Senior journalism students in Rider’s In-Depth Reporting class were asked to examine how members of the Rider community are coping with the switch to online learning and a closed campus. Here are their articles.
Pharmacy work during a pandemic
By Jason Mount
An alarm rings, waking senior biology major Nicki Hatton. She silences it, grumbling as she sits up in her bed. She goes about her morning routine as she would any other morning as a college senior, but instead of gathering books and supplies for class, she dons her uniform and grabs a face mask before heading out the front door to her job.
The changes in her routine are due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a virus that has closed Rider University’s campus, where she is a student and employee with the campus’s Public Safety.
“I’ve been working with them since freshman year,” Hatton said in a Zoom interview. “I used to be a student escort driver, but in sophomore year I moved upstairs as an administrator.”
Hatton smiled as she recalled working alongside “her ladies,” the other administrators in the office. Having to leave Public Safety so suddenly was difficult for her, as she had to say goodbye to co-workers she became close with after 3 ½ years.
“It was hard working those last few days because Public Safety became my family over the past few years,” she said, her brow furrowing. “They have helped guide me for my future plans and just in my everyday life at Rider.”
Hatton has not been able to work for Public Safety remotely, and her employment was terminated following the closing of the campus. However, she still finds work by helping Paul Jivoff, head of Rider’s biology department, on a scientific database for his research on crab larvae.
“Dr. Jivoff’s work is less time consuming,” she said with a casual tone in her voice. “It’s more of an ‘if I have the time then I can work on it’ deal. Dr. Jivoff is very understanding with his students and he made that clear when I took on the job at the start of the semester.”
Hatton also works at a CVS pharmacy as a cashier and deals with customer complaints about products being out of stock.
“It’s absolutely insane,” said Hatton, her eyes widening. “If a customer gets irritated because a prescription cannot get picked up or because we don’t have a certain product like hand sanitizer, thermometers, or paper products, they will tell us they spit on their money before they gave it to us.”
Hatton also mentioned that customers have had a false sense of security after getting tested.
“People are so uneducated about the virus. They think just because they got tested last week and it came back negative that they couldn’t have gotten it since then,” she said.
Amidst the angry customers, however, Hatton said that there are kind people that come into her store as well.
“There are also very nice and thankful people who come in and follow the proper protocol and thank us for working and tell us to be safe,” Hatton said with a grin After the interview concluded, Hatton tied her hair up in a messy bun and started assembling the pieces of her uniform, grabbing her reusable face mask and a mini bottle of hand sanitizer as her defense on the front lines against the coronavirus.
Wary of contracting coronavirus
By Steven Richtmyer
Kailey Banks, a freshman biology major at Rider University, has Type 1 Diabetes and asthma and is currently feeling the coronavirus scare at full capacity.
“Because I am so high risk, my mom won’t let me out of the house,” Banks said, disheartened. “Other people my age will go out and see other people, and if they get sick, it’s like ‘alright, cool,’ and they’ll just sweat it off. They don’t really pay attention to the people they could possibly infect with it because they’re only thinking about them. They’re in high school or college, so they’re not really thinking of the consequences it could really have.”
Banks explained that because of her illnesses, she still needs to be on medication to maintain her health, despite the pandemic running rampant in the streets.
“The pharmacy near me has a drive-through and is still open, so my mom has been going to get them for me,” Banks said with a little giggle. “I can’t live without them, and I have only left the house three times since this whole thing started.”
Since she has been home for an extended amount of time, Banks was ecstatic to get a job in which she sells Cutco knives to people in her area, and she’s able to do it entirely from home via video chat services such as Zoom.
“My one friend from high school told them about me, and they reached out to me, and they interviewed me, and I got the job on the spot,” Banks said with enthusiasm. “I’ve never had a job before so excited! I just finished my training today, so I’m really excited to start working especially since I can work from home with this.”
Moving performance instruction online
By Steven Richtmyer
With Rider’s switch to all-online learning, adjunct theater Professor Ryanne Domingues faced the unique challenge of teaching students how to perform in front of a camera instead of a live audience.
