Joy and gratitude: Spartans reflect on the first week

Posted on August 24, 2021

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(l-r) UNCG visiting scholar Monica Carrillo, Professor and Dean of Lloyd International Honors College Omar Ali, sophomore UNCG student Dana Broadus

UNC Greensboro began another school year last week in the “new normal.” 

While face coverings and social distancing are still part of the University’s public health responsibility, students were excited to be on campus and their professors and student support staff were excited to welcome them, with around 65% of classes face-to-face, around 10% hybrid, and around 25% remote.

As Provost Debbie Storrs said of the “new normal”: It will be what we collectively make of it within the context of the social milieu in which we operate.

To find out what we’ve made of it so far, University Communications visited with several faculty members, students, and staff members on campus during the first week back.

“Pure joy. There’s nothing like connecting with students on the first day of class face to face – with masks on of course! I feel so grateful about all the work that Student Affairs and the university as a whole did to make it possible for us to be back with each other (with students, colleagues, and all). Let’s hope we all stay vigilant and keep everyone safe so that we can take the lessons learned during the pandemic isolation and renew our sense of gratitude to be doing what we do as a deeply caring community of teacher-learners – which includes every single person on campus. There’s no doubt that we are compelled to learn and grow by being with different kinds of people. Doing so in person is a qualitatively richer experience – at least for me.”

-Dr. Omar Ali, Dean and Professor, Lloyd International Honors College

“It’s been great to see all the different students on campus. Last year, I was here and there was no one around. It was a ghost town. But this year, it’s just great to be involved with many different clubs. Yesterday, we had the fall kickoff, and it was great to see how many organizations and events and clubs that we have here on campus this year. Being in class has been great to meet my professors in person and to actually see them, to talk to them, with COVID procedures, and to interact with other classmates. I can ask them questions. There’s people sitting beside me. I can have a study group and get involved with people.”

-Dana Broadus, sophomore English major

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UNCG first-year student Marcus Simmons

“So, the first week was kind of smooth. I didn’t have much trouble getting around. I got lost a few times, but I learned the shortcuts and stuff like that. And with my classes, the workload is not too hard yet, and my professors seem pretty cool. I think the first week was really great, because I learn better being in person, actually being in a classroom with my peers. I’ve eaten a lot and I’ve walked around and met a lot of new people, a lot of very interesting new people.”

-Marcus Simmons, first-year religious studies major

“The start of fall semester is one of the most exciting times for me as a School of Nursing faculty member. This fall is especially exciting with the return of so many students to campus. The excitement of students around campus, and in our new Nursing and Instructional Building especially, is palpable. During an orientation for their first nursing clinical experience, the students were highly engaged and ready to begin the semester. It was obvious to me they were eager to be in person and have contact with each other and with their faculty. I am just as eager to begin connecting with the students over the course of the semester and am so glad to have them back on campus.”

-Brandi Apple, Clinical Assistant Professor, School of Nursing

Being able to be on campus has felt great, having the chance to make more personal connections with my fellow students and my professors. It has also been stressful, and uncertain knowing that COVID is still out there, and everyone is nervous and even hesitant at times about being back.  Overall, though, it has been a fun, exciting, and engaging start. Despite the many concerns regarding COVID, the atmosphere and attitude on campus is wonderful. I am looking forward to the journey, and eager to see what this semester has in store for me, and the rest of the UNCG family. Go Spartans!”

 -Adam Kinser, junior middle grades education major

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Dr. Gabriella Livas Stein

“This week was an amalgam of emotion – excitement to be back on campus, relief of getting back to a routine that did not involve my home office, joy in connecting with students and colleagues face to face, and sadness that our return was marred with anxiety and concern about the Delta variant.

I went into our first in person CAMINOS lab meeting since February of 2019 looking forward to seeing the five graduate students in person again. As we started the meeting, we looked over to the board that had been set up to track our progress on our various research projects across different phases from data collection to publication. The board was frozen in time, and we laughed as I got up and considered where we now were each project represented by a post-it on the board. With glee and applause, we relished in taking off the board all the projects that had been published (yay!) or moving down the board projects from data collection to submission, but a quiet sadness accompanied those projects that had stalled and not moved due to the pandemic.

This moment of levity was bittersweet. I recognized how much I missed these in-person spontaneous interactions of sharing an environment and our emotions together – these moments that did not perfectly translate in Zoom lab meetings as the sound of shared laughter gets muted and muffled or the pain of loss is just a face on the screen. I felt a deep sorrow of all these moments that had been stolen from us of shared humanity.  But ultimately, I felt grateful – to be healthy, to be back, to be surrounded by students who continue to strive and innovate, and to be in their company sharing in our emotions.”

– Dr. Gabriela Livas Stein, Professor and Associate Director of Clinical Training in Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences.

woman on campus
Assistant director of UNCG’s Institute for Community and Economic Engagement Sonalini Sapra

“I joined UNCG’s Institute for Community and Economic Engagement (ICEE) in January 2021 and was working remotely till last month. It was challenging to start a new job in the midst of a pandemic, but I have appreciated being back on campus and getting a chance to meet some of my colleagues in person. I’ve especially loved seeing the increased activity and energy as students have returned to campus. I look forward to learning more about the community-engaged work that faculty, staff, and students are doing and continuing to deepen my relationships within the Greensboro community.”

-Dr. Sonalini Sapra, Assistant Director, Institute for Community and Economic Engagement

“We’re watching our new first-year and transfer students very carefully, as well as our returning sophomores. These students had a great deal of their learning disrupted over the past year and a half, and we’re determined to make sure they have what they need to succeed this academic year. I encourage all students, and these students in particular, to reach out to me or to their instructors at the first sign of academic difficulty. There is a great deal we can do to support learning and point toward good decisions.

-Dr. Andrew Hamilton, Associate Vice Provost for Student Success and Dean of Undergraduate Studies

UNCG first-year students at NAV1GATE

three students on campus
UNCG students at Rawkin’ Welcome Weeks

two women on campus
First-year roommates Laura Bernal-Calvo and Jetzaly Espitia

Story and interviews by Susan Kirby-Smith, with assistance from Dana Broadus and Alexandra McQueen, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane and Jiyoung Park, University Communications
Videography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications


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