What Back-to-School Looks Like for Collegians in 2020

Curious to see what the 2020 back-to-school season has been like for some of our own members, we reached out to former SWENexters who are now pursuing undergraduate degrees in universities across the US.
back-to-school in 2020 - college students wearing masks

Moving into the foreseeable future, our world continues to face immense changes with impacts felt across the globe. People have their lost jobs, their loved ones, and their freedom to go about their lives as they once did.

Amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, one of the most controversial issues has been the handling of and adaptations to our education system. Some students have returned to school for regular programming, some have adapted to a hybrid format, and others have had to learn how to ‘go to school’ within the confines of their own homes.

Curious to see what the 2020 back-to-school season has been like for some of our own members, we reached out to former SWENexters who are now pursuing undergraduate degrees in universities across the US. Here are their experiences.

What Back-to-School Looks Like in 2020:

Name: Caroline Bell | School: University of Virginia | Major(s): computer science and music
What Back-to-School Looks Like for Collegians in 2020 back-to-schoolI am fortunate to be able to live on campus this semester. Due to COVID, the University actually postponed move-in by two weeks, which actually was the best thing for me and my transition into college. By starting classes online before moving in, I was able to get used to the course load/academic side of college before having to deal with the social, living side of it. Campus activities are mainly outside or virtual. It has been interesting to see everyone trying to make it work, with half of the students being at home and the other half being here. Luckily, I haven’t been stuck in my dorm yet; I am trying my best to wear my mask, socially distance, and help any students who might be stuck or struggling during this time.


Name: Natalee Calfo-Carroll | School: Robert Morris University | Major(s): Mechanical Engineering

What Back-to-School Looks Like for Collegians in 2020 back-to-schoolThis is my first semester at college and I am working entirely from home! All but one of my classes are asynchronous, which really forces students to be proactive in teaching themselves. Adjusting to this new type of learning, plus college in general, has been difficult. I’ve come to realize that developing time management skills and efficient studying methods are crucial. Meeting new people and staying connected has also proven to be a challenge, but thanks to virtual meetings it’s not impossible. To anyone else struggling as much as I am: We got this! It may not be easy, but we also have a worldwide network of supportive female engineers to cheer us on!


Name: Bridgitt Cornish | School: Western Michigan University | Major(s): Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering | SWE leadership position: Vice President of WMU Section

What Back-to-School Looks Like for Collegians in 2020 back-to-schoolThis year classes and campus life are an entirely new and different experience and adapting to that new dynamic has been a learning curve. I attend Western Michigan University, and I live in the Engineering dorm on campus and my classes are pretty much all online. Online classes have been a bit of a struggle for me, especially since many of the professors are still learning how to use many of the online platforms. I have also been struggling with interacting with my peers in class, which has made it far more difficult to connect, make friends, and find people in my classes to study with. This year is definitely not what I had expected or hoped for, but I am trying my best to make the most of this year.


Name: Leah Garczynski | School: Kettering University | Major(s): Electrical Engineering | SWE leadership position: Kettering’s SWE Awards and Outreach Chair

What Back-to-School Looks Like for Collegians in 2020 back-to-schoolI don’t start school until October 5th, so I have the unique ability to watch what is/isn’t working at other universities. With only ~1,000 students on campus per section, we plan on having classes in-person. I’m very excited to participate in in-person classes, since a lot of students have unfortunately had to rely on solely remote learning. Because of my university’s term system, I began my remote academic term in April. I struggled with classes being online, because even though I was performing well, I didn’t feel like I was retaining the information as I usually do. I recommend staying connected with your friends from school and reaching out to your professors. Who knows? They may be struggling with the online format as well, which will provide an opportunity to adjust together! I think staying connected while we are separated is crucial to keep ourselves active, both academically and socially, with our peers.


Name: Bryanna Salazar | School: Milwaukee School of Engineering | Major(s): Mechanical Engineering

What Back-to-School Looks Like for Collegians in 2020 back-to-schoolI am currently attending the 2020 school year on campus in our all-female dorms. We have hybrid classes for all subjects. So, I attend lectures online via Microsoft teams or pre-recorded lecture videos from my professors. The labs for my classes are in person but I am very comfortable with the format in which they perform these labs because there is usually, at most, 10 people in a class at a time for lab and we are able to social distance easily. I live in a suite with five other women and we all have different majors but some of us share classes. It is convenient for us because we can ask each other questions whenever we need – it also brings us closer together. My advice for others is to manage your time wisely, as always, and to not stress out all the time. Take time to relax and enjoy yourself and get to know other people. It may be scary with the pandemic, but we all need a breather sometimes. Just remember that everyone else is going through this as well and will understand if you need help.


Name: Shreya Santhanagopalan | School: Georgia Institute of Technology | Major(s): Computer Science

What Back-to-School Looks Like for Collegians in 2020 back-to-schoolThe 2020-2021 back-to-school experience has been a rollercoaster. I decided to stay at home due to safety reasons and it’s been nothing like I expected. Online schooling definitely has its ups and downs. The professors have been great with communication and it’s great that if I don’t understand a lecture I can go and rewatch it. However with these great benefits, I have also been finding it difficult to stay on top of work and prevent it from piling up. Not having to have cameras on is somewhat of a disadvantage because I can’t see my peers and it makes it harder to stay focused. I have definitely been working on adjusting to these changes, but online schooling has proved quite challenging to adapt to. I have found it really useful to connect with peers by reaching out to them to study and creating friendships over Zoom. Some advice that I would give to others struggling with the process of online schooling is make sure to take a break and take care of your physical health! It is easy to get caught up with working all the time since we are always at home staring at the screen, but it’s important to remember our bodies need to be engaged too. I have taken the time to set up a standing desk to get some blood flowing while I’m working which can be easily done with some cardboard boxes. Overall, the back to school experience has been pretty good and I look forward to fully adapting to this situation so I can get back to being on top of my work!


Name: Vidhya Thiyagarajan | School: University of Pittsburgh | Major(s): Chemical Engineering | SWE leadership position: PittSWE High School Outreach Chair, Student Programs Committee Volunteer

What Back-to-School Looks Like for Collegians in 2020 back-to-schoolCurrently, I am studying chemical engineering in Bethlehem, PA which is about five hours from my university. Going into my fall semester, I was worried about my learning and overall college experience. However, through interacting with my professors through their Zoom office hours, having FaceTime calls with friends to study for tests and complete projects, and running virtual STEM outreach events, I have definitely begun to feel some sense of normalcy. One thing I have learned is that spending more time on myself, whether it be taking a walk outside or watching some TV, really helps keep my spirits and motivation through this situation. Adaptation is key for this semester of school, so take advantage of the resources you have, and make sure to take care of yourself!


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