Penn State students feel isolated, uncertain as in-person classes canceled

  • Min Xian/WPSU

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Penn State student Jacob Klipstein was shocked when Ohio State University announced it would suspend all in-person classes due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I was shocked at the beginning, but by the time Penn State had made that decision, I was kind of already at peace with it,” Klipstein said. “But it was just crazy that higher education universities were seeming to like that we were being forced to go down that path.”

Hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation have canceled in-person classes in response to the coronavirus, including Penn State, leaving college students coming to grips with the changes.

An unofficial spreadsheet by Georgetown University professor Bryan Alexander has been tracking these campus closures. It estimates nearly 300 colleges and universities have moved to online learning so far. Penn State made the shift starting this week.

Klipstein is at home in Stony Brook, New York, and said all his classes are going smoothly. He said many instructors took time to make sure video conferencing works and that they are accommodating, like changing attendance policies.

“Professors have been either dropping them or making them more lenient, because our students really are in very different situations at home than when they’re at school,” Klipstein said. “For students on the West Coast, their 8 a.m.s have now become – it would be a 5 a.m. with a three hour difference. Nine a.m.s are becoming 6 a.m.s.”

Klipstein said he misses the interaction with classmates and professors.

“I’m a better in person learner,” he said. “But you know, we don’t have access to the facilities anymore, which are a big part of going to college. So it feels like parts of the experience you’re not getting.”

Klipstein, a junior in political science, said online learning can be a very isolating experience. But he found a silver lining in seeing some classmates who feel more at ease participating in the virtual environment.

“It was interesting to see online that more and more people are kind of getting involved in the general banter of class,” he said.

As remote learning began on Monday, Penn State’s University Park campus was unusually quiet. Renee Khouri, a senior in veterinary biomedical sciences, was in front of Old Main taking photos in cap and gown that she borrowed from her sister.

“Since I’m graduating in May, I figured I’d just take the time when I can get away from the crowds, practice that social distancing, and then also get some quick pictures in while I’m packing up some stuff to take home,” she said.

Khouri said she considers herself lucky because her belongings are easily retrieved from her off-campus apartment and her classes are transitioning smoothly. She is losing income from her job on campus and hopes there may be some relief on student loans.

Looking ahead, Khouri said she feels uncertainty in applying to grad school.

“Some of them required in person interviews, you know, that will have to be adjusted,” Khouri said. “So, I’m definitely a little nervous. But hopefully, by the time next fall rolls around, we’ll have taken enough measures that that life can go back to normal.”

All of these changes, she said, feel strange.

“Even just simple things, like my mom’s haircut got canceled, you know? It’s kind of setting in how real it is now,” she said.

Penn State announced on Wednesday that remote learning will be extended through the rest of the spring semester and that graduation ceremonies will be postponed.

The university is offering some emergency funds for students and said it will issue prorated reimbursements for housing and meal plans, although the details are not sketched out yet.

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