Fall term brings a new year of opportunities—and a new chapter in the fight against COVID-19. Whatever lies ahead, we’re stronger when we move forward together.
The start of this school year is different for all of us.
For some, it is their first time stepping foot on campus. For others, it marks the return after 18 months of remote work and learning. Others still have been working, learning, and researching on campus all along.
The last year and a half has changed us all, but now we have the chance to once again walk through a bustling campus.
What you need to know
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Sit in a classroom with fellow Ducks. Hang out on the quad. Study with classmates at the EMU or Knight Library. Have impromptu conversations with coworkers in the lab or hallway. Catch a game or work out with friends. Bump into classmates walking along 13th Avenue.
“Log off of Zoom and once again be present with one another.”
We are better equipped to handle the virus. We know masks and vaccines work. With an overwhelming majority of us vaccinated, new testing protocols in place, and more knowledge about the virus, we can more safely return to campus.
Working as one, supporting each other, we can move forward together amid the pandemic, and regain some of the shared campus experiences that we Ducks anticipate.
Regardless of where you’re coming from or what role you play in our community, this is our chance to move #ForwardTogether into a new future.
“I’m most excited to return to in-person classes, specifically within the Honors College. The connections I was able to make my freshman year have left me so excited to return to such an intimate and thought-provoking environment. Also worth mentioning, the free cookies in Chapman Hall.”
Derek Evans, class of 2022 (sociology)
A newfound appreciation for the routine
It will be 18 months since many of us have stepped foot inside a classroom or lab. Although the virus continues to linger, the university community is prepared and ready to move forward together, tackling the challenges that lie ahead, embracing the new normal, and resuming the experiences that make the UO the special place it is.
As students, faculty members, and staff prepare for in-person classes this fall, we asked some of them to share how their lives changed during the pandemic and what excites them most about being on campus again.
Jen Phillips, research associate, neuroscience
A return to normal
Pre-pandemic, Jen Phillips arrived to work at the Westerfield zebrafish lab by 8:30 a.m., and then bounced between the lab and her office and shared research spaces throughout her workday, with impromptu conversations happening with her coworkers and students along the way.
That changed just before finals week of the 2020 winter term when the university closed much of the campus as COVID-19 began tightening its grasp on the country. Work was limited to essential services, with classes and other activities conducted remotely to curb the virus’ spread.
For Phillips, who is looking forward to returning to her routine in the zebrafish lab, campus hasn’t been the same without the hustle and bustle of a typical school year.
“I love when campus has students populating it,” she said. “New and returning students bring a wonderful energy to campus at the start of every academic year. It’s inspiring to share space with all these young minds who are finding their way, finding out who they are and what they want to become. That’s so inspiring.
“I want us all to look out for each other and follow the science-based advice of experts so that we can get back to that normal for them as quickly as we possibly can,” Phillips added. “That’s been very much on my mind just as I think about how campus usually is at the beginning of fall term. I want to get back to that for them. They deserve that.”
For Phillips, a research associate in the Institute of Neuroscience, moving forward will mean when it’s safe to once again have those unscheduled interactions with others in her lab that may lead to collaborations, breakthroughs, and simply friendly chitchat.
“I miss just being able to be a colleague, being able to have those informal in-person interactions with fellow researchers in the building, with my students and my coworkers,” Phillips said. “Those are all quality, in-the-moment encounters that we have all missed out on this past 18 months.”
Alison Gash, associate professor of Political Science
An opportunity to improve
When classes went remote, Alison Gash came up with a novel way to maintain connections with her students in the time of Zoom. The associate professor of political science had students contribute a recipe that they made into a cookbook.
While the experience helped her become a better teacher, she is eager to not have a webcam and screen separating her from her students.
“I'm looking forward to being back in the classroom, creating a sense of community the way that I typically do inside of the classroom,” Gash said.
That includes the energy that happens during discussions that engage everyone, and the intellectual creativity that emerges from them.
“That is something that I took for granted,” Gash said. “I loved having it and I knew it was there, but I didn’t really understand how pivotal that was for some of my classes.”
