How has remote education affected some University of Utah students?

Story by MATTHEW GRANT

Remote learning and Coronavirus. The two seem to go hand in hand, but what is the actual reality of remote learning and how has it affected some University of Utah students?

As the public works to combat and work around the current state of the world, students across all platforms have begun to adjust to remote learning. Meanwhile, professors have committed to transform their curriculum and course schedules to create a safe and educating way of learning without being physically present in the same classroom as their students. 

This has been made possible by virtual classrooms, and online participation groups or activities. 

Essentially the material would stay the same, but the process in which we learn it would be different in the way that it is virtual and from our own homes. 

Jack Geil, from Reno, Nevada, is currently a senior at the U studying finance. 

Geil studied in Sydney, Australia, in spring 2020 as part of the Eccles Global Learning Abroad program. [https://eccles.utah.edu/students/global/] Geil described his time in Australia as nothing short of exceptional.

Geil’s time abroad was cut short and forced him to travel home six weeks early because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Geil was required to finish the semester 100% online. 

“After leaving Australia I was already in quite the funk and disappointment, and on top of that we were required to learn and adapt to a completely new type of learning. It really took the fun out of it,” Geil said in a FaceTime interview. 

Geil, who typically takes five courses a semester, said he acknowledged his past struggles with remote learning and opted to take a lesser schedule during the fall of 2020. Geil noted that he almost deferred the semester as a whole, before recognizing that he was only a semester away from graduation and he thought it would be best to push through. 

Geil described his current semester as a time of growth. “I’ve learned to be comfortable from working in my own home. I have always needed the library, a classroom, or a place null of distractions to properly address my school work — not anymore,” Geil said in an email interview.

Among other things, Geil said it has allowed him more time to address other things in his life, such as the gym, golf, and friends, which he says is all necessary for himself to succeed in school. 

Another student was Sofie Arrivillaga. She graduated from Park City High School and is currently a communication major. 

Arrivillaga said in a FaceTime interview she has typically taken up to one online course a semester and enjoys them as “an escape from campus.” 

However, Arrivillaga explained how this semester was different from her online classes in the past. Citing her contemporary dislike of the current circumstances, she said it seems as if the classes she is now taking online were not designed to be taught that way. The transition has been less than easy, Arrivillaga said. 

She said she believes her focus has mostly remained the same, though admits she has at times floundered due to the lack of in person and scheduled engagement. Arrivillaga said specific classes in particular have caused this. She said “quantitative research and studio classes have been most difficult” for her this year. 

Arrivillaga compared the quality of her online education to in-person instruction. 

“I don’t think my education has reached the same level as previous semesters because I felt that a lot of my curriculum is all essentially busy work and not necessarily work that is expanding my knowledge,” Arrivillaga said. 

Arrivillaga said her online courses lack student responses and live debates, and instead focus primarily on lectures and note taking to prepare for a specific test rather than actually educating and understanding the curriculum.

Levi Pompoco is a senior studying business at the U and aviation at Cornerstone Aviation in Salt Lake City.

Pompoco, who is typically consumed between school, flying, and work, has said he has found peace and availability with remote learning. It offers him a more flexible and relaxed course schedule while being able to fly more than any past semesters. 

“Remote learning allows me to do everything from home and gives me more time to fly and work,” Pompoco said in a FaceTime interview. 

Jakob D. Jensen is the associate dean for research in the College of Humanities and a professor in the Department of Communication.

Due to his administrative role, Jensen typically only teaches one course a semester. Jensen, who has also never offered an online class before, said in an email he “decided to add COMM 3580 because I wanted to create a new, and fun, experience for students during the pandemic.” COMM 3580 during the fall of 2020 was an online based lecture class that showed how marketing campaigns differentiated during a pandemic.

Jensen said that the lack of live student response can cause teaching to feel very static. Noting that he typically reacts to students and enjoys being shaped by their thoughts, he wrote, “That is [harder] to simulate in online education.”

He added, “Staying focused while listening to lectures. Staying on track,” are some of the effects of online instruction.

Jensen said that though it is different, he believes it is best to keep moving forward.  He said he would continue going to school if he were in a similar position. “In the short run, I think online education can get the job done. In the long run, I don’t think it is the same experience. I really think smaller courses are hurt by it.”

“I think it is easier to replicate the experience of a large lecture class,” Jensen added. “I also think you have to adapt. I really felt like the fall semester started to click.”

