Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Freshmen face specific issues during the first semester from their homes.

November 6, 2020

‘Missing Out on the Cornell Experience’: First-Years Reflect on Remote Learning

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When Cornell announced it would be reopening for the fall 2020 semester, many students expressed mixed reactions of relief and concern. Many were skeptical of how the reopening plan would work.

While the fall semester’s success so far is in part possible because of students adhering to COVID-19 guidelines, some first-years opted to stay home for their very first semester at Cornell.

For them, the fall has not been the start of college they had envisioned. 

Althea Bata ’24, a Dyson first-year, is taking her classes from Staten Island, New York. For her, the choice of coming on campus or going remote was not easy, but she knew it was the right decision for her.

“There are things I have to take care of at home, and it’s great to have home cooked food and be able to go out to some places I wouldn’t be able to in Ithaca, so I am grateful for what I have and am trying to make the most of my situation even though it’s frustrating at times,” Bata said.

However, Bata felt the social disadvantages of studying remotely during her first semester of college. In order to get to know fellow students, Bata took the approach of reaching out to classmates over Zoom.

“I feel like I missed a lot of opportunities to study on campus with peers,” she said.

For Daisy Huang ’24, staying home has provided both drawbacks and positives. 

“I got to pursue some of my passions deeper and developed hobbies,”  Huang said. “At the same time, I wish I was on campus with people and getting that experience of exploring campus. But then I realize that I’m not really missing out because I will have this experience just in a later time in my college career.”

Some students are studying from timezones different from Ithaca’s, but for Ricco Venterea ’24 who is taking his courses from Minnesota, the one hour time difference has not made much of an impact. 

Venterea was motivated to stay home upon witnessing outbreaks over college campuses across the country, and Ithaca College’s decision to go fully remote for the fall solidified his decision to stay home. 

Bata, Huang and Venterea agreed that professors have been accommodating and understanding of their situations, but there have, inevitably, been difficulties.

Huang recounted scheduling conflicts with office hours and difficulty forming connections with professors and classmates over Zoom. Bata has found that time management is an important skill to hone for remote learners, and Venterea found that staring at a screen for so long is a tiring task. The three first-years also said they had their fair share of Wi-Fi complications and audio cut-outs.

Virtual ClubFest, recruitment and prelims are common experiences for all Cornell first-years, but remote learners face unique obstacles. 

While Bata had a great experience during her online club recruitment processes, she expressed concern for others.“For students that don’t have the time or aren’t aware of all the events they need to attend for a club, I am truly concerned for how recruitment can be inequitable and stressful for them,” she said.

Taking prelims from home was normal according to all three students, but Bata highlighted her difficulty with Zoom proctoring and the lack of desk space complicating her test taking experience.

Maria Boza ’24 said there were some perks to taking all online classes  –– from classes in her pajamas to being able to sneeze on mute without the whole class turning around, Boza thinks staying home was the right decision. She has adapted to her new reality with the use of her Google Calendar. 

“I write all the things I have to do, and all the due dates,” Boza said. “My Google Calendar is my best friend.”

While Boza partook in a Prefreshman Summer Program and has some acquaintances from her classes, one of her biggest concerns is meeting friends and having the first semester freshmen experience. 

“That was a good push to make new friends and talk to people,” Boza said. “But it hasn’t been the same. I feel bad. What am I supposed to talk to them about?”

Overall, Boza said she felt that the experience of making friends and enjoying freshman year has been less than optimal.

But Boza has lived through some of the college freshmen year experience through her friends. “Most of my friends are a year older, so that is usually who I hang out with,” she said. 

Similar to Huang, Boza said she believed that she will have the rest of her time at college to have those experiences. 

In an attempt to meet people, Boza ran for freshman representative of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and won. Despite winning, she said she was upset that she was a remote student this semester, as she could not attend her inauguration in person. 

Missing out on those freshmen experiences, Boza said she is excited to be on campus for the spring semester.

The first-years said they were satisfied with the way Cornell has handled the reopening and are all looking forward to joining their fellow classmates on campus in the spring as long as the University continues to keep the cases low. 

“I’m definitely coming [back in the spring] because I want the full college experience, safely and hopefully meet the people I’ve met on Zoom, enjoy the fresh air from the beautiful scenery, survive the chilly weather, and just do everything that I can in Ithaca,” Bata said, “even if it’s not 100 percent normal.”