of processed everything,” she said.
When it comes to fall activities, COVID-19 has left her mostly unsure. “I saw that there was a cooking club that I was interested in. I was thinking of picking up Ultimate Frisbee just as a thing to try, which I think is going to be impacted,” she said. “So I’m a little sad that I won’t get won’t get to try that out.”
But overall, she still sees the fall in an optimistic light. “Maryland has been doing a pretty good job on keeping cases down. We haven’t had a spike yet. I would say I’m optimistic that things will go back to normal,” said Burton. “I think that’s all we can do is be optimistic, and just try to make the most of this. I just hope that despite everything being online, we can still just be normal college kids instead of just kids going through a pandemic.”