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COVID Campus: How It Feels to Be Back for Dragons

DrexelNow spoke with undergraduate students on campus about this phase of Drexel University’s reopening, including health and safety protocols for residence halls and in-person learning, making new friends and staying connected, and their advice and hopes for the near future.

February 01, 2021

Please visit the ‘Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus’ website for the latest public health advisories.


Campus looks a little different now than it did last winter term.


There are no bustling class exchanges or admissions tours congregating in the Main Building’s Great Court. Health and safety reminders and hand sanitizer stations greet you in most building entranceways and exits. Students sit down to lunch in socially distanced tents near their residence halls as opposed to in the Urban Eatery or the Handschumacher Dining Center.


For undergraduate Dragons living on, near or frequently visiting campus, the feeling is different, too. But despite these necessary changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are also things to be thankful for: a quiet corner as a commuter student to take an exam, an empty table to call your own in the Korman Center or Hagerty Library, friends from classes to visit or Zoom with and student organizations to join.


DrexelNow interviewed the following students on campus on Jan. 27 about these feelings and changes. This is following the week of on-campus move-in starting Jan. 16 and the start of in-person instruction Jan. 25 for about 10% of the University’s total class offerings for the term.


Here are their thoughts, advice and hopes for the future:


Emaleigh Calhoun is a first-year mechanical engineering and commuter student.Emaleigh Calhoun, first-year mechanical engineering and commuter student

At the time of the interview, Calhoun was posted up in the breezeway between the Main Building and Randell Hall doing schoolwork.


Q: How does it feel to be on campus? How often are you traveling to campus?


A: I can tell that things are definitely different. … Being a commuter, with some buildings closed, I have limited access to where I get to take my remote classes [when I’m on campus] because I have one in-person class. I have one day that I get to stay home and do my learning, but I have a four-day math class that I have to take. So most of the time, I spend my days in transit back and forth and then either in this area or in the library trying to get my remote classes done so I can go home. I live about a 40-minute train ride away.


Q: How are you keeping yourself safe? How do you feel others on campus are keeping safe and responding to the health and safety protocols in place?


A: I definitely think that this has to be the safest that COVID has [felt]. …Drexel is definitely very safe and with social distancing and closing off seats, everybody seems to be pretty good at following the protocols. For instance, I walk outside and people still have their masks on and are very safe. They’re only hanging out with people that they truly know and things like that, which is definitely an improvement on what I've seen throughout the almost full year that we've been in this pandemic.


Q: How do you recharge and stay connected to others that you want to stay connected to?


A: I do have a couple of friends on campus and we try to meet up. We've been in the process of trying to find a way to connect with each other. Most of the time I'm texting and Snapchatting them though, so that I still have that kind of college experience of, “Hey, I have my friends on campus, but still I'm safe.”


Q: What are you most looking forward to about this term?


A: The transition into an in-person class and the transition to an actual normal college experience, because my first term was all online and with everything going on now, it kind of feels normal. It's a sense of normalcy to have that in-person class, even if it's a small class with so much social distancing and everything. It’s still something that you think of as regular going into college.


Q: Is there anything you'd say you like most or least about COVID campus?


A: I would say that I have the ability to take my online classes, and because there's not a lot of people on campus, it's quite quiet in the buildings. So, it's not a stress for me. Like, I took an exam this morning sitting here. I didn't have to stress about how loud the hallway is going to be because, with COVID campus, it's quiet.


Q: Do you have any advice for fellow students at this time? Maybe if you have any specific advice for fellow commuter students?


A: I guess my advice would be to look up your train schedules and then look up the building hours and everything to see when everything opens before you come down. Keep in touch with your professors that have in-person classes so that if you can stay home maybe on exam days, if you can.


Jaehyun Go is a second-year Drexel University computer science and transfer student.Jaehyun Go, second-year computer science and transfer student

At the time of the interview, Go was waiting in the Creese Student Center waiting to obtain his DragonCard.


Q: How does it feel to be on campus this term? What feels normal? What doesn’t?


A: So actually, I live in Center City… but it feels really good to rejoin Drexel right now. Hopefully everything will open for us, for new students, because I’m really excited to be a Drexel student.


I want to join the Drexel sports community. … I don’t know that much information for the community activities because I'm just doing the first quarter of classes. I’m taking all online classes right now, but hopefully I will have an in-person class for next semester.


Q: What do you do when you're not in classes and studying? Is there anything else that you like to do? How do you recharge and stay connected to other people nowadays? 


