Community renewed: Mid-Semester Reflections

Posted on October 19, 2021

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Assistant Professor Annie Jeng and music student Julian Veney

Students and faculty have returned to UNC Greensboro after Fall Break, with new energy to take on the second half of the semester as the cool autumn weather slips in. Many have enjoyed the renewed sense of community at UNCG this semester, after living in a virtual-only world last year. Events may host fewer people, with social distancing, masks, and other COVID-19 precautions, but Spartans are on campus, connecting with and learning from each other, working hard to progress in their academic careers, to gain in their understanding of the world and its issues, and to build our rich, diverse campus environment.

Jake Robertson, post-baccalaureate certificate in performance studies

“Playing isn’t as fun as it could be without the performance masks, but I’m happy to be on UNCG’s campus where I can practice outside without them. Last year, I was at the University of Maine, so it was too cold to do this. This semester, I got to play my first concert for a live audience in 18 months. Finally playing for an audience again was really nice. I’ve played concerts during the pandemic, but without an audience, so I almost forgot what it was like to hear applause after performing. I had to remind myself, ‘Right, there are people in the world that want to sit and listen to me perform.'”

Caroline Woods, sophomore student-athlete

“I’ve known since my freshman year of high school that I wanted to play college soccer. It hasn’t been what any of us expected, simply because of COVID, but our coaches and the other players have made things the best they possibly can be. It’s been fun, and it’s been so rewarding. Every day at 7:30 a.m. we come out here for practice, and any success starts with that work.

College is really hard. It just is. It’s hard. There are a lot of aspects that go into it. I’m lucky I grew up with an older sister. But on this team, I treat the older players like big sisters and the younger players like little sisters. Everyone has such a good connection on this team. They are such good women and such good role models. They work so hard. They push me, and that means a lot to me because I know it’s because they want me to be better, on and off the field. We’re always checking up on each other, making sure each other is OK. We’re all from such different backgrounds, even different countries. But I came in here, and I immediately felt like part of a family. We love each other.”

Luiz Osorio, undergraduate in history

“I’m from Brazil, which kind of explains the accent, right? This has been an intensive and unusual semester. Having seen almost two years of pandemic, most of us have grown accustomed to the daily restrictions and procedures imposed by COVID. It’s astonishing how we naturally do things that were so unnatural just 18 months ago. Coming back to campus after the summer, I noticed the small things we do that simply weren’t there before, like avoiding close contact, seating naturally away from others independently of rules, and saying ‘stay safe’ instead of simply ‘goodbye.’ 

Despite all of this, people seem much more optimistic than last term. Going forward, everyone is finally acting like the worst is behind us, and things will get better. I’d gotten used to seeing people wearing masks, so it’s strange sometimes to see whole faces again. And I catch myself sometimes, when I’m getting near a group, asking myself, ‘Is this safe? Should I be here or not?’ I’ve struggled with that.

But it also gives me hope. At this point, I see all successful events as a victory and a step towards rebuilding our sense of community. That optimism is what I’m most looking forward to in the future.”

Dr. Pradyumna Pradhan, Lecturer of Chemistry

“There’s been a big demand for in-person classes. Even if attendance is not mandatory, all of the students will show up to class, and they tell me how much they enjoy it. 

At one point this semester, a student asked me to go over a concept again because she didn’t understand. I went to the board and started explaining it again, and she shouted, ‘Aha! I get it now!’ The student and the whole classroom started laughing because we were all so genuinely happy that she got the concept. Genuine moments like that make me happy to be a teacher. 

When they are in person, they actually learn something. There’s this whole feedback loop where everyone is happy and giving off the same energy, which impacts the learning. And you don’t get that when it’s online and everyone’s muted and their screens are black. You can compare it to the gym. When you buy a treadmill and put it in your living room, you don’t use it. But when you’re in the gym surrounded by people with the same goal as you, you feel motivated. The same goes for the classroom. When everyone has one objective, they impact each other unintentionally and create a positive energy.” 

Julian Veney, junior music major

“When I took my gap year, it was right when the pandemic was really kicking off, and school had kind of shut down and everything in the state had shut down. And that was sort of the last memory that I had of going to school. I remember doing the transition from, you know, going to classes in person every day to shifting to doing everything online. I remember doing piano lessons online – I hated that. And then taking that year off and coming back this year was very revitalizing for me. I think that for most people my age, when they decide to go to school, it’s usually because that’s what your parents think you should do and that would be the best for you. I think taking that year off was really helpful for me, because I got to decide: Do I really want to pursue my education? Do I really want this degree? Why do I want it? What do I want to use it for? And probably the one thing that really motivated me to come back was the relationships that I have fostered here from the beginning. Being here at the School of Music is really special because of the connections that I’ve made and the people that I’ve been able to meet. And that’s something that I wouldn’t really trade for anything in the world.”

