Life as a freshman Bronc in the midst of a pandemic

By Christian McCarville

The class of 2024 has had a very unique experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stripped of the luxuries of a high school senior year, these students are now off to college for one of the strangest freshmen semesters to date.

Depending on state restrictions, there is a wide variety of policies for colleges and universities across the country. A common theme among these policies is limiting the amount of in-person classes, which would therefore stiffen the chances that COVID-19 could be passed from student to student.

At Rider, professors were ultimately allowed to dictate whether their class would operate in a fully remote, hybrid or in-person setting. Students were also allowed to move into on-campus housing as long as they agreed to follow specific safety protocols.

These circumstances, while undoubtedly in the best interest of the health and safety of students, certainly took away from the traditional first-semester experience for incoming freshmen. With a large portion of students taking primarily remote classes, it became an appealing option for many students to live at home this fall. Without paying for housing, this option also provided an opportunity for freshmen to save money during their first year.

Freshman psychology major Bridget Gum is one of many freshmen students opting to stay home this semester. She explained the reasoning that brought her to this decision.

“The decision was an extremely challenging one for me to make because I’m a tetraplegic and I have been since I was 7 months old,” said Gum. “I’ve always wanted my independence so badly since people had to help me with a lot of things growing up. But my disorder is neuroimmunological, so I’m also immunocompromised and I ultimately couldn’t risk it.”

While staying at home during her first semester wasn’t an ideal situation, Gum is successfully making the most out of her semester regardless.

“People keep telling me that my college experience will be so much better when I’m actually in college, but I’m one of those people who tries to make the best of a bad situation,” said Gum. “I’ve been going to Rider events, trying to get involved in clubs and making friends the best I can in the virtual setting. I think Rider is doing the best they can to get people involved and to create events virtually, but it’s challenging and a little awkward.”

This type of mindset is essential for incoming freshmen to have during these strange and uncertain times. Taking advantage of online opportunities and getting involved virtually is the best way to turn an unfortunate situation into an unforgettable one.

Gum also commented on her experience regarding a fully remote class schedule.

“I don’t think I’m a virtual learner naturally,” said Gum. “I really need more social interaction, but I still feel like I’m learning a lot in this virtual learning setting and I definitely have more time for my school work and studying, so I’m grateful for that.”

Freshman arts and entertainment industries management major Megyn Kukulka has also decided to remain home for the fall semester. She provided her perspective on the matter.

“It was definitely a hard decision to make knowing that I wouldn’t get the full freshman college experience I’ve always had in mind,” said Kukulka. “I did consider all the pros and cons of dorming or staying home. I found that staying home and taking classes online was the best option for me.”

Similar to Gum, Kukulka has been making the most out of her experience this semester.

“Although I am home, I have taken advantage of every opportunity I can to get to know people on and off-campus. I like that I get to spend time with my family and I am able to spend time with my friends who are also remote,” said Kukulka. “I obviously would have really liked the ‘full college experience’ by going on campus but I am staying positive and trying to make the most out of it.”

Since many of the plans for the upcoming spring semester are still up in the air, Kukulka explained that she does not yet have a definite plan to move onto campus in the future. However, she has high expectations for this semester that will ultimately improve her experience at Rider as a whole.

“I hope to meet new people and build friendships even while online. I also want to learn a lot in my classes and explore new creative outlets,” said Kukulka.

With many freshmen not having the most ideal college experience, both Gum and Kukulka demonstrated the importance of staying positive and making the most out of the current circumstances. Many of these freshmen are patiently waiting for an opportunity to truly experience all that Rider has to offer. For now, however, there is an extensive number of online activities and organizations that freshmen can consider participating in.

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