“Some people are still having their classes meet regularly through stuff like Zoom, but my students are all over the place as far as location goes. I have a foreign exchange student from France and other students in different time zones and there are at least two or three people in that class who have jobs, so I was like, ‘I’m not going to make them sit in the Zoom classes every day,’” Domingues explained.
Acting is a very physical art that requires demonstration, practice and explanation of the various techniques that help improve performances, and Domingues has been learning to adapt to the new online classes in her own style.
“I was going to do demonstrations of all of the stuff, but then I found all of these videos online that were literally the demonstrations I was going to do,” Domingues said with a grin. “What I didn’t want [students] to lose was that community of horizontal learning which is basically making sure that my students aren’t just learning from me but also from each other.”
One of the more important factors of the physical classroom that Domingues said she tries to emulate online is the connections that students make between each other so they can grow and develop their skills collectively.
“I made a Facebook page where I post all of my videos for my students to watch,” Domingues said. “I wanted to encourage my students to keep up with each other because I feel that that is an important element of the classroom that’s lost from the switch to online classes.”
Because her classes require students to give presentations to the class due to the nature of the course, her students will submit videos of their performances to her and their classmates to critique.
“It’s unfortunate but it is what it is,” Domingues said. “I’ve been checking in with my students and making sure that they understand the content so that when they record their presentations they can be as good as they can be.”
Missing the connection with students
By Jason Mount
In the early morning haze, Ivan Fuller shuffles in and out of the rooms in his house before his script analysis class starts at 9:45 a.m. sharp. He pours his coffee and gingerly walks into his home office.
In this room, decorated with filled bookshelves, old toys from the ‘80s and stacks of papers, Fuller sits at the computer desk and logs on to the video conferencing platform Zoom, where he looks forward to seeing his students’ faces for an hour and a half.
Going into the new learning platform, Fuller said he knew that he would not get the same interactions and conversations with his students online as he would in person.
“My only concern was purely personal. I knew that I would miss the immediate feedback and connection to the students, the very thing that makes the School of Fine and Performing Arts at Rider so strong,” Fuller explained.
Thus far, though, Fuller said he believes his classes have not suffered from a transition to remote education, and that students are participating the same way they would in a classroom.
“I think [my classes] have gone well,” he said. “My theater history class was already set up for online instruction. My script analysis class has been going well. It really doesn’t feel that different from when we were face-to-face, as far as how the class is running and how the students are contributing.”
Before declaring the remainder of the semester to be online, Rider first announced an extended spring break. Upon hearing this, Fuller questioned what an extra week was needed for, and rationalized it was necessary to help other faculty members get comfortable with online education.
“At first I wondered why we needed to wait an extra week, but that thought was almost immediately followed by the realization that most of my fellow teachers had never taught online before and were going to need that extra week to get fully up to speed,” Fuller said. “I also knew when the university announced that we would be online for the rest of the semester that this would not only be the right move for everyone’s safety, but it was also the wise move for the students.”
Fuller explained that, since the announcement came during spring break, it would give students time to adjust to their new class setting and hopefully remain that way until the end of the school year.
“If we then went back to in-person for the final week or two of the semester, the roughness of that transition would not be good at all,” he said.
The theater professor expects unification never seen before once quarantines and social distancing ends, and thinks this time will teach people to truly value each other.
“I’m expecting a joyous explosion of hugs,” Fuller said as a wide smile spread across his face. “We’ve been taking our existence as a social species for granted and this event is hopefully making people realize how important it is to hold each other close, to care for each other and to be respectful. I just think there will be an awful lot of smiles.”
A new puppy and a 21st birthday stuck at home
By Steven Richtmyer
Julia McMaster is a junior graphic design major who, in particular, has felt the impact ever since the pandemic caused Rider University to close its doors.
“I got laid off from my job, so I have not had work… and I’ve just been at the house,” McMaster said with a somber tone.
To help herself cope with these difficult times, McMaster decided to adopt a new pet called Penny, to be a companion to her and her other dog, Ringo.