Xhenet Aliu, Associate Professor of Creative Writing

“I was nervous this semester because this is my first time teaching Intro since the pandemic. Intro really relies on trust and intimacy. The workshop can be intense. It’s a vulnerable place. I was concerned because we usually sit in a circle. Well, you can’t do that now. We’re usually looking straight at each other, but we can’t do that, either, because everyone has to face forward. But we’ve had fun in there, and that’s a relief. It feels normal to be in a class.

There is this kind of ego in teaching, where when things go well you’re like, ‘Yes! I did a great job.’ But when things don’t go so well you think, ‘What did I do? How did I mess this up?’ I’ve had conversations this semester with students who are struggling with real things – things that aren’t necessarily academic but come out in their academics naturally. When I’ve had these conversations with students and asked, ‘Do you feel committed to this process? Is there anything I can do to help?’ The responses I’ve gotten from several of them are, ‘I actually really need this class.’ And it’s not for course credit. It’s because it’s affirming their humanity in a way. It’s a writing class and it’s expressive. And you have a really good group of people reading each other’s work, and being supportive and encouraging. English and creative writing get a lot of flak for not being so-called ‘practical’ majors, but it’s the most practical thing in the world because humanity matters.”

Hazael Mengesha, SGA President, junior kinesiology student

“This semester has been a lot – I’m not going to lie – but not in a bad way. Coming back to campus after has been exciting, especially because I get to see a lot of people who I used to hang out with my freshman year, and I can catch up with them again. Even walking around campus itself is love. Everyone has been engaging with one another, and we’re getting back to the community-based atmosphere we’ve always been known for. We have a really engaging student body. I feel like anyone can find their niche on this campus and just seeing different groups of people come together is what I really enjoy. You know, I don’t feel like we’re exclusive –  we’re more inclusive.

And after seeing the way our University’s administration has been able to navigate through this pandemic, I am really looking forward to more of the safe in-person events we are going to continue to have. This semester, I’ve been blessed to step into the role of student body president, and being a student leader has to be one of the most meaningful things to happen to me. I get to connect with more individuals, and I’m constantly learning new things. As for next semester – well, I’ve never gotten to experience an actual normal spring semester in college, so I can’t wait for that! Getting as close to that as I can is the goal, honestly.”

Dr. Elizabeth Perrill, Associate Professor of Art History

“I tend to bike or walk to work every single day. I made myself not buy a parking pass this semester on purpose. For my own health, I find that my mood changes a lot when I’m doing that. By foot, or by bike, I’m out, I’m seeing students and colleagues, potentially even if they’re behind a mask, and they’re just walking too. It’s nice, right?  

I’m still completely online for my teaching because I have a class of 140 which is a standard kind of large-scale art history class. I’m excited to get back into a face-to-face classroom in the Spring. In my advanced class, modern and contemporary African art, students have been working on researching African artists to prepare to edit their Wikipedia pages. And they are picking truly amazing sculptors, performance artists, painters, and more. It’s a joy when I am able to learn more about my own field alongside my students

I’m the director of the Humanities Network and Consortium. It’s been fun, because we’ve actually started up our cafés again at the Weatherspoon, a once-a-month panel discussion. And I think that those moments of having on-campus discussions where you can have students from different disciplines faculty, in the same room discussing the same topic are critical for feeling like it’s campus again. It’s just been refreshing to know that we’re creating those informal moments of discussion. Because sometimes we think of the university campus as being in class, but we don’t remember that having coffee, seeing people walk in, having extracurricular things  – you get to go open your mind to something new. And that’s what the humanities are about and what college is about. It’s about going and finding the unexpected.”

Colby Borges, senior chemistry major

“Although this semester is still different with the safety precautions in place, many of us, including myself, returned to campus masked up and ready to be in person with the same ambition and excitement that we have had in typical semesters. Being able to interact with friends, colleagues, and professors on campus is what excites me the most, and even though the masks can be a nuisance at times, I would rather suffer through wearing them than not be able to be on campus at all. It was wonderful to see the Fall Kick-off occur on schedule, and it’s great to see intramural sports and other extracurricular activities going on, showing that we can bring enjoyment to campus while still minimizing exposure, which is just remarkable. It’s hard to pinpoint one particularly meaningful moment since returning to campus because I’ve already made so many wonderful memories, but being able to grab a coffee or meet with my professor and mentors again has been a real treat. Not to mention the return of Homecoming! If you were a freshman last year, I can only imagine how hard it was to be a part of a major change in college, but I will say that it’s great to see a parade of students marching down College Ave while shuffling between classes.” 

