By Olivia Hickey

Most if not all University of Connecticut organizations had to make adjustments to their daily operations due to the pandemic – including UConn Learning Communities.

Amanda Wilde is a program coordinator in UConn’s Learning Community offices. Wilde said that students made the decision to join a learning community before the university announced its adjusted housing plans to accommodate the coronavirus. She said regardless of a student’s housing status, students have maintained their membership status.

“As information started coming out about the fall, we met and decided that every student that was admitted to the learning community should still be able to participate regardless of where they’re living,” Wilde said.

UConn Learning Communities created this video below back in May to remotely welcome new members.

Helena DeBald is also a program coordinator in the Learning Community offices. Part of DeBald’s responsibilities include planning activities and enhancing community building within the various communities. DeBald said some events have been moved online while other in-person events follow regulations.

One activity introduced during the pandemic was podcasting. DeBald said the establishment of the “My First Year Story,” a podcast focusing on the stories from guests’ first year of college, produced by students, has been a silver lining to the pandemic.

“I think that says a lot about our students at UConn that they want to support each other, they want to help each other, they want to have these projects that they can do to really make a difference at UConn even in the midst of dealing with all the stuff we’re dealing with individually,” she said.

DeBald said the office tried to allow learning community students living on campus to be assigned the same buildings as community members. She said these students follow the same regulations as other on-campus residents. 

“The living experience for those who are on campus really is transformed by living with their peers who are also taking classes with them and having these sort of shared experiences,” DeBald said.

Residents of Eddy Hall, the home of multiple learning communities, and Belden Hall, where the Business Connections Learning Community resides, were placed under a mandatory quarantine as a result of a spike in COVID-19 cases earlier this semester. Wilde said students followed the same rules in quarantine as non-members.

“So those RAs, so those folks are kind of able to check in and make students are doing okay and still being able to participate and as with like a lot of things on campus a majority of things are happening virtually this year,” Wilde said. “So students who were, or are, in quarantine and feeling well enough to be able to participate in activities and events and classes can still continue to do so.”

Both coordinators give credit to their student leaders for the work they put into the communities. Wilde said the student leaders and the Learning Community Executive Council have been responsible for coordinating activities to connect students living on and off campus.

“They’re also doing things like planning activities or you know going with a few people to get lunch or dinner taking a walk on Horsebarn Hill,” Wilde said. “So we have some really amazing student leaders that are really helping this semester.”

Third-semester psychological sciences and spanish double major and floor mentor for the Global House Learning Community, Izadora Yarnall, is living off-campus this semester. Yarnall said that since half of the students in the learning community are international and exchange students, time zone differences can be challenging to work around when planning events.

“[We’re] trying to do a lot of virtual events and playing with the time zones as well, so trying make sure that we do events later at night to accommodate our students who are in China obviously facing the extreme time difference from us as well as to just stay active on social media and other things to make sure that regardless of where you are in the world, you can still feel a little bit connected to us and UConn as a whole,” Yarnall said.

But Yarnall admires students’ strength to get through the semester.

“I’m very impressed by how they’re able to adapt online learning as well as meeting friends in a different context and everything in general and just making those connections,” Yarnall said. “So although it looks different I’m honestly really floored by how well everyone is doing.”

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