As a silver lining, Gash said she used the experiences of the past 18 months to become a better teacher.
“I had to sort of stretch my imagination and my pedagogical creativity more than I did in the classroom,” Gash said. “I’m really looking forward actually to bringing what I learned on Zoom into the classroom, so that I can create a space that’s accessible for everyone.”
Gash added that there will likely be a sense of trepidation among the campus community that all will have to grapple with as the year gets underway.
“I think faculty are going to have to be really sensitive and aware of that and figure out ways to help students get settled, making sure that everyone feels comfortable and safe, and ready to be in person again.”
Jane Sparks, class of 2023, family and human services
Since classes went remote, Jane Sparks, class of 2023 (family and human services), came to appreciate things that she once considered hardships.
“I’m looking forward to those little experiences that you miss the most: Being exhausted going to an 8:00 a.m. class, walking and getting coffee, stopping at the EMU for an hour between my classes and studying, or running into my friends and sparking up a conversation,” said Sparks, a rising junior.
“I miss those little experiences, even stuff I didn’t look forward to it at all,” Sparks added. “I have an 8:00 a.m. this term and I’m so excited for it, which I usually wouldn’t be. It’s all those little things that make the UO what it is.”
Jailah Keller, class of 2022, human physiology
Welcoming the routine
Jailah Keller, a senior majoring in human physiology, said she came to appreciate the daily interactions with fellow Ducks that she has missed out on: whether it was a brief chat with a passing friend, working through a problem alongside a classmate, or simply sitting in the science library.
“Being able to see familiar faces every day, getting into that routine, developing those habits together as a community, or sometimes just being on campus and seeing everybody walking to class is what really gets you in the mood, gets you in the spirit, and it’s not until that gets taken away from you that you really realize, wow, that’s something I undervalued,” Keller said.
Keller belongs to a Black sorority and can’t wait to resume activities with her fellow sorority members.
“I’m excited to do that,” Keller said. “I’m just excited to be able to see people again.”
Matt Marcott, CMAE Coordinator
Campus energy returns
As center coordinator for the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence (CMAE), Matt Marcott’s days were always jam packed with conversations, collaborations and countless other interactions with students, colleagues, and other members of the campus community.
So the contrast was especially sharp for him when the UO shifted to remote operations. He would still go to his office in Oregon Hall from time to time, and does so even more frequently now, but the library-grade quietness at a campus spot that is normally bustling was striking.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, it was a virtual ghost town,” he said, “and I wouldn't see any other staff or students for that matter.”
The return of the energy is what Marcott missed most.
"I'm most excited about walking around campus and seeing colleagues and students that I haven't seen in person since the start of the pandemic,” he said. “I haven't really been able to just have friendly banter with them and hear about what they've been doing. Visiting the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is also high on my list of things to do this fall."
Marcott has been able to get a glimpse of what campus was like pre-COVID as more people have gradually been migrating back to Eugene.
“It's been kind of like a recharge, getting back toward some ‘normalcy,’ and just getting back to the way things should be.”
Shannon Mockli, associate Professor of Dance, SOMD
Breaking out of the box
The past 18 months have been like living in a box for Shannon Mockli—literally and figuratively—that she can’t wait to emerge from.
The associate professor of dance in the School of Music and Dance has been able to hold in-person, masked classes in Gerlinger Annex, but students are constrained to 12-foot-by-12-foot boxes taped onto the floor to maintain social distancing.
“This year, I’m coming in with kind of a renewed sense of hope that we can continue gathering in person,” Mockli said. “We’ve been operating in 12-by-12-foot squares and I would just be thrilled to let those boxes go. The box has been a fascinating metaphor, like the Zoom boxes, the screen box, and then the squares that we’ve been operating in the last year.”
Mockli said building rules required people in Gerlinger to go directly to the dance room and leave once the class was over. Even stopping in hallways was prohibited.
“I do look forward to potentially be able to be in the dance lobby and to say hello and meet people who were in or outside our individual classes.”
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