Seniors react to extended remote learning


Madison Hummer

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The global pandemic of the COVID-19 has upended daily life for many Americans, especially college seniors. Certain states, such as New York and California, have mandated “stay at home” orders to their citizens in order to limit the spread of the virus.

Last week, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf extended a state issued stay at home order to include Luzerne County, as well as neighboring Lackawanna County. At Wilkes University, the decision was made to extend remote learning through the entire spring semester, leaving seniors with a very non-traditional final semester.

“The campus shutdown is devastating. This is for a multitude of reasons, but for graduating seniors specifically, we may have walked on our undergraduate campus for the last time. We did not get the opportunity to talk to and sincerely thank faculty, staff and classmates who may have had a huge impact on our academic careers and personal lives,” said Cassandra Merrill, senior Spanish and secondary education major.

The “stay at home” orders were put in place due to the virus’ high infection rate, which has infected over 634,800 people worldwide and killed at least 29,900, according to the World Health organization on March 29. Also that day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed 122,653 cases and 2,112 deaths in the United States from the coronavirus. – this included Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Marianas and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Merrill, in addition to being a senior, is also a resident assistant, a first-year student e-mentor, a lead admissions ambassador, and the treasurer for the LEAP Program executive board and the KDP Education Honor Society. She expressed remorse that her campus involvement has likely come to an end.

While the campus shutdown has affected all seniors, it poses a unique problem for education majors, as local school districts have shut down as well. All education majors are required to student teach. It functions as their internship, and is considered to be the most important 14 weeks of their college careers.

Merrill said that many education students are scared because the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) creates the guidelines for being certified to teach in the state, not Wilkes. At the moment, many education students are in uncharted waters.

“In all seriousness, I have personally never been more scared in my academic career,” she said.

She also said she’s worried for her students. At this time, she said many education students are following the directives of their respective local school districts. She said that while some schools are moving online, other districts don’t have this as a realistic expectation.

“For example, my placement does not supply Chromebooks to students and many students do not have computers, nevermind the Internet. So, the school closings affect us all differently. We are concerned for our students’ well being and their futures. School offers so much security and fosters development in a regulated and safe way,” she said.
Mechanical engineering students have also been hit hard by the shutdown. Many of their classes and projects take place in labs, using technology and software that is only available on university computers.

“The most notable example of this is ME380 – Advanced CADD. The entirety of the course work and projects requires the use of the program SOLIDWORKS in order to complete it. The problem with not being able to be on campus to complete this work is that SOLIDWORKS is a very expensive program costing $1000+ for a single license, so it is not a viable option for purchase on a personal PC,” said James DeGerolamo, senior mechanical engineering major.

“Fortunately, the professor recognizes this and is trying to be as accommodating as possible. All other class-related changes are minor in comparison and can be dealt with,” he continued.

For seniors, the shutdown has put a clam on their year-long capstone projects. Every senior is required to work on a team to develop a product in the field of mechanical engineering. The process is guided by weekly meetings on campus and then follow-ups.

“The professors basically told us we wouldn’t be allowed into labs, so we had to take all of our parts and equipment home with us to work on and have it ready for when we get back. Can’t really do a group project if you’re doing it at home,” said Amrit Chandhok, senior mechanical engineering major.

“We did face the issue on whether we will be allowed access to the shop in the basement of Stark, which has the welding and machining equipment. We are still waiting to hear back if those resources are available, but otherwise, we are coming up with unique solutions to overcome those needs,” he continued.

Chandhok is also a member of the Kirby Scholar Program and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). He said that ASME was forced to cancel their annual car show, both due to the shutdown and also because of the attendance typically consisting of an older generation. Although the Kirby Center has closed its physical location for the time being, it is still fully operational and students have been working on their projects from home.

In addition, all mechanical engineers are required to take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam as a graduation requirement. The test is proctored through independent centers located throughout the state, all of which have announced shutdowns until Apr. 16 at the earliest. The university waived the testing requirements for senior mechanical engineers.

In pharmacy, the shutdown has disrupted many students’ care labs and has placed stress on students in pharmacy internships due to the increase in demand for help in the healthcare industry. Many pharmacy students are in internships at local pharmacies such as CVS, which are dealing with “coronavirus rushes” and have been hiring extra employees to deal with the surge. Care labs, meanwhile, are a graduation requirement, and require students working in teams. Due to the shutdown, many of these labs have to be done individually.

“P2 students don’t necessarily have a senior project because we are not seniors based on our majors. However, we do have obligations that have been entirely disrupted due to this shutdown. For example we have these things called IPPEs (Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences) which are essential to our graduation, and due to this campus shutdown they are put on hold,” said Emily Wassel, P2 pharmacy student.
She went on to say that while she understood why they were put on hold, the pharmacy curriculum is organized in a strict path. She said she is anxious as to how students will be able to find time to redo those experiences.

Not all departments were hit as hard, however. Senior marketing students are already enrolled in an online capstone course, so they are one of the few majors who are left relatively unscathed.

“I think business classes are some of the best classes to have online. We learn mostly through lectures and notes and require little hands on experience or interaction. Honestly, most of the class material could be uploaded in a PowerPoint or video lecture and a student can just teach themselves,” said Kevin Singhel, senior marketing major.

However, obviously classes were not the only thing affecting seniors. There are many student-athletes who have seen their final seasons get cut short.

“I had so much to look forward to and now it’s gone. I won’t be able to play in a game again. It’s such a sad reality to face. I won’t be eligible for redshirting as I will be graduating this spring, but I believe athletes should have another chance to play,” said Gracie Franko, senior communication studies major and one of the lacrosse team captains.

“It’s hard to start something and not being able to fully finish it, and no athlete no matter at what level should have to experience it,” she continued.

In addition to official athletics, this has also affected students involved in intramural leagues.

“Spring track has been canceled completely. Although we do not have an official track team at Wilkes, the cross country team still holds practices and still goes to a few meets. However, all of those have been canceled and all of our training must be at home now. As a senior, this means that I have ran in my last race ever without actually knowing it,” said Singhel.

Some schools, such as Kutztown University and Marywood University, have transitioned to online classes for the rest of the semester. While some universities, like Marywood, are postponing spring commencement ceremonies, others, like the University of Pennsylvania, have canceled them outright and moved them online.
University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann wrote in an email to the Penn community last Monday evening that the University cannot responsibly gather thousands of people to campus for Commencement and Alumni Weekend, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health experts.

Wilkes University seniors will experience a commencement ceremony, said Interim President Paul Adams in a March 25 email to the campus community.

“For our graduating students, the last six weeks of the spring semester are filled with celebration and eager anticipation,” Adams stated. “I want to assure you that Wilkes University will hold a commencement ceremony for our 2020 graduates. As of today, we have not made any changes to our May ceremony. If we find ourselves in a position where we have to postpone, we will choose a date in the near future when we can all be safely together again. And we will celebrate with all the pomp and circumstance our graduates have come to expect.”

Adams said a decision would be made by April 15.