While new places and new faces are always part of the freshman college experience, the pandemic ensured that first-year college students around the globe could expect the unexpected. Fortunately for St. John’s Class of 2024, the University spent months preparing its campuses and virtual spaces for their arrival in August, so that their college experience, and the experiences of returning students, would be both safe and enriching.
With the fall semester complete, members of the freshman class reflected on their first few months as members of the St. John’s community.
Leah Minerve was among the very first students on campus for the start of the Fall 2020 semester. As a resident of Maryland—a state included in New York’s COVID-19 travel advisory—she arrived at the Queens, NY, campus on August 1 so she could quarantine for two weeks in the Residence Village.
After completing her quarantine, Leah met her roommate, Marlie—and they have become great friends. “The best thing about living on campus is my roomie,” she said. “We get along so well, and we have really connected.”
Business major Anthony Romano echoed that sentiment. “The best part of living on campus was becoming great friends with my suitemates in Hollis Hall,” said the resident of East Rockaway, NY. “While we could not always connect with others because of coronavirus protocols, it gave me more time to bond with my roommates.”
Similarly, commuter student Michael Marceda was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to make friends on campus. “As a commuter, I did not think I would be able to meet people this year—but I was wrong,” said the graduate of Lynbrook High School. “I made friends in my major and we all worked together throughout the semester on different projects and assignments.”
Kadijah Rahim, a first-generation college student from Richmond Hill, NY, explained how St. John’s tight-knit community made her feel at home, right from the start. “Back in August, I was nervous, but excited,” she said. “I realized there was nothing to be worried about because St. John’s feels so much like a family. From the encouraging teachers to my supportive friends, I have everything I need to succeed here.”
On campus, safety measures were implemented by the University in order to ensure the safety of the St. John’s community and help slow the spread of the virus. For example, every member of the St. John’s community needs to complete a COVID-19 self-screening survey each day in order to receive a campus pass.
“The campus pass ensures that everyone coming to campus is symptom-free,” said Christopher Bhola, an Actuary Science major. “It greatly reduces the chance of allowing the virus to spread on campus.”
Once on campus, students found a wide range of safety protocols in place, as the University closely followed the guidelines for higher education provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Department of Health.
“We all had to undergo temperature checks before entering the dining halls,” said Leah. “Tables and desks were spaced apart and there were sanitizing wipes for everyone to use.”
Christopher added, “In all of my classes on campus, everyone would wear their masks at all times and there was never a situation where classrooms felt overcrowded.”
Thanks to efforts of the entire St. John’s community and adherence to safety protocols, the University completed the fall semester without any COVID-19-related closures.
Over the course of the Fall 2020 semester, students attended a mix of in-person, hybrid, and fully remote classes.
“I appreciated the fact that I was able to be on campus and physically be in a classroom some of the time,” said Kadijah. “That mix gave me a genuine college experience, one in which I was able to meet new people, attend in-person lectures, and explore campus—all while feeling safe and comfortable.”
A Journalism major, Leah was grateful for the extra effort put forth by her professors to ensure both a safe and fruitful learning environment. “My literature professor, Maureen Daniels, went above and beyond to ensure that our learning environment was both comfortable and interactive,” she said. “She believes that the best way to learn new material is by engagement—and that helped me tremendously in her course.”
“Professors in my remote classes made sure that we had time for group work so we could connect with other students,” Christopher said. “That was especially important to me as a freshman.”
As students enjoy some respite from their studies, they already look forward to returning to classes in late January for the start of the Spring 2021 semester.
“I hope that we can continue staying safe, while also learning more in our new classes,” said Christopher. “I am excited to have some more in-person classes so I can form and create new connections. I also hope to become involved in more clubs and learn about internship opportunities.”
Even though he has only just completed his first semester of college, Michael is already thinking about his long-term plans; he would like to one day enroll in St. John’s School of Law. “However, in the immediate future, my goals are to stay in touch with my new friends and continue to achieve good grades,” he said.
A member of the Muslim Students Association, Kadijah is looking forward to reconnecting with fellow members after the break. “Having this community to call my own and feel so loved and supported, was amazing,” she said. “Despite everything that is happening in the world, I am beyond grateful to St. John’s for giving me a wonderful freshman experience.”