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COVID causes change of course for local college students

  • Tanner Duval at Mascenic’s Class of 2020 graduation this summer. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Tanner Duval at Mascenic's Class of 2020 graduation this summer. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Livvie Mullins of Peterborough. Courtesy photo—

  • (BEN CONANT / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Copyright Monadnock Ledger-Transcript. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to news@ledgertranscript.com. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/26/2020 4:36:22 PM

Tanner Duval had his sights set on Ithaca. Duval, Mascenic’s Class of 2020 president, hoped to hone his filmmaking skills at Ithaca College’s prestigious Park School this fall. He’d toured the school and was hooked when he saw just how “hands-on” the experience would be.

“That was what got me really excited,” Duval said, “because that is the way I learn best, by physically trying things and learning from my mistakes.”

After his experience with remote learning during the spring of 2020, a hands-on experience was just what he needed. Duval’s in-person schooling – and his documentary about the Vikings’ championship basketball season – were both interrupted by the COVID-19 shutdown, and he found remote learning didn’t help him thrive.

“All of my online classes were missing that hands-on aspect that I really need in order to learn,” Duval said. “I need an environment with classmates and instructors right there with me so that I can ask for help or communicate ideas with them.”

In May, Ithaca officials announced their plan for the fall semester, which allowed students to take classes remotely or attend on campus with an Oct. 5 start date. Duval said he was “thrilled” about the decision. He registered for classes, signed up for housing, and last week, he was checking his email for a dorm move-in date when he got some bad news – Ithaca had reversed course and would be all-virtual this fall, with hopes that it could open for in-person instruction in the spring semester.

Duval said he “lost hope” upon reading that announcement, and quickly decided he wouldn’t attend college this fall, opting for a gap year to work, save money, make some short films and start at Ithaca – his dream school – in fall of 2021.

“My goal was to learn all the skills I needed to pursue a career as a film director, and hopefully intern while I was in school at Ithaca,” Duval said. “My plan still stays the same, but now I have 365 days until I get to start.”

Duval is one of thousands of college students around the country who have changed their higher education plan due – in one way or another – to COVID-19. A recent College Reaction/Axios poll found that 22 percent of current college students were not planning on enrolling this fall.

Max Scheinblum had narrowed down his list of potential schools to the University of Connecticut and Syracuse University.

Both had exceptional journalism programs and the 2020 ConVal graduate was set to visit Syracuse in April. Then the coronavirus pandemic forced colleges and universities around the country to switch to remote learning, preventing him from seeing the Syracuse campus firsthand.

His father, grandfather, aunt and uncle all went to UConn and Scheinblum was familiar with the Storrs, Connecticut campus, having walked around it four or five times and going to countless men’s basketball games. So when it came time to decide where he’d spend the next four years, it was a relatively easy one.

Scheinblum was looking forward to the experience of being on his own for the first time and embracing all that came with being on a campus with 20,000 students.

But as of now, he’ll have to wait. In June, Scheinblum found out four of the five classes he registered for would be held online, he’d have no roommate and the typical campus activities would not be held.

It just didn’t make sense to pay for room and board and a meal plan to have only one class in-person. So he made the decision to stay in New Hampshire and spend his first semester of college learning remotely.

“In March, when schools shut down, the country shut down, the whole world shut down, I was preparing myself that this whole college experience would have to wait,” Scheinblum said.

Scheinblum said he never really considered deferring his admission or taking a gap year.

“I think I’d probably want to do more than stay home and work,” he said.

So he decided to stay on track to graduate in 2024. As of now, Scheinblum has only decided on taking classes remotely for the first semester, but knows there’s a chance his entire freshman year could be done at home.

“If I had to guess I probably won’t be there in the spring,” he said.

His classes are mostly electives, with one class, The Press in America, working towards his major.

Scheinblum said while staying home for college will be challenging, he plans to set up a schedule that creates a routine just like if he was on campus. And while it’s not ideal, Scheinblum isn’t feeling bad for himself.

“Everybody is in the same boat so it’s not like poor me,” he said.

Livvie Mullins’ college plans were already derailed before the pandemic hit. The 2019 ConVal graduate was midway through her freshman year at Simmons University in Boston when the college announced it was cutting the education program she was enrolled in. Prepared to transfer so she could continue her career trajectory toward becoming a history teacher, Mullins toured several colleges, including the University of New Hampshire, before the coronavirus shutdown.

“That made it hard to pick a new school,” Mullins said, “because I couldn’t go on any more tours. You can do online tours, but it’s really not the same as going to see it in person.”

In March, Mullins thought she’d quarantine for a few weeks, go back and finish at Simmons in person and then move to Durham for the fall semester. Spring’s remote learning gave way to summer’s uncertainty, as neither she nor anybody really knew what to expect in the fall.

“I was really up in the air about whether I was going to go back or not,” Mullins said.

Midsummer, UNH announced it would welcome students back for in-person schooling and on-campus living, with remote learning options available. Students who intended to live on campus would need to sign a waiver releasing the school from liability in an outbreak, which some found controversial; Mullins saw it as an assumed risk.

“I feel like if you’re going to go to school in person in the middle of a pandemic, you have to know there’s a chance to get sick,” Mullins said. She signed the waiver, mostly as a bid to keep her spot in campus housing – not easy to come by with socially distanced dormitories reducing the capacity. Ultimately, she said, UNH’s return-to-campus plan was a good one, but after a year living in the dorms at Simmons, she was skeptical of other students’ ability to follow the rules.

“I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the people around me to keep things clean,” Mullins said. She considered taking the year off, as she preferred on-campus instruction to remote learning, but with three more years of college and then grad school looming, she opted to stay on track, stay home and attend UNH remotely.

“I’m not going to have to have to buy a mini fridge this year, which is nice,” Mullins said. “It’s definitely not the college experience I thought I was going to have, but I think if everyone can just wear their masks and be smart, I’ll probably get to have that experience later on.”


Editor Tim Goodwin contributed to this report. 

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