“I got a puppy a couple of weeks ago and I have not been back to school or work since then,” McMaster said with a giggle. “I’ve really just been dealing with her this entire time so that has been keeping my mind off of everything. It’s good though because I have more time with her, but also she’s crazy and it takes a lot of time and effort and since I can’t leave to go to school or work to get away from it for a little bit so it is a bit draining.”
As a self-proclaimed introvert, McMaster has found some solace in the extra alone time she has received, but the stress of attending class has been replaced by something else entirely.
“It’s nice to not have to go to class and not have to go to work, but when you’re also worrying about money and the fact that these online classes are much harder than the regular classes, it has gotten really stressful. Like, for example, my pop and rock class literally used to be going to class 6:30 to 9:30 at night and listening to music all night and having a short conversation at the end and leaving. Now we have to do paragraphs of work every week,” she explained.
Not only is she stressed with academic and financial struggles, but she’s bummed about how she’ll be stuck at home during her upcoming 21st birthday.
“I guess I’m just going to sit at home and eat cake,” McMaster said deflatedly. “We have a tradition where whenever someone turns 21, all the siblings will take them out to the bar and we get drinks, but I guess that’s not going to happen, at least not now.”
An unconventional senior year
By Brianne Remy
Sibel Siglam, a senior education major at Rider University, has had a rough time coming to terms with how her final college semester is playing out. Online classes and the cancellation of campus activities were not part of her plan.
“Not only am I a senior, but I’m also a student-teacher. The transition has definitely been difficult for me to adjust to,” said Siglam about her experience.
Not only has Siglam struggled with the transition to online classes, but her mother is also a single parent navigating this hard time while supporting three children.
“She’s doing the best she can. She’s an essential worker,” said Siglam about her mom. “We’re very grateful she can still work.”
As a senior, Siglam had been awarded The Carol Messersmith Memorial Endowed Scholarship and Literacy Education Award and was one of two students that were asked to speak at a luncheon that has been canceled due to COVID-19.
Rider University has postponed its graduation ceremony until Nov. 1, to coincide with the annual Homecoming and Family Weekend.
“Because I’ve overcome so much hardship in my life, I’ve always known I’m going to be OK after the pandemic,” explained Siglam. “However, my heart still hurts knowing I don’t get to have the experiences I’ve been looking forward to.”
Freshman missing out
By Brianne Remy
Rider University is among the many colleges across America who have closed their campus due to the spread of COVID-19, preventing freshmen students like Sydney Gold from fully experiencing their first year of higher education.
Gold, a freshman organizational psychology major, said she was saddened by the closing of Rider’s campus.
“Having the semester cut short was especially hard because a lot of the learning is now done on my own time, the online learning is new for everyone so it’s not flawless, so the material is a lot harder to retain,” explained Gold.
Because the campus is now closed, many events have been postponed, moved to alternate dates, and even canceled.
Gold is in Greek life and a member of other organizations, and she expressed her discontent with no longer being able to live out freshman year with her friends.
However, Gold stayed positive in a time of uncertainty.
When asked if there would be any good to come from this hard time, Gold said, “Surprisingly, yes I think that trying to adapt to this scenario is going to help schools everywhere to adapt in a much quicker fashion if ever needed again.”
Campus jobs cancelled
By Brianne Remy
With Rider’s campus closed, many students like junior global studies major Ashley Sherry have found themselves out of work and without a means of money.
“I was the manager at the information desk in the Bart Luedeke Center,” she said. Like many student workers at the university, Sherry has stopped working. On April 27, the university announced that only essential student workers will continue working through July and August, and Sherry does not know when she will return back to her job on campus.
“I was a little bit concerned because it was a source of income, and just to have that abruptly stopped throws you for a little,” said Sherry. Like many students across the country, Sherry finds herself doing homework after online classes and other activities to fill her time at home.
“I think that the school is taking the right precautions to not let us back until we are cleared for it,” explained Sherry. “Although, I do believe that there could be better ways for remote learning to take place.”
