Crews from University and Student Services (USS) move student belongings into Millennium Hall on Sept. 10. Photo by Jeff Fusco.
Will I make friends?
Will I get lost?
Will my roommate(s) and I get along?
These were the very typical, understandable questions running through first-year Drexel University students’ minds as they moved into campus housing for the first time Sept. 10–13 in advance of Welcome Week. This is despite the very atypical, unexpected nature of the pandemic times in which they are starting their Drexel careers, and the protocols set in place to help ensure their safety even before they were able to set foot inside their dorm rooms.
Housing and Residence Life welcomed 2,254 first-years and 2,640 total students during the initial move-in weekend, with second-year students also having had the opportunity to move in early either through University Housing or housing partner American Campus Communities (ACC), and take part in Welcome Week events. More upperclassmen joined them before the start of fall term classes on Sept. 20.
With a streamlined move-in process made easier through Drexel partners University and Student Services (USS) who lend a hand with cruise-ship style move-in service, campus was bustling with energy and excitement much like it has during move-in weekends in the past. But as a sign of the times, there were precautions put in place even before new Dragons and their families set foot on campus. For one, all Drexel students and employees were required to show proof of vaccination by Aug. 1 or seek a medical or religious exemption. Move-in weekend was also elongated from two to four days as a social distancing precaution, and all Dragons and their guests were asked to follow Drexel’s campus-wide masking policy for all indoor spaces. And as announced on Sept. 7, new students were tested for COVID-19 before receiving their room key in Drexel’s on-campus facility within the Race Hall Learning Terrace, regardless of vaccination status.
Despite the measures put in place to safeguard students and the rest of the Drexel community, this initial move-in weekend and Welcome Week signaled the exciting times ahead as the University fully reopens for in-person learning.
“We couldn’t be happier to have students back on campus,” said MacKenzie Luke, PhD, associate vice president of Student Success. “I think many of us are ready for life to start feeling normal again. Welcoming students back through move-in and orientation is the first step to creating a ‘normal’ college experience for everyone. We will, of course, continue to make decisions with health and safety in mind, but we couldn’t be happier with how the year is kicking off.”
This happiness and acceptance of returning to normal was by no means lost on new Dragons and their families. Nick Procopio, BS/MS ’00, PhD ’06, adjunct faculty in Drexel’s Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science (BEES), and his wife, Jill, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, were beaming as they helped their daughter, McKayla, move in bright and early on Sept. 10 to her room in Van Rensselaer Hall.
“As an alumnus, I’m excited [that she chose Drexel], but also I’m just having familiarity with the campus and where she’ll be,” Nick Procopio said. “As a dad, that feels good.”
“It was the best choice for her, with co-op and all the opportunities she can have being in the city,” Jill Procopio added. “She is interested in pre-med, so all the local hospitals she can volunteer with.”
Their daughter shared their excitement, but McKayla Procopio admitted she was also a little nervous. She had spoken with her two roommates previously over text and Facetime, but met them in person for the first time on this momentous day. Despite her nerves, it didn’t take long before arriving in her top-floor dorm suite for McKayla Procopio to fall into easy conversation with her roommate Elisabeth Lampman, and her parents, Michael and Susan Lampman of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Both Dragons are entering into the first-year exploratory studies program.
“We’re all family today,” Michael Lampman said when the families checked in with each other about removing masks while unpacking within the separate rooms of the suite.
Just as near-constant masking was a reality throughout move-in weekend, so was on-the-spot COVID testing. Amelia Vial del Solar, a first-year fashion design student, admitted that she hates COVID testing, but that those working at the testing site were very nice, and made it easy for her.
“It’s a dream to be here,” she said. “I think that [Drexel] is doing a really good job with COVID testing and masking and everything. They have this great app, the Drexel Health [Checker] app, that’s awesome. I’m just really excited to start.”
Nina Kulkarni, MPH ’21, vaccine and testing site manager, said while overseeing operations at the Learning Terrace on Sept. 10 that both students and their families were receptive to the testing protocols, if not excited that they had been put in place.