How teachers are handling the Coronavirus pandemic

Story by DARIENNE DEBRULE

The emotional and physical health of students has been at the forefront of the discussion surrounding the reopening of Utah schools during the coronavirus pandemic. Teachers across the state are also struggling to adapt to the changes caused by the pandemic. 

In the summer the Utah State Board of Education did not require school districts to create protocols for responding to the virus. Each district was expected to create its own plan, which resulted in Salt Lake City School District moving to online classes completely, 16 districts moving to a split schedule and 25 other districts allowing students to attend in-person as normal, according to AP News.

Corner Canyon High School with an empty parking lot as the school transitioned to online learning for multiple weeks in the semester. Photo by Darienne DeBrule.

The coronavirus pandemic and lack of instruction by the districts made it so individual schools were expected to provide training to teachers regarding online instruction. However, the amount of instruction actually given was dependent on school administration and teacher coaches, said Amber Rogers, Corner Canyon High School government and history teacher, who teaches both online and in-person sections.

Teachers had to change the way they prepared for the upcoming school year since many districts opted for hybrid learning. So they had to get ready for in-person classes and were also expected to become well-versed in online instruction seemingly overnight. 

“A lot of teachers were on the verge of a breakdown,” Rogers said during a Zoom interview.

Many teachers, including Karen Millenbach at Indian Hills Middle School, frantically tried to convert their lessons onto Canvas in the allotted time before the school year. 

The front of Indian Hills Middle School with signs posted to differentiate between student, teacher, and parent entrances. Photo by Darienne DeBrule.

“It’s exhausting, even for the most experienced tech people,” Millenbach said in an email interview. 

Teachers have also been limited in their interactions with students. This has led to many educators feeling disappointed because they are unable to give their students the same quality of instruction and support as before.

The quality of online instruction has been questioned as many believe it is subpar to in-person instruction and that there is no substitute for in-person learning, according to “Pros and Cons of Online Education” by Dhirenda Kumar.

Middle school student Trinity Trimiar does research for her upcoming math project that she will submit online. Photo by Darienne DeBrule.

Rogers said over Zoom that in-person learning allows for teachers to teach a lesson and have students ask clarifying questions throughout the lesson. However, if online instruction does not take place through that platform, teachers are expected to just upload online lectures. This does not allow for students to ask real-time questions.

“Every day I have office hours during my class time, but it’s optional and only a few kids come online for content,” Rogers said. “Learning is on them right now.”

Rogers said she believes the lack of engagement from her high school students is the hardest part about teaching in this new normal. She became a teacher to help kids connect the pieces together that make them excited and passionate. But she wants to keep them safe so she will do whatever needs to be done. 

Rogers was the Canyons School District’s Teacher of the Year recipient in 2018 and she is doing everything she can to help her students be successful in this unprecedented time. 

Teachers are finding different ways to keep themselves safe inside the classroom, but some of their precautions can be hard for them emotionally.

“Teaching from my desk can be a very sad and frustrating thing,” said Millenbach, the teacher at Indian Hills Middle School.

Due to the size of her classroom, students can only be placed 3 feet apart. After having a student test positive for COVID-19 and other students rotating in and out of quarantine, she decided to teach from her desk to avoid circulating around the classroom to prevent the possible spread of the virus. 

Karen Millenbach in front of her home with a sign acknowledging her teaching efforts during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Lauren Millenbach.

While online teachers are not faced with the same in-person pressures of avoiding a COVID-19 classroom outbreak, they are still struggling to create relationships with their students via online platforms. 

Natalie Culine, an online elementary student teacher, said in a Zoom interview, “It is hard to be so far from my students, know they are struggling and not be able to offer as much support as I would like.” 

In addition to the hardships online teaching has created, teachers have also been subject to the mental and emotional stress caused by the pandemic. 

Student teacher Natalie Culine poses in front of Liberty Elementary School pre-COVID, smiling about her classroom experience. Photo courtesy of Natalie Culine.

A few weeks after schools first closed, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence reported that many teachers were experiencing overwhelming feelings of stress, anxiety, and confusion — the same feelings that many are currently having. 

“When our school days are over I feel emotionally exhausted and worn down,” Culine said in a FaceTime interview.

She misses the in-person interactions with colleagues and students, but said she would not feel safe if she was teaching in person. 

In-person teachers also have to deal with the emotional stress caused by being at a high risk for exposure to the virus. 

Rogers said she has not been able to visit her parents since the start of the pandemic because they have underlying health conditions and she is exposed in the classroom. 

Amber Rogers, far left, visiting her mom with her siblings before the start of the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Amber Rogers.

