After a bit of a wait, Eastern Mennonite University sophomore Abby Olmstead is finally on campus and she is “pumped to be back,” she said. “My favorite thing about EMU is its welcoming atmosphere, and that has not changed even amidst all of the chaos happening in the world right now. It’s amazing to see everyone again, even if I can only see two-thirds of their faces!”
This weekend marked a big moment for EMU’s first-year students, transitioning into college life. The Class of 2024 is the largest in four years and includes students from 15 states and seven countries, said Jason Good, vice president for innovation and recruitment. A few other key stats: The top five majors are nursing, biology, business administration, computer science and engineering. Nearly 30 percent identify as first-generation college students. And they enter with an average GPA of 3.67.
Olmstead, a Broadway resident, was one of many returning students thrilled to be back together again after months of pandemic separation.
“The last few days have been full of happy reunions,” said junior Jessie Landis, a Community Assistant in Parkwoods Apartments. “Many of us have not seen our friends in person since March, so even though we could not all give each other hugs, we have ‘embraced’ each other with joyous shouting and waving.”
Approximately 42 Residence Life staff, including full-time professional staff and those who are students like Landis, are helping nearly 450 residential students transition into a new world of protocols designed with the aim of all-campus health and wellness.
Move-in this year, usually a fun, but hectic, one-day experience, was carefully scheduled over four days. With arrival delayed by two weeks due to cautions over a handful of positive COVID tests, many of the planned in-person activities happened in the virtual space. Before their arrival, students participated in several online events, including a mandatory training that outlined the new campus health protocols and processes.
Dean of Students Shannon Dycus was excited to welcome students after months of preparation and the additional two-week delay. “As we live into community and our ‘COVID Commitments,’ our health protocols become the highest priority to continue enjoying this privilege of being together,” she said, reflecting on the weekend. The ‘COVID Commitments” are a special pledge from all members of the EMU community to share in the responsibility of protecting each other and practicing safe behaviors.
Before entering the residence halls, students were required to show that they had been issued a “green dot” by EMU’s symptom tracker. All students, faculty and staff are required to access the online symptom tracker daily. The green dot means no symptoms are reported. Pictured is Sue Cockley, dean of the School of Theology, Humanities and Performing Arts, one of several administrators who volunteered to greet students and parents during the check-in process.
Each student signed up for a one-hour time slot and could bring just one helper into the residence halls. This reduced congestion in the halls and limited exposure inside the hall for all student-residents, Community Assistants and Residence Directors.
With students already entering the third week of the fall semester, there was homework to be done, but also time for get-to-know-you physically distanced activities such as games on the Turf Field and a campfire (with ice cream on the side!) in Park Woods. Students attended activities in “household groups” (aka “pods”). These students share common areas within residence halls and apartments.
Asha Beck, a junior CA in Parkwoods, said the Campus Activities Council activities attracted new and returning students. “I think there was even a small jam session that broke out between a couple of new students,” she added. Even with all the planned events and the adjustment to being around people after months of quarantine, the “main activity was sitting outside to talk and study with friends… I was impressed and encouraged by how much care for safety students were already taking while still being able to connect and socialize together.”
Local jazz funk band KojoMojo played on Thomas Plaza Sunday night for an audience of returning students. Campus Activities Council hosted this event and offered free Tropical Smoothies to those who came to listen to the music.
The concert closed out CAC activities for the weekend, but the CAs continue their plans to build community within the new physical distancing protocols.
Beck and Landis are sharing CA responsibilities this semester because of their courseload and other involvements around campus. The duo are excited for the coming year as they get to know Parkwoods residents and new students who bring “ fresh energy and perspectives.”
“I know that this is said every year, but we really do have an incredible group of CAs this year,” Beck said. “I am so excited to work together with them to get creative about programming and ways of interacting together.”
Now back to Abby Olmstead for some final words. Like all EMU students, she started the fall semester online and has just two more days before she sets foot into a real, not virtual, college classroom: “I don’t think online classes are really anyone’s ideal way of learning, but I’ve been able to stay positive about it … That being said, we return to in-person classes on Thursday and I can’t wait!”