After what seems to many like the longest month in the history of recorded time, Hanover College’s students are nearing the completion of the winter term.
Despite the myriad of difficulties and anxiety generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanover’s students have risen to the challenge and have reached the final week of the shortened academic year, slated to end May 1.
It has been quite an undertaking for the College community, especially taxing on its students.
More than 1,100 colleges and universities switched from face-to-face learning to remote education in an attempt to complete the current semester. Hanover suspended classes March 17 and, after a 12-day transition, began online delivery of approximately 300 classes March 30.
“When I heard campus was closing, I felt a lot of things,” said Louis Holbrook ’22, an economics major. “Mostly I recall feeling scared. I was scared that leaving Hanover's campus would mean leaving the community of people I have grown so close to behind. I was scared that being off campus would mean the memories I'd be making with the brothers in Sigma Chi, my professors after class or members of the swim team, would stop happening.”
Fears of the coronavirus and its potential impact on each student, their families and friends, were casting a massive cloud over campus in the days leading up to the suspension of classes. It has, to some degree, continued while the students have been at home.
“I think the hardest thing for them [students], and for me too, is just how hard it can be to focus with the current situation,” noted Tim Cunningham, assistant professor of chemistry. “Many students have reached out to me anxious about the virus and how it makes school feel unimportant given the seriousness of what's going on. Class morale can always be a challenge, but now, more than ever, it's one of the hardest things about teaching virtually.”
“My grandmother passed away two weeks after I got home,” said Holbrook. “Finding ways to grieve and feel comfort has been difficult. My mom went to stay with ‘Nana’ before she passed, so when I saw her at the ‘socially distant’ service, I wasn't able to hug her. I wasn't able to hug my mom after her mother died, imagine the pain a son feels knowing he can do nothing to comfort his grieving mother.”
“My largest challenge was overcoming my negative attitude toward it all,” said Eli Copner ’21, an environmental science major. “It often kept me mulling opportunities and wasting time. Once I figured out that I just had to get up and start making the most out of the experience, I moved on and returned to being productive.”
Students are often cast in many roles while at home. Many look out for family members, loved ones and pets. Some hold down jobs to help meet personal and family expenses, while others are navigating a now-daunting job market. All are tasked with making time to focus on their obligations as a student.
“My biggest responsibility was trying to figure out how to work a job while simultaneously completing classes,” said Copner, who is also a member of Hanover’s Business Scholars Program and baseball team. “While at school, classes come first, but it’s not the same when returning home. Work takes over and I often find myself scheduling when to complete coursework around my job.”
“Adjusting to being a full-time student while being home is difficult,” added Holbrook. “At home I am a full-time son, brother, friend, dog-walker and student. When the same place you relax is the same place you work, it is very easy to put things off, especially since we all have nothing but time right now.”
The unique aspect of remote education, paired with deep personal connections, has allowed members of Hanover’s faculty to peek into their students’ lives away from campus.
“I am now learning more about the home lives of my students than I ever knew,” said Glene Mynhardt, assistant professor of biology, “which is a constant reminder that they are all doing their best at adjusting to a new reality that has tested both their resilience as learners and as whole people. I am humbled by the challenges many of them face, while remaining focused on their learning.”
“Life at home is definitely a challenge sometimes,” added Copner. “With three younger siblings, I rarely get a moment of quiet. Now that we are all trying to complete classes under the same roof, it’s not uncommon to hear four different lectures being recited through YouTube at any given time. I think that the hardest adjustment to make, was trying to figure out how to create a similar schedule and routine at home.”
Student-faculty relationships have been an integral part of a Hanover education for nearly 200 years. Though the classroom energy of face-to-face instruction may be hampered, instructors have made it a point to maintain bonds built in the first months of the academic year.
“Students thus far have been really impressive and I have enjoyed witnessing some truly creative approaches to learning,” said Mynhardt. “For many, managing their time has suddenly become a juggling act between chores and jobs at home, babysitting siblings, and in some cases, losing the personal space to focus on school work.”
“The effort given within in-class learning is much different than that here at home,” noted Copner. “I’m very thankful for my professors, as they have been doing their best to minimize the change. They definitely have kept up their end of the bargain regarding the quality of information provided. I think they understand some of the challenges that we face as students and are trying to help address those the best that they can.”
In addition to the massive faculty contributions, many others have played a role in the continuation of the academic year and maintenance of a campus community. The Office of Student Life has provided frequent means of contact, bringing large numbers of students and employees together for online events such as virtual bingo, trivia contests, meditation and yoga. The Gladish Center for Learning and Teaching has provided near-constant academic support from professional staff and student tutors. The Levett Career Center has never wavered in its efforts to connect students with potential employers, internships and alumni mentors.
“I am pleasantly surprised by the amount of community we as Hanoverians have even while off campus,” said Holbrook. “I am surprised by the amount of emails I get from professors that aren't about class, but instead about their day and how I'm holding up. I'm surprised by the group Zoom we had to throw a surprise birthday party for a teammate. I'm surprised by the ways people are finding to stay connected, but I am not surprised that we, as Hanoverians, are still so connected.”
“Everything about this experience has been a surprise,” added Copner. “I’ve found it important just to be present in the current moment, because the experiences we’re making now in quarantine will forever stay with us.”