Political leaders and community members have debated whether it is the federal government’s, the state’s, the district’s, or individuals’ responsibility to keep teachers safe. 

Rogers, the social science teacher, drew on her knowledge of government to reflect on the debate and said, “It’s a constitutional gray area because there is no precedent for it.” 

Teachers across the state will continue to follow the guidelines set in place by the health department, school districts, and administration as the United States enters flu season. 

Project Homeless Connect: COVID-19 changed its plans, but not its commitment

Story and photos by JANE KREMER

Oct. 9: This would have been the day where service providers, volunteers, and the majority of those experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake County would meet at the Salt Palace for services to be rendered and received. But, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the plans.  

Project Homeless Connect, a nonprofit organization run by its committee and volunteers, holds a service event for those experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake County annually in the fall. 

According to the organization, among the most popular services provided by this event are medical, dental, vision, and haircuts. In 2019, 125 service providers and 900 volunteers aided over 1,000 people currently experiencing homelessness, with over 3,000 services provided. 

Project Homeless Connect’s fall 2019 service event at the Salt Palace in downtown Salt Lake City.

Mike Akerlow, executive director for Project Homeless Connect in Salt Lake City, started the organization here in 2017 after attending a panel discussing homelessness and PHC in other cities across the U.S. 

Akerlow, who worked for the mayor of Salt Lake City at the time, gained traction for PHC through resources and press coverage from the mayor and support from the community. 

The Salt Lake City Library and a Veterans Administration program, Project Stand Down, had held events similar to those previously conducted by PHC. As Akerlow assembled a team for PHC, he incorporated those programs into the event. 

After running the Salt Lake organization for three years, Akerlow said the organization has been able to improve each year by making its steering committee stronger and refining services provided to people experiencing homelessness. 

“Every year we look at how do we make this the best experience for everyone coming,” Akerlow said during a phone interview. “I think the point of it is to make sure people [experiencing homelessness] are getting connected to the right things.”

In 2020, however, Project Homeless Connect has had to change its events due to the health and safety restrictions of COVID-19. 

Originally, PHC planned to hold events every Friday in October at different homeless resource centers where service providers and volunteers would meet to aid the population. Then, with the surge in cases of COVID-19 in late September, the events fell through.

“Once cases started going up, some of our service providers also got a little bit nervous, so they decided to pull out,” Akerlow said. “And it made sense, we didn’t want to expose people who are experiencing homelessness.”

One of the biggest challenges for the committee this year was reducing the number of 900 committed volunteers down to 20 volunteers due to health and safety restrictions.

Volunteers, from left, Nate Kremer, Robyn Kremer, and Mandy Allen collect donations from community members at a donation drive in October 2020.

“People in our community want to help. I think there’s a lot of people out there who don’t have organizations that they already go to or belong to, and they’re looking for ways that are more meaningful than the traditional service opportunities,” Akerlow said. “And Project Homeless Connect provides that for a lot of people.”

Rethinking how PHC will continue to serve in 2020 and 2021 has been challenging with new information daily surrounding COVID-19. Committee member Natalie Clawson, one of the logistics coordinators for PHC, said the centers that the team planned to visit went the whole summer without a positive COVID-19 test result. 

But as the rise in numbers of COVID-19 in Salt Lake City became more prevalent, PHC had to postpone bringing the services to the centers. 

“The executive directors at all the centers totally understood why we needed to postpone the events,” Clawson said during a phone interview. 

Clawson, who’s been a part of PHC since the first year as a volunteer, said her job description this year is far different than a normal year. 

“At first it was very scary,” Clawson said. “But then as you dig into it, you’re like, you know what this is an opportunity to create and to get everything on its head and rethink what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.” 

Reinvention, as Nicole Handy, the other logistics coordinator for PHC, said, is what this year is all about. 

“As we know, nothing is easy about 2020,” Handy said in a phone interview.  

Handy said the committee knew it wanted to keep the same values and goals while delivering the services this population needs. 

“There is something really rewarding of going in and organizing this event that overall has a really positive outcome,” Handy said. “We are excited when we are able to get back into the centers to really bring some of those high priority [services] in.”

The Project Homeless Connect team held donation drives throughout October, accepting donations such as clothing, hygiene items, and pet care products. It also had a donation link on its website, and had an Amazon wish list that members of the community donated to. 

Bags of donations waiting to be distributed to homeless resource centers across Salt Lake County.

