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College students back home adjusting to online classes

Many college students left for spring break not knowing they wouldn't be back.

They're now grappling with being back home and taking online classes because of the coronavirus. Some are dealing with the added struggles of navigating courses that don't translate well in a virtual setting, or having a sports or theater season cut short, or ending their college experience on a low note.

"Honestly, it's pretty heartbreaking, just because it was our last semester, and when we all left for spring break, we didn't know that that was going to be the last time we'd be there and that was goodbye to college, basically," said Anna Bornstein, a senior at Ithaca College and a Stonington High School alum.

Bornstein, an environmental studies major, has also found that her thesis research "has just been completely disrupted" and now she's had to change course.

She had been processing samples in a lab for research on microplastics, but now most of the people on her team will just be writing papers.

Bornstein said Ithaca first told students they'd be doing online classes until April 4, but then online classes were extended for the rest of the semester and commencement tentatively pushed to August. A music minor, Bornstein is no longer singing in chorus, and her guitar is still on campus, along with clothing and textbooks.

A theater major back home in Niantic, University of Connecticut sophomore Lauren Frischling has been saddened by the cancellation of performances.

She was the assistant stage manager for a production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime," which thankfully wrapped up before campus shut down. But she has a lot of friends who are upset because their shows were canceled shortly before the performances.

Frischling said last week, "I know with artists specifically, there's a lot of pressure to just be creative and be productive, but I'm going to be honest, I feel kind of dead on the inside now."

UConn started online classes on March 23. Fortunately for Frischling, most of her classes this semester are outside her major — children's literature, Latino sociology and pharmacy — and therefore translate better online than theater courses. But she was auditing a movement class and can't do that anymore.

Frischling has switched some of her courses to pass/fail, after UConn lifted some restrictions on which classes could be taken as such.

Ethan Love, a UConn sophomore now home in Lisbon, said it's harder to pay attention in class when there's the option to go do something else.

Ordinarily, "You're sitting in a lecture hall, you're kind of stuck there, you have nothing to do but pay attention," he said, whereas now he might be tempted to go outside to play basketball or skateboard.

Love is undecided but taking classes on a civil engineering path, and only one of his four classes has a live video lecture. For the others, the professors post lecture videos for students to watch on their own time.

Love mostly misses the social aspect of college.

He was used to going to the gym to play basketball "and there were automatically 20-30 people there you could play with, and now it's just like I'm playing in my driveway alone."

Pawcatuck resident Sara Belchik is feeling the financial stress of no longer working while attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is a third-year student pursuing a degree in animal science with a minor in nutrition.

Belchik worked as a leasing agent for a local apartment company, a caretaker for the animals in her research lab's department, and at a coffee shop. Relinquished from her jobs, she drove the 1,000-plus miles from Illinois to Stonington on March 16.

Belchik still has to pay her rent, and also commented about missing her jobs, "I'm a very busy person. I don't take sitting down very well."

Her college started online classes on March 23, and one of the more complicated ones for Belchik to do online is a microbiology lab, in which professors record themselves doing procedures and explain what they're doing.

"We still have to write our lab reports, get that technical writing experience, but we don't have the in-person, learning from your mistakes concepts," Belchik said.

A junior at the University of Rhode Island, Maddy Biggins is commuting from Stonington and therefore not worrying about paying rent for somewhere she isn't living. But the pandemic comes on top of the existing upheaval of her recent transfer from UConn to URI, which set her a year back in terms of credits.

Biggins is a health studies major who wants to work with older adults, and with everything that's going on, she's now considering going into something like epidemiology.

This was not how Ben Abely, a business management major at Lasell University outside Boston, expected to spend the end of his first year of college. A member of the track team, he only got a few practices in before everything stopped.

Back in Stonington, Abely is trying to work out as much as he can with what he's got at home. As for online classes, three out of five of are happening on the videoconferencing platform Zoom.

"It's interesting. It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be," Abely said. "It's just obviously a little bit difficult because it's harder to communicate with your professor."

e.moser@theday.com

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