“I think everyone understands the importance of making sure that we’re not putting positive cases with the general student population,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure that when students come to campus they feel safe being here, going to classes, being with their peers. It’s a huge transition already for students to move in for the first time. Moving into your dorm room, meeting new people — you don’t want to have the added stress of being around someone that might be positive for COVID. We’re trying to catch it as early as possible so that students feel safe, parents feel safe sending their kids here, and so that we just foster a really safe environment while people are here too.”
For students like Angie Impagliazzo, a first-year biology major, testing and masking was not her worry.
“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” she said. “I don’t really mind the masks at all. I don’t want to have another pandemic or another outbreak that’s super bad with this Delta variant. So, I’m fine with it.”
Instead, Impagliazzo was worried about making friends, but hoped that Welcome Week events and exploring museums and coffee shop around the city would help with that.
“I’m naturally a shy person so I’m kind of worried about that, but I’m trying to get out of my shell a little bit and talk to people first,” she added.
Sarah Spranklin, a first-year undeclared business major, was also excited to meet people from all around the country and the world as she settled in as a Dragon.
“My roommate is from Texas and I’m from Connecticut. We’re so far away from each other but now we’re going to live together,” Spranklin said. “I just think it’s so cool.”
“I’m going to get lost, for sure,” Spranklin added. “But it’s fine, I’ll figure it out.”
Roy Westerfer, a first-year game design student, wasn’t lost when he arrived to campus Sept. 10 with his older sister, Miranda, in tow — just a little late for his move-in appointment. They had arrived by Uber from their home in Roxborough to get Roy Westerfer moved into his dorm room in Towers Hall.
“I’m definitely really excited, especially because classes don’t start for another week so it’s just time to settle in and everything,” he said. “I just can’t wait to get up there and lay down in the bed.”
Roy Westerfer was still in the process of picking classes, so he was anxious about that in addition to getting along with his roommate. But for his big sister, she was just excited to see him off.
“When I was in college, I told him, I had so much fun. And there’s nothing I can say to take any of the anxiety away, but I had a blast. It was the best, best time,” Miranda Westerfer said. “I made really good friends. I think that was another fear, him not making a lot of friends. But I love it, he’s a great kid. He’s going to have no problem at all. I’m trying to put his fears at ease. It’s going to be the best time of your life, and if you end up not liking it, nothing is set in stone.”
Though she hopes her brother has a comparable experience to hers in college, Miranda Westerfer also noted that it’s going to be much different for him starting this stage of his life in an ongoing pandemic.
“It’s not going to be like when I was in school; it’s just such a different challenge,” she said.
Bob and Cindy Lord of Westminster, Maryland, had similar feelings about dropping off their daughter, Allison, a first-year film and television student. It was their new Dragon’s first time being at school in-person since the onset of the pandemic.
“It’s been easy and straightforward, but I don’t think it’s sunk in for me yet,” Cindy Lord said about seeing her daughter off in these challenging times.
“I’m nervous but she’s a strong, independent young lady who I know will be very successful,” Bob Lord added. “She has a knack for figuring things out. So, she will do well.”
Miriam Wright had no nerves about moving in her daughter, Jillian, to her room in Race Hall alongside her husband, Ernest. That’s because Jillian Wright had taken part in the Dragons Prep, a five-week intensive program over the summer to help ease the transition for first-year students from high school to college. For Jillian, that meant having already lived in a Drexel residence hall previously, along with making friends, taking the subway and exploring the city.
“She’s been able to navigate things pretty well. We’ve reminded her about some commonsense things,” Miriam Wright said. “I’m hoping she’ll be kind of a resource for her roommates.”
But since this was the family’s second time moving onto Drexel’s campus, Miriam Wright was also eager to get the room cleaned and set up. She and Jillian Wright set to unpacking and making the bed as Ernest Wright built bedroom furniture they had picked up from Dormify in the common space.
“Are you gonna do anything? Or are you going to watch us do everything?” Miriam Wright teased her daughter as she became distracted by her phone while checking in with her new roommates. “We’ve got to keep working. We can’t be here all day.”
Pandemic or not, some things never change.