For spring of 2021, PHC plans to return to the original idea of visiting the homeless resource centers weekly to provide services, meals, and donations. Members of the community can learn more about volunteer opportunities for PHC in 2021 and sign up through the website.

The committee for Project Homeless Connect, according to its website, has committed to the idea that “COVID-19 has changed the plan but not our commitment to serving our homeless friends.” 

As Mike Akerlow, executive director for PHC in Salt Lake County, said about the first year, “We did it, somehow we did it.” Little did he know, the very same thing could be said about Project Homeless Connect in 2020 and 2021. 

Beehive Sport and Social Club coming up on 10-year anniversary

Story by DYLAN VALERIO

One night after a long day behind his desk working for the big tobacco company Marlboro, Dave Marquardt realized he wasn’t happy with the career path he had taken. He sat and thought about how his life was going.

He realized one of the only things that brought him joy was playing kickball with his friends after work at River City Sport and Social Club. It was a place where he could have fun, let loose, and relieve himself of stress. 

However, the people running the club weren’t friendly to their participants. Then the life-changing idea popped into Marquardt’s head: He recalled thinking he could do the same thing as these guys, but significantly better. The idea of Beehive Sport and Social Club was then born. 

Marquardt soon quit his job and moved back to Salt Lake City from Richmond, Virginia. He then called his old friend James Accettura to invite him into his idea. Accettura quickly agreed without hesitation. Marquardt credits him with helping the most along the way. 

Now, Beehive is approaching its 10-year anniversary as the only adult sports club in the Salt Lake City area where adults can have fun while also staying active.

Beehive’s website currently lists 11 different leagues. They consist of multiple sports ranging from cornhole and pickleball to the more traditional kickball and softball. All the leagues are co-ed. Players pay a fee to participate in each league with the price varying for different sports.

Beehive, founded in 2011, hasn’t always been what it is today. When the club first started, it didn’t offer 11 sports, but just one. It has taken dedicated hard work to build Beehive to its current position. Most of this didn’t happen in the beginning or all at once, but instead throughout the years.

Accettura said starting Beehive wasn’t difficult, but still required them to do new things such as building schedules, writing rules, and finding equipment. The pair had never done any of this before and it pulled them out of their comfort zone.

“Thankfully, me and Dave’s skills are complementary so we would both work on everything together and strengthen each other,” Accettura said in an email interview.

Marquardt and Accettura agreed they didn’t want to make the club about the sports, but instead about the people playing them. Marquardt said they wanted to serve not just ex-jocks looking to relive their glory days, but also people who just wanted to have fun too.

“The point has to be to introduce people to a fun environment where they can meet people and enjoy the games,” Accettura said. “Building personal relationships is the most important thing for us.”

Beehive is a place where people, especially those new to Salt Lake City, can find a social life and meet new friends. Marquardt said in a phone interview that in their 10 years, Beehive has been responsible for “65 marriages, 24 babies, and about 1,000 one-night stands.”

According to Ryan Chisolm, a current participant in one of Beehive’s leagues, this is exactly what Beehive has done. Chisolm, also known by his stage name Bangarang when he performs as a DJ, has been a participant in the club for about seven years.

“You meet some really cool people. Everyone here is dope,” Chisolm said in an email interview. He added that Beehive creates a fun and safe environment. “You can be yourself and no one cares.”

Chisolm is one of about 10,000 people who participate in Beehive each year, Marquardt said. In order to create a positive environment for so many people, the club has 80 part-time employees who have an extremely large role. These employees include referees and social-media specialists who “define the league,” Marquardt said. 

Marquardt, Accettura, and all of Beehive have continued to try to make the community and their participants the main focus of the club. This has been more difficult this year compared to any other due to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines. 

Beehive is sport-dependent and participants are always in close contact. This means coronavirus had a better chance to affect Beehive compared to other organizations. According to Marquardt, 70-80% of sport and social clubs across America have been forced to go out of business because of coronavirus.

The beginning of the pandemic was the most uncertain time for Beehive. According to Marquardt and Accettura, they had to shut down from March 12 to July 6, cancel one of their biggest events of the year, and push all their leagues to the next season.

During the shutdown, Beehive still continued to try to bring their participants together. “We organized movie nights, weekly Zoom Trivia, and Zoom Bingo,” Accettura said. Beehive is also planning a bingo night for the University of Utah.

Now, leagues are reopen, and Beehive is doing everything it can to make sure everyone is safe. For example, Beehive doesn’t play any sports indoors, it requires masks for all participants, has people use sanitizer, and cleans all equipment regularly. “The main thing we have done is try to create space within the games,” Accettura said.