A: It’s really hard to make new friends because I’m not on the campus [often], but I can make friends through the Discord [server set up for class]. We have an online class and for our classes, we have a lab class and also we have a group for the lab. So, we can make good friends online. We said we're going to hang out after COVID.  


Honestly, I don’t feel like I got into this University yet because I didn't enjoy any good experiences on this campus. I feel like I'm a really good friend with the computer, just taking online classes, and talking with the screen.  


I just came from Korea, so I expected to meet many friends and build my career. … I gained almost 30 pounds. My grandmother said “Who are you?” because I did a video call with her. I couldn’t do that much exercise because the gym was closed and I don’t like to do that much running. I just like to do workouts and play basketball, but everything is closed. [Editor’s note: As of Jan. 25, the Recreation Center is open for in-person use for all Dragons, though at a limited capacity and with reservations required.]


Q: Do you have any advice for your fellow students, maybe your fellow international students?


A: I don't have many friends and people around me, but I'm going to the Korean-American church near 40th street. They have a really good society for helping international students like me. We have a group, and we each got a COVID test, so now we're meeting in person.


(From left to right) Meaghan Elliot, Isabella Willing and Zakiyah Harrison — all first-year graphic design students — come together for lunch in one of the tents near Race Hall set up for students to meet in a distanced, outdoor environment. Meaghan Elliot, first-year graphic design student

Zakiyah Harrison, first-year graphic design student

Isabella Willing, first-year graphic design student

At the time of the interview, the three friends were eating lunch in one of the tents near Race Hall set up for students to meet in a distanced, outdoor environment. They met through a class for their major during the fall term.


Q: How does it feel to be a new college student during a pandemic? Where do you live? Do you have in-person classes?


Willing: I have two classes that are hybrid, and so far those are going a lot better than my remote ones. … My work is kind of all over the place, but I feel like having classes that are hybrid or face-to-face, it's a step in the right direction. Those are going a lot smoother for me.


Elliot: I really am so happy to be on campus. I feel like it's finally here and it kind of feels fake because I've been waiting for this for several months. It's definitely harder to make friends, especially because of the policies right now, like you can't have people from other buildings over in your room. So, me and Isabella are in Race Hall but Zakiyah is in Millennium Hall, so it kind of sucks that we can't have her over. But it makes sense. They have to do what they have to do to keep us on campus. It's just difficult, especially trying to have the truest college experience. It's kind of hard when there's so many restrictions.


Harrison: Honestly, I was pretty scared to come on campus just because it's a lot different than I was expecting. We all had this expectation that we'd be here in the fall and then that changed. But so far, it's been pretty good. Meeting new people is definitely a great experience and having a little bit of what the college experience is definitely better than being at home, so I'm not complaining. But yeah, everything so far is smooth and I’m looking forward to the rest of the term.


Willing: I will say, I do think that Drexel's doing a really good job at keeping everyone safe while also making sure that we're getting the best experience that we can, given the situation.


Q: How are you keeping yourself safe? How do you feel others on campus are approaching health and safety?


Willing: I do think that everyone is doing a relatively good job at staying safe. [Elliot] and I live in the same building and she can come over whenever she wants for as long as she wants. So that's nice, but it's also kind of hard to meet people in your building because a lot of people aren’t leaving. If they do leave, it's literally just to get food and then come back. I don't think I’ve passed anybody in my hall the entire time I've been here. I don't know if my floor is just a little more introverted than myself, but I don't meet a lot of people just walking around. All of my friends are from my classes last term.


Elliot: Because of the suite style that’s so common here at Drexel, all of us kind of stay in our rooms because you can do that. There's a sink and a fridge and a bathroom, so if I didn't have Isabella or my classes, I wouldn't really need to leave my room.


Harrison: I’m in a traditional dorm, so we have to go outside of our room to do everything. And it is so weird, honestly, because you're going out with your mask and then you take it off to brush your teeth and then you put it back on and leave. Like they said, I haven't really crossed any paths with any of the people on my floor.


Q: Do you feel like you’ve been able to take advantage of campus amenities or services? What do you do when you’re not studying? How do you recharge and stay connected to each other when you can’t meet up?


Elliot: I feel like it's kind of hard to take advantage of a lot of the amenities, because I am not familiar with campus.


Also, as design majors, I feel like they hyped up a lot of people being in the studio spaces all night working on their projects, how that was a bonding experience. Instead I’m just staying up all night in my dimly lit room. I look like a crazy person (laughs). So, I am kind of missing that bond, but I feel like we were able to make some pretty close relationships online before we got here, so it’s kind of chill either way.


