The lives of the students at The University of Texas at Austin were forever changed when the COVID pandemic began. The school had to undergo many adjustments to meet the needs of the crisis, quickly learning how to do classes remotely while still maintaining the quality of education. In the end, UT did more than a year fully remote before transitioning to a year with hybrid courses, while still maintaining flexibility because of the pandemic.
Finally, this past fall, UT reached its first “new normal” school year. Most classes are in-person and students are returning to more traditional classroom settings. However, the past several years have left their marks, and new ways of studying, working, and socializing are now part of that “new normal.” Students from The University of Texas at Austin have grown accustomed to these new norms as part of their student life which have shaped their educational experiences.
Claudia De La Garza, a fourth year Economics major (Class of 2023), has had the opportunity to experience all stages of the pandemic at UT. In 2020, just before the spring break of her freshman year, she woke up to the news that she had no classes or job, was being forced to return home, and had many questions about what would happen next. Classes did resume after spring break; however they were now very different. Through the next couple of years, university administration and professors worked together on how best to provide educational experiences, and Claudia experienced many diverse modes of learning. All of these changes could have overwhelmed her, but instead she learned that “you have to go with the flow and adapt to the changes in your life that you cannot control.” COVID interrupting Claudia’s college experience was not an ideal situation. However, it was not all bad: she learned valuable lessons throughout this experience and built important skills, such as adaptability, resilience, and effective communication, which will be invaluable for her future professional success.
This semester, all of her classes are in person, and there are no limitations when gathering with friends. However, not everything has gone back to the way it was before COVID. The change that stands out to Claudia the most is the continued prevalence of video conferencing. Before COVID, there was a strong preference in the academic and professional world for in person meetings. In the pandemic, the world was forced to rely more on digital communication. Now, people are more comfortable and appreciate the efficiency that video meetings and other forms of digital communication allow them. Claudia finds that connecting via Zoom is much more effective than sending each other emails, texts, or even phone calls. With their quick setup and time effectiveness, communicating via Zoom or Teams can be much easier to accommodate than all of the steps necessary for setting up an in-person meeting. But beyond ease and efficiency, the comfort that the world now has with video conferencing is changing how people work. As a direct result of all forms of digital communication becoming more prevalent, hybrid and remote jobs are now more common allowing employees to have more control over their lifestyle.
Leonardo Molano is a second-year Civil Engineering Major (Class of 2025) whose first year was characterized by hybrid classes, social distancing, and masks. This is what he expects from his college experience, and therefore this new semester has thrown him off. Leonardo recalls that his professors used to be more lenient during his first year regarding classwork: there were more grade drops, more forgiving late policies, and he felt he had more time to submit assignments. Additionally, classes are now mainly in person, so he has had to learn how to navigate the time constraints of arriving at class on time and the commute between classes. Despite all of the changes, Leonardo says that he likes this new normal so far, saying “I feel I have more freedom to learn and work how I find best.” He feels he can “achieve his full potential” because of the various tools the school has set out for its students.
With this new semester, professors have been more open to conducting office hours in person instead of online, a benefit which Leonardo has used frequently. “It’s obviously more convenient and can be more accessible if the office hours are conducted via Zoom, but I get more out of it when it’s face-to-face.” He believes that, even though with respect to the time commitment, it is still the same, there is more connection when he is face to face with the professor or TA as opposed to meeting virtually. This has helped him to ask better questions, gain more understanding of what is being discussed, and be more actively engaged in the learning.
On a personal note, my first year of college was entirely online. However, that experience helped me be more devoted to my schoolwork and disciplined, because it was up to me to stay up to date with all my classes. Because classes were a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous, I had no choice but to keep up with the assigned readings and lectures, or otherwise, I would fall way behind. This helped me be a better student because it can be easy to skip the readings or pre-class modules and just head into the lecture hoping to learn everything. Even though this semester we are back to mostly in-person classes, I am still using the techniques and habits I developed during the pandemic to help me succeed in my classes.
My experiences over the last two years have helped me become more adaptable. For example, even though I do prefer the modality of an in-person class, I am able to successfully participate in any class modality that I am presented with. The past two years with the combination of remote learning, hybrid, and in-person classes have made me reflect on myself and learn what works best for me when it comes to studying and attending classes. In addition, my work requires me to be flexible and be ready to meet either in person or through Zoom. Thus, I must be able to organize my work to get everything done no matter the modality of the job. My education has not only been academic but also given me experience working in different settings. I know what I need to do my best work and how to achieve that in any modality.
Because of the endurance they have built up and the versatility they have developed during the uncertain period of COVID, this group of students is now better suited to succeeding no matter what the world throws at them. They can take on any problem and find creative ways to adapt to diverse conditions.
Written by Julian Gonzalez, Intern at the Center for Global Business