Looking back on their 10 years, Marquardt and Accettura are proud of what they have been able to create and that it’s lasted so long. No matter what they have faced, they have tried to put their participants first in order to create a community where people are able to have fun and be themselves. 

Even as Marquardt looks back on the past success of the Beehive Sport and Social Club, he looks forward to its future. “When I die,” he said, “I want this to keep going without me.”

Grief work: the process of loss against a backdrop of chaos

Story and gallery by ALEXIS PERNO

When you walk into the small front lobby of the Serenicare Funeral Home, the first thing you notice is the pleasant yellow walls. 

The second would be the dark wooden desks opposite each other. 

The third is a small, yet striking detail; next to the ubiquitous tissue box is a new fixture — a bottle of hand sanitizer. 

Francis Mortensen, funeral director of seven years, sports a surgical mask as he stands alone in the Serenicare Funeral Home’s small viewing room.

Francis Mortensen, Serenicare’s funeral director of seven years, is wearing a blue surgical mask as he speaks to a client on the phone, mid-interview. I pause the recording as he talks. When he finishes, I smile, thinking back to his earlier comments about the upcoming weekend.

“You weren’t kidding when you said a funeral director’s job never ends.”

Mortensen laughs in agreement, and we speak for 20 more minutes. 

The pandemic hasn’t changed Serenicare’s process all that much: when a death occurs, the home, located at 2281 S. West Temple, is notified by a hospice nurse or social worker. Then, the home contacts the family to learn their desires and arrange pickup of their loved one. A time to meet with the family is set, and plans for a service are put into motion. 

However, this face-to-face collection of information between Mortensen and a grieving family has been replaced with online forms, emails and phone calls. Precautions are taken that weren’t before. Instead of simply straightening up the meeting table for his next client, Mortensen spends time sanitizing before returning the ever-present tissue box and hand sanitizer to their respective places. 

“We do have to have different precautions,” he said. “When we are going to a facility, I used to never ask, ‘Do they have an infectious disease?’”

Early in the pandemic, Mortensen and his team would suit up in complete protection gear to even step foot into a room with a deceased person, regardless of if the person had died from COVID-19. Now, greater precautions are only taken if the deceased was positive at the time of death. 

“That comes down to not only a time thing and a stress thing but also a financial thing because of purchasing all that protective equipment,” he said. “It’s just going to be thrown away.”

Although the death rate in Utah has remained low compared to hard-hit places —  773 deaths as of Nov. 20 compared to New York City’s 19,517 — changes still have made themselves known.

With the sudden lack of in-person, open-casket viewings, embalming is not taking place. To comply with social distancing guidelines and church closures, funeral services have been replaced by graveside services at the cemetery. More families have begun to choose cremation, causing changes in the revenue stream. 

But for Serenicare, Zoom funerals have worked well. During one service with over 100 attendees, Mortensen was completely alone in Serenicare  — save for the casket. 

“All of the speakers did their talk from a different location, so [Zoom] worked very well in that aspect. It was different not having anybody here,” Mortensen said. 

Preschool teacher Shanna Beesley lost her mother, JoAnn Peirce, on June 15, 2020. While her mother’s death was unrelated to COVID-19, the family decided to limit the number of people who could attend the service to just Beesley’s siblings, their children and Peirce’s siblings.

As Beesley and her family met at Larkin Sunset Gardens in Sandy, Utah, over 100 people attended virtually through a Zoom organized by the family.

“I think it’s been harder for sure to grieve but you know what, at least we have our family,” she said in a Zoom interview. “That’s No. 1. We had our family there, and so that was helpful.”

Despite some technical difficulties, Beesley said attendees were thankful to be present, albeit virtually. 

In Peirce’s obituary, it’s written that “family was her most priceless treasure.” When things become overwhelming for her daughter, family ensures perseverance as well. 

“I hold on to all the great things that [my mother] did for me and the impact she made here,” Beesley said. “The memories and love of family, supportive family, that’s what I hold on to.” 

These infographics were originally created Nov. 15. In the five days between creation and publication, case counts increased by 2,625.

The stark necessity of social distancing has made mourning into a greater challenge, according to Francis Mortensen. For some, it isn’t enough to be notified of a death. Seeing a loved one for the last time at a viewing can be a vital step for someone to work through their grieving process.  

“Death is the definite factor in all of our lives, and understanding that, some people try to deny it to the greatest extent,” Mortensen said. “Those tend to be those that have the greatest difficulty feeling [grief] in different aspects.”

