Heading back to school: Students share their advice, expectations and concerns about fall 2020

(August 12, 2020) – After a summer upended by the coronavirus, students at USF’s St. Petersburg campus are gearing up for a return to school for fall 2020. The reality of the pandemic has largely set in but for most students, the upcoming semester will be anything but usual. Many classes have moved online or into a hybrid format. All students, faculty and staff on campus will be required to wear masks, maintain social distance and stay home if they’re feeling any COVID-19 symptoms or have come in contact with anyone who may be infected.

We reached out to several students to hear about their expectations, excitement and concerns related to the fall 2020 semester. They offered insight into how they’ve learned to cope during the public health crisis and advice for fellow students who are feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty. Responses have been edited for length.

MaliqueMalique Ferrette – senior majoring in mass communications

Understanding it probably didn’t pan out as you planned, how was your summer?
My summer went as well as it could go with the three classes I’ve taken and me getting married. It was definitely hectic but honestly, except for COVID, I wouldn’t change a thing. Personally, this summer has been one of transformation and transition on top of teaching me great discipline. I got married, took three summer classes and turned 24! It’s been a ride but I am grateful and it’s been good.

What are you most excited about for the upcoming semester?
Finally being able to delve into and explore my role as a Peer Coach with Compass and, of course, being one step closer to graduation.

Have you been doing anything in particular to prepare for the return to school?
This fall I plan to take my classes virtually, so I’ve mostly been working on time management so that by the time classes start, it’ll be like clockwork. It has been difficult arranging my personal schedule around academic work but, that’s college life right? By the first day of classes, I’ll have this down and be ready to go! 

What do you anticipate will be one of the biggest challenges this fall semester?
Beyond managing my time and actually completing course work, the biggest challenge will likely be getting all A’s by the end of the semester. That’s my goal.

What things have you found to work well when it comes to taking courses online and adjusting your academic schedule?
Lists, lists and more lists. I learned the hard way that without physically tracking what I do throughout the day, it’s easy to miss deadlines or to wind up doing things last minute, all while struggling to stay motivated. Having a to-do list keeps me on track and it really is exciting to cross things off and see my progress as I go.

What have you learned about yourself during this health crisis?
First, though I enjoy being home, it’s much more appealing when I’m not being forced to for health security. Also, having to take online classes has made me realize that I’m more capable than I thought. Before last spring I didn’t think I could excel with a fully online course load but since then my final course grades have all been A’s.

What advice do you have for fellow students who might feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty?
I’d say that tomorrow is always uncertain but we usually don’t even think twice about it, we just go for it like it’s guaranteed. Don’t let uncertainty hinder you. Pace yourself and do what you know you can because it’s bound to work out in the end.

What’s the one thing you’re looking forward to doing once things are back to normal?
Having a proper wedding ceremony with all my family and friends!

Michael

Michael Johnson – junior majoring in environmental science and policy with a concentration in policy

First of all, how was your summer? 

My summer was pretty good. The pandemic actually didn’t affect my plans much, as I was planning to study for the LSAT this summer anyways. I was taking two online classes as well, so when I wasn’t studying, I was working on my classes. Other than that, I tried to keep myself as busy as I could without going out, so I ended up working out at home, reading a lot of books and watching a lot of movies.

What are you most excited about for the upcoming semester?
In terms of school, getting to take some classes in person rather than all online. I like the flexibility that online learning provides, but it feels very impersonal and some subjects are taught better in person. School starting also means I get to move back to St. Petersburg from Orlando, which is exciting!

Which courses are you planning on taking?
I’m taking global conservation, climate change, wetland environments, biology two and its lab, and an honors thesis class. Of those, two are in-person, one is a hybrid and three are completely online. My bio lab is going to be 100 percent online, and I have no idea how that is going to work so I’m interested to see how it will pan out.

What are some of your concerns as it relates to starting school this fall semester?
My biggest concern is that we will move to 100 percent online courses sometime throughout the semester. I have already heard people talking about it, and I don’t know if I have faith in everyone to wear masks and socially distance, especially when considering the large spike in cases that Florida has seen in recent weeks.

What things have you found to work well when it comes to taking courses online and adjusting your academic schedule?
I’ve found that divvying up the work ahead of time is really helpful in general, but especially for online classes. At the start of each week, I set aside a time for when I would be doing which assignment for which class. I feel like this really helped me stay focused on the classes. I know too well with having such an abundance of time that it’s really easy to say, “Oh I’ll do this tomorrow” and just keep on procrastinating.

Have you learned anything about yourself during this health crisis?
That I thrive off of having a schedule. Before the pandemic, I would plan things out ahead of time, but never really as meticulously as I have this summer. I started doing it out of necessity, but I found that it really helped me stay focused and have an overall happier demeanor.

What advice do you have for fellow students who might feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty?
Take advantage of the resources that are available to you. There are tons of resources offered by the school that can help people in a multitude of ways, be it financially or emotionally. Also, try not to dwell on all the negative stuff and try to enjoy life. There is a lot of stuff that we see in the news that is important but it can also be depressing. Just don’t forget to do things that make you happy.

Yelizza'sYelizza’s Mercedes – junior majoring in biomedical science with a minor in public health

How have you been handling all the changes over the past few months?
I’ve been doing pretty well with the changes. I’ll admit it was a bit difficult to come back to my hometown and settle in at the beginning, but then I was able to adapt into a comfortable routine by creating a schedule and improving my time management skills.

Which courses do you plan on taking?
Since I’m a biomedical science major, I’ll take physics two with its lab, organic chemistry one with its lab and genetics with its lab. Most of my classes will be online except for my physics lab, which will be hybrid. 

What are some of your concerns as it relates to starting school this fall semester?
How we are all going to stay safe at USF, since the campuses are all different sizes and it will be difficult to practice social distancing. Another one of my concerns is how are students going to build relationships with other students, teachers, faculty and staff since most things will be online and it’s not the same interaction you would get in person compared to email or blackboard collaboration. 

What do you anticipate will be one of the biggest challenges this fall semester?
Socially distancing. Everyone who works and attends the university will be placed under an insane amount of stress and I’m not very sure how our wellness centers will be able to handle the influx of people asking for help since this is a very difficult time.

What things have you found to work well when it comes to taking courses online and adjusting your academic schedule?
Make a schedule. I plan out my day and make a detailed list for everything. If it says “wake up at 8:00 am,” for example, I can mark it off and feel like I’ve accomplished things. I am very big on creating lists and time blocking. I’ve also taken advantage of the Microsoft Outlook calendar, which has helped me create time blocks and scheduling school, work and meeting times for my weeks.

What have you learned about yourself during this health crisis?
I can stay positive no matter what. I have been a pillar of support for many of my friends and family even if we are away from one another. I also learned that helping others is my purpose in life. Throughout this pandemic, all I’ve been wanting to do is help out others, but it is quite difficult to volunteer. I currently live with my parents who are at risk and I do not want to expose them to the coronavirus

What advice do you have for fellow students who might feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty?
Take one day at a time and inhale and exhale. Remind yourselves that even though you don’t know what is going to happen next, everything will be okay. Find a hobby that will help you relax – I found yoga and drawing as a great stress reliever. There are plenty of ways to keep you busy while relaxing your mind. Do things that make you happy, keep in touch with your friends and family or even join a pen pal group. And don’t be afraid to reach out for help. We are all in this together and we will get through this together.