By RAYMOND L. SMITH
YOUNGSTOWN — The new school year will be unlike any other experienced by Youngstown State University students.
Even those who were attending YSU before the state closed all colleges and universities in mid-March are not sure how the new school year will be, because the state is still experiencing high COVID-19 transmission and death rates.
Madison Chapman, 20, a junior, is glad to be returning, and did not like being forced to take online courses during spring semester.
“I’m a social person, so I wasn’t able to do my best,” she said.
Chapman hopes the state does not get to a point where the university will be forced to go fully online again this year.
“As long as they allow us to be on campus, I will be coming here,” she said. “Even when I’m taking my online courses.”
While most students arriving on campus over the last few weeks have expressed optimism — even excitement — about the new school year, others are concerned about returning this week to in-person and online classes.
Mohamed Konte, 21, a mechanical engineering student, also in his junior year, said his biggest concern is being able to communicate easily with instructors.
“Whether it is online or in person, I want to be able to communicate with my professors when I have questions,” Konte said.
YSU President Jim Tressel sought to reassure students, their parents, and members of the community last week that the university has spent most of the spring and all summer preparing for this fall’s reopening.
“Our No. 1 priority has been student safety,” Tressel said.
The university has hired students to a part of Pete’s Clean Team, which will sanitize high traffic areas, while other students will be part of Penguin Patrol, which will encourage safe social distancing.
Residence halls and classrooms will be no more than 50 percent capacity, so the number of people on campus will be significantly less than in previous years.
The university will encourage students to have smaller gatherings.
Julia Helke, 23, a senior, is keeping her expectations for the new school year low, so she will not be disappointed.
“I’ve tried to black out the last three months of the school year — when we were quarantined — out of my mind,” Helke said.
She just wants to be able to complete the full year in class and on campus.
“Online classes are OK, but I was at home,” she said. “I don’t have a desk, so it was difficult doing my classes while sitting on my bed. I finished with all ‘A’s, but I do so much better in class.”
Canfield resident Jaden Barton, 18, a freshman who seeks a nursing degree, is not allowing the epidemic to dampen her enthusiasm about her first year in college.
“College definitely will be different from what I was expecting, because there will be less people on campus and we’re going to have to wear masks,” she said. “However, I’m not really worried about interactions with other students.”
Freshman student Robert Jefferson, 18, of Chesterland, moved into his dorm last week. A forensics major, Jefferson is not worried about staying on campus or attending classes.
“It seems they’re doing the best they can to keep us safe,” Jefferson said. Although he took some college courses while a high school student, Jefferson expects his experience at YSU will be completely different from anything he has done before — because he is on his own.
“Staying in the dorm is like living in a hotel,” he said. “I feel 100 percent safe. While the room is designed for three it has been arranged for two persons, so we can maintain appropriate social distancing.”
“When coming here, my only concern was the university enforcing rules designed to keep us safe and it appears they are doing so,” Jefferson said. “They have everything set up for this coronavirus.”
Melanie Black, 21, a senior majoring in advertising and public relations, described last spring semester as unexpected and crazy.
“Everything happened so fast,” Black said. “We went on spring break and then school was online only. It was a pretty big adjustment.”
“Considering the circumstance, the university did a pretty good job,” Black said. “Our teachers attempted to make the transition less stressful for students. I think the university did the best job it could considering the circumstances.”
Most of Black’s classes will be online this semester.
“That’s pretty disappointing, because this is my senior year.” she said, adding:”I really don’t want to be in a classroom with a bunch of people.”
Jazmin Pendergrast, 21, of Steubenville, a senior biology student, said her major concern is the university following the modalities that were outlined to the students. These modalities are providing a combination of face-to-face on-campus classes, online off-campus classes and a hybrid mixture of the two.
IN IT TOGETHER
Pendergrast described taking classes primarily online last spring as very stressful.
“There were flaws on both sides,” she said. “For me, it was really about surviving. I had to be more determined not to procrastinate and concentrate on getting my work done when there was not a lot of the pressure I would have felt while on campus.”
Kennedy Romeo, 21, is a senior with a double major in philosophy and sociology as well as a minor in non-profit business. Romeo expects living on campus to be very different from previous years.
“Our interactions will be limited,” Romeo said. “However, with the right planning and good communication, we still will be students. We still will be able to express ourselves.”
Campus events will be different because YSU will work to enforce social distancing guidelines.
“The school will try to keep everything going, but safe,” she said. “We’re all in this together.”
Nadine Jones, 21, a senior majoring in political science and philosophy, is a member of YSU’s student government. She and other student government members spent much of the summer working with YSU officials on plans to reopen. “There were student representatives on every committee,” Jones said.