Hoping for a return to campus in the fall
By Jason Mount
In her brightly-lit bedroom, junior theater major Lauren Rejent types in the room code for her acting class’s video conference. Before entering, she opens her door and calls to the house that class is starting and requests relative quiet and privacy. She shuts her door and enters the video conference, eager to learn but distracted by the thought of a family member interrupting.
After Rider University switched to remote education due to concerns over coronavirus, many students, including Rejent, started worrying about the new environments they would have to continue their schoolwork in, as well as the fear of the pandemic.
“I think Rider’s decision made reality set in that things are really bad and it’s genuinely unsafe to be at school right now,” Rejent said. “I honestly didn’t even consider the learning part right away because I was just kind of scared about the world in general. When the remote learning part set in, I knew I was never going to get anything done because I live in a house with five other people.”
Rejent had been a commuter student for the 2019-2020 school year, but said that with curfews and quarantine procedures in effect, her house would be more populated than usual, making it difficult to focus on her work.
“I have all performance-based classes and knew I would constantly be having
to do monologues, which would be next to impossible with the number of people in my house,” Rejent said, a singular eyebrow arched as she glanced toward her bedroom door. “I also knew the internet was going to be a problem because everyone in my house would be using it at the same time.”
While her workload has lessened, the acting student still feels worried about her
performance class assignments and is concerned about how effective her work will be in a video conference.
“A lot of my fine and performing arts classes are still the same, just over video,” she said. “I think it’s really hard to be productive from an acting perspective over webcam so it’s definitely caused a lot of anxiety.”
Despite this, Rejent has hopes that this experience will help better prepare her for any unforeseen situations that arise in her career.
“I’m sure it’ll make me a stronger actor in the end,” she said.
After three weeks away from Rider’s campus, Rejent started feeling the effects of separation from her peers and teachers, saying she felt better in a physical classroom and that she learned more.
“I really miss the people,” she said. “It’s hard to go from being with your friends every day to suddenly having no idea when you’ll see them next. I also was definitely getting more out of my education when I was there in person as well.”
Despite the anxiety, she does not feel despair at the idea of the rest of the semester being moved to online learning, as she has a final year at Rider left to cherish all of the memories that can be made on campus, and the time she can spend with friends.
“I think it’ll be extra sweet to see everyone again. I’m excited for a whole new sense of community after everything that’s been happening,” Rejent said.
Across the country
By Jason Mount
As colleges across the country close their campuses and switch to electronic learning, some of their students pondered how they would effectively move out. Students who lived across the country from where they attended school had short notice to pack up their entire lives and transport it back home. This was the case for junior english major Dan Arroyo.
Arroyo lives near the west coast, so when Rider University announced it was extending its spring break and possibly moving classes online, he worried about the travel.
“Even though there’s a big percentage of students who live in or nearby New Jersey, I’m not one of them,” said Arroyo. “I live in Las Vegas and I was concerned how I was going to get back home knowing how dangerous traveling is in this climate.”
Arroyo was also concerned about the transition itself, as he had never taken classes online before.
“Having to switch to this so abruptly can be jarring for people especially if their classes are difficult to translate to an online form,” he said.
Now, after having been in remote instruction for four weeks, Arroyo said he lucked out with his classes.
“Most of my work is now just discussion posts or essay assignments,” he said. “But I feel luckier than other majors who are probably figuring out how to transition the course work as they go.”
Although his workload is easier than expected, Arroyo said he still misses being at Rider, and misses the feeling of being there.
“I just miss physically being in a classroom setting and being able to discuss in class,” said Arroyo. “Although Zoom has helped to fill in that gap, it can only do so much as a classroom replacement. It seems like everything is now just turning in an assignment because there isn’t that in-class atmosphere anymore.”
Above all, Arroyo worried that his quickly-approaching senior year will be squandered by the pandemic just like the class of 2020.
“If anything I’ll be ecstatic to go back to campus in the fall if it opens,” Arroyo said. “I do not want to remember the last year of my college experience being home and having to do online classes because of this pandemic. I understand if campus is still closed by then, but I will truly be heartbroken to have my last fall semester gone.”