UAA seniors reflect on present and future during COVID-19 pandemic

Most classes at the University of Alaska Anchorage transitioned entirely online the week of March 23. Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, resulting in many canceled events, including the spring commencement ceremony.

Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash.

Emily Wood is a natural sciences major graduating this May. Wood said that it was initially pretty difficult to transition to a new way of life as a senior.

“I had a really difficult time transitioning into lockdown. It was devastating to realize I’d have no graduation ceremony, that I couldn’t go back to work and that my parents couldn’t come celebrate with me,” Wood said.

Jessica Linda Reisinger is also a UAA senior, double majoring in chemistry and natural sciences. She hopes to enter medical school after graduating. Reisinger is also the vice president of new member education for Tri Sigma, one of the university’s sororities. She has a lot on her plate and said she feels that this semester is just not the same entirely online.

“A lot of my classes are hands-on laboratory classes or classes that involve a lot of critical thinking. Neither of these are classes that transition well into an online medium, so the semester has been really difficult. I feel like I’m not really learning much anymore, and it’s just about getting through the semester,” Reisinger said.

Wood did not expect her senior year to be anything like what it is now. Seniors already face challenges in their final semester, like grades, finances and just making it to graduation, but she said the pandemic has caused many more.

“I’ve weathered natural disasters, several budget crises and now a global pandemic in pursuit of this degree. Looking ahead, I’m very excited to be out of school, but really concerned about finding work. A statewide hiring freeze and a near 20% national unemployment rate is not the world I saw myself entering after college,” Wood said.

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Students received an email from UA President Jim Johnsen on April 20, which provided an update on what the fall semester might entail. In the email, Johnsen said the future is unclear, but that the university is trying to make the fall semester as accessible to students as possible.

“I assure you we want to make the decision as soon as we can, but it is still too soon to know. The input and advice from public health experts, the chancellors and other university leaders suggest that we hold on a decision about the specific blend of distance delivered and in-person courses until we have an expert assessment of conditions closer to the start of the fall semester,” Johnsen said.

Reisinger plans to take her Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, this summer, although she is concerned about what the coming months will be like for furthering her education.

“I worry about the upcoming semester because I don’t like the feeling of just going through the motions of taking classes without really learning anything, and I feel that the online medium perpetuates that. I plan to take my MCAT this summer and the pandemic is also in a way affecting my schedule for preparing for the exam. Hopefully, it doesn’t affect my performance,” Reisinger said.

Wood also had concerns about what the future will bring.

“It’s bizarre to cross such a monumental threshold but feel absolute indifference. I was really fortunate to have accommodating professors who understood better than I did how stressful the change would be. Despite having nothing else to do, I don’t have the same energy for school and my work doesn’t have the same quality,” Wood said.

The university will host an online celebration via a website that will launch on May 3 at 1 p.m. via the UAA website. The Tribute to Our Grads: UAA Spring 2020 Graduation Day Celebration will feature photos of students and their memories, special messages from Chancellor Cathy Sandeen, Johnsen and the conferring of student degrees.