Dr. DeAnne Brooks, Associate Professor of Kinesiology

“This has been another unique semester. Not quite like how we were pre-March 2020, but also not like how we were last year. I’d say this semester has been a hybrid – still lots of meetings on Zoom, and I’m teaching two classes online, but I’m back in the face-to-face classroom for one class, and I also get to see colleagues in a few face-to-face meetings.  

I’m still hyper aware of staying socially distanced while also trying to find those human connections. I’m a pretty laid-back person though, so I’ll continue going with the flow and making the best of each day. 

Even though two of my classes are online, I’ve still been able to build relationships with the students. Of course, it’s tough to meet and connect via Zoom, especially with 45-100 students in a class, but I make space for them to share and converse during our online meetings to encourage interaction. I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of them. Last week, I checked in at the end of class to see ‘how’s it going?’ This was a class that I typically teach face-to-face, and I was worried that students weren’t getting the same quality experience online. In addition, we were discussing issues of diversity and inclusion that day, and those conversations must be handled with care. In the online setting, I wasn’t able to use all of my clues, such as body language, to evaluate how students were responding to the lesson. But, to my pleasant surprise, several students unmuted to say they appreciated the discussion, they’re enjoying the class, and they feel they’ve already learned a lot this semester. Their feedback really made my day! 

The atmosphere on campus is amazing. I’m happy that the students have more opportunities to interact with each other. I was on College Avenue early in the semester when all of the student clubs and organizations were set up. Folks were talking and smiling and making new connections. I feel for them – 2020 and 2021 have been tough for a number of reasons. I love to see students happy and having a good time while they’re here.” 

Malcolm Ford ’20 , first-year nursing student

“This semester has been hard, but rewarding since it’s my first semester in the nursing program. I’ve really liked going to clinicals, I’m just so excited to learn. My biggest accomplishment this semester was making a 99 on my first exam. I was really excited because I’m not the best test-taker, but I do a lot of hard work. I really struggled doing online learning last year, so to be able to connect with my teachers this year and have them really get to know me and help has made all the difference. It means a lot to be one step closer to my dream of being a nurse. These have been some of the hardest classes I’ve had in my college career. It’s been a lot, and it’s only part of the way, but any step you take is a big step. I’ve been trying to be a nurse since I was 14. I’m 23 now, so I’m almost there.” 

Kathy Goodkin, English graduate student and teaching associate

“The beginning of this semester was so much fun. It felt like everyone came in with a little extra enthusiasm for being in person together after a long period where in-person options were limited. I’m a first-year PhD student, and it’s been a joy to be able to meet and get to know my cohort in person. I think in the past, I would have taken that for granted. I don’t know if it’s because of a renewed sense of excitement or the general culture at UNCG, but everyone has been supportive and kind. My favorite thing is that the community is truly collaborative; I have found that I can go to any of my colleagues or professors to talk through any teaching or research questions, and my work is benefitting hugely from these conversations. I’m teaching a writing class, and it has been incredibly meaningful to me to watch my students develop as writers. I’ve been impressed by the student ethos here because everyone seems to be engaged and willing to try new things. My students will jump into really challenging writing assignments and I admire that.

Coming onto campus every day, what I notice most is the wide diversity of demographics, how different all of the students are and how there’s diversity along different measures. I see students engaging outside in really unlikely and interesting combinations, which I think is really cool, too. I really like to sit outside and read when I have time between classes, I like to sit by the Minerva statue. That’s probably not exciting to most people. But I think it’s so pretty over there. And I like the benches. And I really like watching students on the swing. People who go on the swing over there to blow off steam.  I think that’s my most common space that I just go hang out. Or I hide in the library sometimes, too. That’s another fun thing I like to do is just find a corner of the library that no one will ever find me in break and just read, right? That’s one of the nicest things about any campus, but I think UNCG has a lot of those spaces, like surprise spaces that you can find in little areas.”

Annie Jeng, Assistant Professor of Music

“It’s already so different than last year – the building was basically empty last year. I mean, I couldn’t come in and find a parking spot in like a minute. The first week or so, it was definitely overwhelming to have a building full of students, but it also had this energy to it that was really welcoming. I think we were all missing it, we were craving it, to be around people once again. But having such an extreme shift is a lot I think, for staff, faculty, and students. And so, at times it’s overstimulating to have all of that happening around you. And then for me, too, it was just going back to a busy schedule again. Even though we were busy last year, it was a different kind of busy. And going from not being in person at all to being all in person, it’s a lot and I’m extremely tired at the end of my days, every single day. But it’s so wonderful to see my students in person and to work with them and to engage with them. And I think we’re all just happy to be on campus once more.”

Story and interviews by Susan Kirby-Smith, Alexandra McQueen, and Jeff Mills, University Communications
Photography by Jiyoung Park and Martin W. Kane, University Communications


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