Willing: [Safety restrictions do] make it harder to meet new people. So usually, when I'm not studying or sleeping, I just invite Meghan over because she's in my building and it's easy. I feel like it's a lot harder, being a freshman during a pandemic, to know my way around and meet new people.


Elliot: I feel like I cling to the people I already know, instead of branching out to new people.


Q: Is there anything else you’re looking forward to this term? Anything about COVID campus that could be beneficial?


Willing: It is kind of nice, if I have a class that's pretty early in the morning. Like yesterday, I had a class at 10 a.m. and I set my alarm for 9:58 a.m. because it was remote. So that is kind of nice.


Harrison: It's honestly fine because it's a collective experience with everyone. When you think about it, everyone kind of feels the same way that you do. So there's nothing really to stress out about. I have to keep reminding myself that, because I'll be like, ‘Oh, but I look this way,’ or ‘I have to go out and get my food, but then people are going to see that I'm like holding my food and it’s kind of weird.’ But, it’s like, everyone's doing the same thing, so it’s honestly fine.


Elliot: Yeah, going to the dining hall alone is kind of scary because it's like, ‘Oh no, I'm the loser going with no friends,’ but there's so many other people going alone. It's easy to get into your head when you feel isolated.


Q: Any advice for your fellow students at this time, maybe on making and keeping friends on campus?


Elliot: First off, I would say be considerate to your fellow students. Don’t go to that party even if it’s happening. We all want to be here. … Being lonely here is better than being lonely at home, in my mind. And try to put yourself out there as much as possible. If you see someone else alone, just go say hi. They're not going to judge you.


Willing: The first two nights that I was here, I saw some kids knocking on every door and introducing themselves. So if you want to do that, that's great. I am not that brave. How I've gotten closer with some people is honestly just responding to their stuff on social media or swiping up on Snapchat and getting into a conversation and for me, that's easier than going and knocking on everyone’s door and being like, “Hi, I'm Isabella.”


Harrison: Honestly, one of the easiest ways to make friends is if you make one friend and they have a friend, they can introduce them to you. Also, since this is an open campus, I've crossed paths with a lot of people in some of my online classes. And if you kind of recognize them, take that leap and just be like, “Hey, are you blah blah blah from this class?” If it's them, you could talk to them too. So, there are lots of ways that, through other people, you can make a lot of friends.


Q: You just got here, but are there any student groups you’re looking into yet or thinking of joining?


Willing: It is really challenging to even consider doing like clubs or joining something. But my Univ 101 teacher is forcing us to join the club. … I understand why he's doing that, because he is trying to have us meet new people. He probably knows that being at college during a pandemic is hard. Especially as freshmen, we came in here not knowing a lot of people. I am going to join the Drexel Art Organization (DART), which is like the big Westphal club.


Elliot: Back when were doing the virtual Welcome Week, I went to a Zoom meeting that was a virtual tour of all the coffee shops in Philadelphia. I'm really interested in coffee. That's my thing, and it's kind of cool to now have this other group of Drexel University Coffee Club members. I talk to them on their socials. Those are friends that are not in my major, so it's nice to have a widening of my social horizon.


Wiling: I know that teachers and staff and faculty are trying to do their best to make sure that we're getting as close to a real college experience as possible. It's much appreciated, but sometimes people go a little too far. Like, my RA wants to do virtual dinners and I don't really want to do that (laughs). … Some stuff doesn’t need to be done online.


Ritik Gihamshani is a fourth-year Drexel University computer science student.Ritik Gihamshani, fourth-year computer science student

At the time of this interview, Gihamshani and Modiga (see below) were studying independently in a room on the second floor of the Korman Center. Both say they reserve spaces in Korman regularly to do classes and assignments.


Q: How does it feel to be back on campus? What feels different? What feels the same?


A: I’ve been living near campus (in American Campus Communities property Chestnut Square and now in an off-campus apartment) for almost a year now, when the campus was closed. The clubs I was in, some of them died off because no one was meeting, and some of them were able to transition online.


Besides that, everything is normal. I haven't been able to go to classes, but I'm sure they're fully spaced out and stuff like that. This place (Korman) is one of my home places. I'm always here. I really like that it’s open finally.


Q: How does the safety factor feel on campus, especially with more students being around now? How do you keep yourself safe? How do you feel like the rest of the campus community keeps itself safe?


