Freshmen share experiences, difficulties connecting, learning in pandemic-style college

A common sight in the Goodnow community: an empty lobby. (Archive photo by Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State freshmen got a taste of a different college experience this year. Some students attended their first year of higher education during a pandemic and were unable to expose themselves to a typical in-person experience.

Freshman in kinesiology Adora Lewis lives in Wefald Hall and said she still hasn’t found what she was looking for when she first wanted to come to K-State.

“Before [COVID-19] started I just expected there to be a bunch of people everywhere because it’s a big school,” Lewis said. “That’s kind of why I came here. … I went to a private school, my graduating class had 28 people in it. I was looking forward to a big change, and there’s just not a lot of people anywhere because everyone is in their room.

Lewis said the pandemic has taken away the “community part” of the dorms.

“My floor doesn’t really do much because we can’t have a bunch of people in the same room, and everyone has to wear masks so it’s kind of uncomfortable and kind of hard to get to know people, and I guess down [in Kramer Dining Center] it’s been different than I expected because no one is down there.”

Brisa Silvestre-Castillo, freshman in architectural engineering, said the pandemic has been hard on her schoolwork.

“It kind of has been really rough on my math and science classes because a lot of those have questions I wish I could ask my teacher, but I can’t,” Silvestre-Castillo said. “I have one teacher who only records lectures on the weekends and he wants you to watch lectures on the weekends. On the weekends … no one has any time.”

Lucy Fischer, freshman in animal sciences and industry, said it’s taken a lot of effort to get experience in her field. Fischer said she appreciates teachers who adapted to new rules and credits her job at Timber Creek Veterinary Hospital for giving her a chance to learn more.

“A lot of the [animal labs] have been over Zoom meetings, so we’ve seen someone do the work, but it isn’t quite as hands-on as we’d like it to be,” Fischer said. “I also think in some of the labs … teachers have made a huge effort to allow us to have direct interactions with animals, and I think different things like clubs and outside activities, like a job, help you get hands-on experience that isn’t as impacted by [COVID-19].”

Jonathon Oury, freshman in personal finance living in Wefald Hall, said he also noticed a lack of community in the dorms and said counteractive rules are the signs of a “split campus.”

“So now I’m in this middle ground where I’m trying to keep people safe, but I’m also trying to have a college experience, but I’m looked down on for having that college experience from a lot of people,” Oury said. “I thought college was going to be a lot more community, and community kind of got destroyed this year. In the Wefald dorms themselves, a lot of community is crushed because they didn’t want people from outside dorms coming in. We had a lot of strict RA rules, so it was a problem for meeting new people, especially since I’m an out-of-stater.”

Oury, a Wisconsin native, said he has seen what different universities did regarding COVID-19 restrictions and said he wishes K-State would take those techniques to maximize success on campus during the pandemic.

“Our campus didn’t require [mandated COVID-19 testing], which I’m sure saved money, but it also took away from a lot of college,” Oury said. “In Wisconsin, you have three tests a week, required, spit tests, just to walk on to campus. Here, you can choose. I have no problem with that, but it created a problem within itself, which was a bigger problem than anything I could have thought of.”

Silvestre-Castillo, a resident of Boyd Hall, said COVID-19 has only made it more difficult to meet people in the dorms. She comes from a culture that signifies family.

“My [Mexican] culture is like a very tight-knit community within our family members,” she said. “[Without COVID-19], I would have been able to meet people within my culture and I guess it would have felt more united and not so solitude here.”

Some freshmen are excited to see what “normal” college life looks like next fall.

“[I am looking forward to] seeing everybody on campus, and seeing full classrooms,” Carter Brown, freshman in landscape architecture, said. “It’s going to be fun.”