Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Power lines in Collegetown on on April 5, 2021.

April 5, 2021

Virtual Instruction Halted Following Ithaca Power Outage

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On a seemingly normal Monday morning, students and Ithaca residents were faced with a power outage that affected over 1,000 households across the town. The outage left off-campus Cornell students scrambling to attend their online lectures, forcing them to resort to studying on campus to get Wi-Fi.

The cause of the power outage is unknown at the time of publication and New York State Electric and Gas has not responded to requests for comment.

According to the Ithaca Voice, as of 3:21 p.m. all power was restored to Tompkins County, while NYSEG’s Outage Map showed around 62 households still without power at 10 p.m. 

The outage was more striking than previous outages because many students were forced off of Zoom calls and unable to attend their online classes due to a lack of Wi-Fi connection.  

City and Regional Planning 4440 Resource Management and Environment Law, taught by Prof. Richard Booth, city and regional planning, was one of many Zoom classes to stop mid-session due to lack of connectivity. Kelsey Chan ’21, who sprinted to Temple of Zeus after the outage, was watching the lecture when Booth’s video cut out. 

“[Prof. Booth] left the Zoom and we were just sitting there like, ‘What now?’ Somebody was like, ‘I’m the host now. So like, do you guys just want to chat?” How’s everybody’s Easter?’ So then, we just all ended up leaving,” Chan said.

Marie Kele ’22 reported having lost power early in the morning, only for it to come back and cut out numerous times before it was finally restored. Unlike others, Kele decided to wait out the outage in her apartment. Though she was able to attend class during the few minutes the Wi-Fi came back, her normal pre-class routine was disrupted. 

“I haven’t been able to prep for classes like I normally do because of it,” Kele said. “I assume professors will be fine about it because it’s a power outage.” 

For many students, however, missing classes was not the only effect of the widespread outage. Many were forced to skip breakfast and showers as they sprinted to campus to find functioning Wi-Fi to get to their classes on time. Mia Sanchez ’22 was in her apartment while her roommate was cooking when their electric stove turned off mid meal.  

“We couldn’t use the stove. We obviously had to keep the refrigerator closed, so heat wouldn’t get in,” Sanchez said. “We had no hot water.”

Zoe Wilkie-Tomasik ’22, who is a teaching assistant for Applied Economics and Management 1200: Intro to Business Management, was unable to attend her 10:10 a.m. discussion section.

After texting her head TA, she left her apartment to study at Collegetown Bagels. Juggling her low-power computer and a spotty Wi-Fi connection, Wilkie-Tomasik was forced to leave one of her other Zoom classes and watch the recorded lecture later in the day. 

“I just wanted to get my class out of the way and go outside before practice. It’s just another thing that I had to deal with,” Wilkie-Tomasik said. “I couldn’t actually be in my class, which is annoying. I’m hoping that I don’t lose participation points because of this, but I feel like most professors are pretty understanding this semester.”

Temple of Zeus, located in Klarman hall, was another location students turned to on Cornell’s central campus to attend their classes. A popular study location on a typical school day, the hall saw a massive increase in traffic as students living off-campus flocked in to charge their computers and phones. 

“It’s packed right now,” Chan said.“I think everybody was just trying to get some Wi-Fi to do their work.”

For some, this is far from the first time the power has gone out in their area. However, with lectures, assignments and even on-campus jobs gone virtual, this outage provided unique difficulties.

“It has not been noticeable [before], because normally things are in person,” Chan said. “It’s pretty significant in these times; your whole life gets shut off briefly.”