By Kenedy Williams, Staff Writer
Two years ago, UAS and universities across the nation shut down campuses and moved classes online as the first big wave of COVID-19 hit America.
It signaled a huge change in education as students returned to their homes and had to quickly adjust to remote learning. Some dropped out, and others were unable to finish spring semester classes because their rural Alaska village lacked internet.
Two years later, everyday life is still affected by the novel coronavirus, and many students have come to a similar conclusion – that we will be seeing a new normal, much unlike what we knew before the pandemic.
Some students agree good things have come from the pandemic, including COVID-19 protocols that may have prevented them from getting common colds and flu viruses. Others share the belief that the pandemic is an important reminder that humans aren’t as invincible as they tend to think they are.
Adjusting to pandemic life
When the pandemic began in March 2020, marine biology major Amy Baxter was a full- time student at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She had to drop almost all of her classes because they did not switch well to online. Now a junior, Baxter has been at UAS since August 2020, and is working on an undergraduate research project about the effect of ocean acidification on juvenile red king crabs. She said she has adjusted to pandemic life and is doing better than when it started.
In March 2020, she said, “I would tell myself to keep going outside, even in lockdown.”
“I think we might fall into a scenario where we choose to not acknowledge that the pandemic ever happened,” Baxter said.
Marine biology major Jessica Whitney arrived at UAS in August 2018. Since then she has earned an Outdoor Studies certificate and is looking forward to a second summer of marine research on Prince of Wales Island.
When campus closed in March 2020, Whitney was taking a full-time course load.
“It was a really strange time period, we got an extra week off of school, but I was still so unsure of the future,” she said.
Like most UAS students, Whitney went home during the extended spring break. She found it bizarre to see the highways empty in her hometown of Los Angeles, California. Going to her barren hometown and adjusting to online classes were crazy. Two years into the pandemic, Whitney said she is experiencing mental and emotional exhaustion like much of the university community.
“It is weird how masks, social distancing, and things that were so foreign are now so natural, and we don’t think much of it. Now that mask mandates are being lifted, people are getting vaccinated, it is bizarre to transition back to life that was once so commonplace,” said Whitney.
If Whitney could change one thing about the last two years, it would be that more people would have greater understanding about the pandemic. She said she wished the general public was better educated about vaccines, viruses, and the science behind COVID-19.
If she could go back and talk to herself two years ago, “I would tell myself that life is gonna get pretty hard, your whole world will be turned upside down, and in two years life won’t be perfect but you will start to see the path to improvement, a better life for you and our society,” she said.
Hannah Forshee, a senior marine biology major with a history minor, was on campus during spring break when the campus shut down. She described the experience as hectic and emotionally trying. Forshee and her friends were trying to stay optimistic that campus would stay open, then they received the email that campus was closing and they would have to move out in a short period of time.
“We had to pack up our stuff and leave in a few days, it was very hectic trying to pack up all of my things, find storage, and get a plane ticket home,” Forshee said.
When classes were shifted online, she was in her home state of Florida, where she had to attend classes with a four-hour time difference.
Two years into the pandemic, Forshee said she is doing alright and is better adjusted to all the big changes. One positive coming out of the pandemic is how it has made classes more accessible to students, she said.
“I know we are all tired, but we have to keep going to keep each other protected,” Forshee said.
The students at the University of Alaska Southeast remind us of what true strength and perseverance look like through hard times. Our students have had a wide variety of experiences with the pandemic, but they have one thing in common: They have all made it through to what seems to be a new normal.