Leaving campus abruptly mid-semester was a tough adjustment for many students. Plans and competitions were canceled. Research and class projects were put on hold.
Not having the in-person support of fellow classmates who live and study on the same campus was hard for Abigail Reynolds, a student studying civil engineering, not to mention the intense gravity of the pandemic.
“The biggest struggle for me was staying motivated. When you see all that is going on in the world, it became increasingly harder to be motivated to do work. Anxiety can be paralyzing, and self-motivation can be really hard,” Reynolds said.
It was shocking to see the world stop, she said, and hard for her to believe she wouldn’t get to return to campus to finish her junior year. She’s not sure if she has fully realized the impact this time has made on her collegiate years.
“I kept thinking at first that the spring semester would resume back on campus. I never knew it would last this long,” Reynolds said.
She prefers walking to class, seeing her peers and working on their assignments together because it keeps her more focused on her responsibilities. Even though she was able to study with her friends online and she got support from faculty, it didn’t quite feel the same.
I did work with my peers from a distance but nowhere near as much as I did when we were all on campus,” Reynolds said. “The professors were extremely accommodating and helpful. They were very reassuring that we would figure it out and that we were all in it together.”
She had planned to spend her summer in Austria in a new study abroad program with the civil, construction and environmental engineering department that had to be canceled. Instead, Reynolds took the classes online and said her professors were very accommodating. Fortunately, her co-op with Brasfield & Gorrie has not been impacted by the pandemic.
Sabrina Barber was also disappointed her time at UA ended so abruptly. A May 2020 mechanical engineering graduate, she felt discouraged she didn’t really get to say goodbye to the place she spent the last four years living and studying.
“I trusted that my teachers would be able to figure out how to transition to online classes, but not being able to finish my college career with my fellow classmates and friends in the same place was what was more upsetting,” Barber said.
Sometimes the live video teleconferencing calls could get overwhelming with group presentations often running longer than the allotted time. Switching to online classes was a learning experience for everyone, she said.
A member of UA’s Human-Powered Vehicle Team, Barber and the group of six other mechanical engineering students did not have the opportunity to finish building their vehicle after campus closed. Each year, the team’s goal is to build a tricycle for a competition hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Once the contest switched to a virtual event, the team began working from a distance, but their objectives looked a little different. The competition pivoted to a written format.
“We were able to work on final documentation, hand calculations, CFD [computational fluid dynamics] analysis, and final modeling adjustments from home,” Barber said.
Surprisingly, she said the distance actually helped them become more productive during meetings, but in the end, the team did not participate in the online competition this year.
Struggles aside, she is still proud of all the work the team was able to complete, and her hope is that a new team will be able to continue the project this school year.
“We luckily had done a lot of necessary testing before COVID moved us online,” Barber said. “For some testing where the bike would have needed to be built fully, such as turn radius testing, we were able to do hand calculations to prove our design fit specifications. We also included a section in our design report on what needed to be done for the bike to be fully built so that the next team could complete our bike.”
Throughout all the hardships these engineering students learned a lot about being resilient and flexible when times get tough, and they’ll be able to use this lesson for the rest of their life.
To offer support to those adjusting to the changes, UA’s Counseling Center has been offering services, like consultations and individual counseling, to the UA community while also adhering to the new health guidelines put in place on campus. Several resources have been made available online at counseling.sa.ua.edu/social-distancing-and-coping-skills.