A: For me, just because there aren't as many students as there used to be when we had classes, like if you came here one year ago, all the tables would be full. This room would be full of five or six people. Just because now the density is low, I just feel safer because I'm not bumping someone in the hall. So that does just feel safer and the extra precautions, like required face coverings and sanitizers, make it safer.


Q: What do you do when you're not in class? Do you feel like you have been able to take advantage of any other on-campus amenities and services? How do you recharge? How do you stay connected with your friends?


A: For me, it's special because I'm on co-op, so I don't really have any classes. So my co-op is usually 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. After that, I usually game with my friends and do stuff like that. On campus, there really isn't anything. The Rec Center opened up, but because of limited spaces, it's fully booked. But the good thing is food places and businesses around campus are open so it's easier to get food than sort of having to cook. That makes it easier.


I'm co-oping with Bristol Myers Squibb Company. They're based in Princeton, New Jersey. But since we are working from home, I don't have to go to New Jersey every day.


Q: Any advice for your fellow students at this time? Maybe for the first-year students, with your upperclassman wisdom?


A: Reach out to people you're interested in, like professors or any person. If someone's giving an anecdote in class, you can reach out to them or you might try to socialize online, if not in person safely. That would be my best advice, because staying alone is tough.


August Modiga is a fourth-year Drexel University transfer student in philosophy, politics and economics.August Modiga, fourth-year transfer student in philosophy, politics and economics


Q: How does it feel to be back on campus? What feels different? What feels the same?


A: When I came to Drexel, because of the pandemic, everything was online. So it was a little bit more difficult for me to adapt because of the fact that I'm in a new environment completely. But I mitigated that by joining clubs and organizations and I got to know people, albeit online, but still, that helped a lot. And I guess it just had to adapt. I mean, there's no way around it. So the transition wasn't easy at first, but as I got to be involved in projects and stuff like that, that made it a lot easier.


I’m part of the Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA). I got elected on the first try, so that was amazing. Drexel Speaks is a public speaking club, and Drexel Venture is like a business club, but it does venture capital stuff. So those are the three clubs I'm a part of. Within the USGA, I’m part of different committees and so forth.


Q: How does the safety factor feel on campus, especially with more students being around now? How do you keep yourself safe? How do you feel like the rest of the campus community keeps itself safe?


A: With the safety aspect, I think in the beginning it was very strict so that it helped reduce the number of COVID incidences and increased the level of safety we all have.


But as freshmen have been coming in, I know there's at least one class [freshmen take in person]. Drexel's really trying, given the circumstances, but that has not in any way made me feel any less safe. I remember, I think week one when I was here, people were going around monitoring if we’re wearing masks, if we're maintaining distance. So, the measures put in place make us feel safer.


In the beginning it was like a complete shutdown. It wasn't good for the students who were on campus because they didn't know where to go. And I know international students were completely stranded and so forth. But as regulations began to change and be flexible, Drexel has also gone along with that as well.


Q: What do you do when you're not in class? Do you feel like you have been able to take advantage of any other on-campus amenities and services? How do you recharge? How do you stay connected with your friends?


A: For me, I take walks to the Schuylkill River, especially during the summer. I joined an organization called Philly READS — it's a reading club. I read a lot, and I really wanted that community. We do reviews every week online.


I go for walks around UPenn, and watch lots of Netflix as well. I started painting this past summer. I draw pictures of back home in South Africa as well.


Q: Is there anything that you're looking forward to?


A: I'm starting my co-op [in the spring]. It's going to be my first co-op experience. I hope it works out because it's with an organization that I want to join, with Morgan Stanley. And there are many projects we're doing with the USGA that we’ll see to fruition when we finally open up.


Q: Is there anything about COVID campus you’re actually enjoying?


A: I guess it has helped me become more introspective since I have more time to myself. You're very aware of what you're doing 24/7. You're not socializing as much, so I guess you inadvertently have time to think about yourself. It just gives you time to analyze your day, reflect, journal and say, “OK, these are the things that I did. This is productive.” It helps you pay more attention to yourself, basically.


Q: Any advice for your fellow students at this time? Maybe for the first-year students, with your upperclassman wisdom?


A: I think more particularly for international students who are really just, you know, shocked the most because it’s a new country, new university and everything, I would say really step out of your comfort zone. That includes socializing. That includes joining clubs and organizations that pique your interest. That's really going to help you navigate, because everything is more relaxed now. So, with the clubs and organizations, it's a very chill space to socialize and do whatever you're interested in at the same time. So really step out of your comfort zone. Don't wait for things to come to you. Be the one to initiate, and then you'll see yourself just having a more productive day than you ever imagined before.


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