Jessica Koth, the director of public relations for the National Funeral Directors Association, agrees that grief is a powerful force. 

“We often think that we can move on from a death and find closure, implying there is some endpoint where grief ends,” Koth said in an email interview. “However, as anyone who has lost someone they are close to, you never quite get over their death and your life is changed because they are no longer there.” 

While the Wisconsin-headquartered NFDA has worked with the federal government to plan for mass-fatality circumstances for over a decade, the pandemic has been the biggest challenge to date. Calls increased as the organization worked with federal agencies to provide personal protection equipment and information to funeral homes across the nation. 

Koth said she couldn’t imagine what the experience had been like, especially considering that the majority of funeral homes in the United States are small and family-operated. 

“Day in and day out, funeral directors everywhere continued to serve families with the same level of care and compassion they always exhibit; they never missed a step,” she said. “I have never been prouder to work at NFDA than I have these last few months.”

Funeral and memorial gatherings are often crucial parts of both the mourning and healing process. Grief becomes even more complicated now as individuals also experience non-death losses. 

Within Serenicare Funeral Home, a bottle of Germ-X hand
sanitizer sits next to a tissue box in an effort to slow the spread of
the coronavirus.

“Some may be concrete and easy to identify, such as financial or employment insecurity and lack of social interaction,” Koth said. “Other losses might be harder to recognize, like no longer having the comfort of our normal routines or freedom of movement in public spaces.”

As grief evolves with the times, one constant remains: the image of the hand sanitizer next to the tissue box. But no matter the environment, the process toward healing can — must — begin somewhere.

The University of Utah and COVID-19

Story by CHANDLER HOLT 

The University of Utah had to change many things about the 2020-21 school year to account for the COVID-19 pandemic just like thousands of other colleges around the United States. Whether it was cancelling the majority of in-person classes or changing hours for many spots on campus where students can shop or eat, the student experience had to be altered coming into the school year to make sure that all students could attend college without contracting the virus and putting others at risk. 

COVID-19 made itself prevalent at the beginning of 2020 and has turned into a worldwide pandemic with over 225,000 fatalities in the United States alone. Some colleges such as University of Colorado Boulder and the University of North Carolina did not put enough restrictions in effect and had to add additional more-intense precautions after the schools had large COVID-19 outbreaks. 

The University of Utah emailed all students in September 2020 letting them know that the college had only a 0.5% positivity rate through the first month on campus. This translates to only 16 positive cases with over 3,000 people living on campus for the year. This number was one of the lowest in the U.S. among other Division 1 colleges. Despite a spike of positive COVID-19 cases in the Salt Lake Valley in November, the U has altered procedures as necessary and kept cases on campus as low as possible. 

Craig Caldwell, a professor in the Department of Film and Media Arts, said he had never seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic in his 40 years of teaching. He said in a Zoom interview that many smaller disasters had occurred but nothing to the level where “students can’t interact.” Caldwell said he felt the U had done a tremendous job handling COVID-19 and he would give them a grade of “one thousand percent.”  

Cameron Vakilian, an academic advisor in the Department of Communication, shared a similar answer to Caldwell and agreed that he had never seen a calamity on this level where drastic changes had to be made to ensure the safety of every student on campus. Vakilian added in a Zoom interview that the only disaster in recent memory that brought a similar amount of distress was the murder of Lauren McCluskey that occurred on campus. McCluskey was a student athlete who was majoring in communication, which adds to the devastation that Vakilian as well as so many others felt after her death. 

Vakilian said the U has done a tremendous job handling the COVID-19 pandemic and said the university has taken the situation very seriously. He added that it is very hard to lock down a campus and a lot goes into it, but the U did it for the safety of everyone on campus. The U also has an effect on the rest of the Salt Lake Valley based on its response to COVID-19 just due its proximity. With this being said, it can be inferred that all the surrounding cities benefitted from the U handling COVID-19 so well. 

Hayley Kievman, a graduate student who also teaches an anthropology course, compared the distress from COVID-19 to the distress a hurricane would bring to a small island. Despite it being her first year teaching a course, Kievman said in a Zoom interview that she definitely noticed a difference in how professors/teachers can interact with students. She described continuous virtual meetings and classes as “awkward.” She has experience teaching younger students so that is what she based this observation on. Kievman was also quick to point out that she has seen a large dip in student participation and student focus as well. 

All three individuals said the biggest change to their work life brought on by COVID-19 was the majority of work being moved online. They also agreed it was more convenient to talk with students, but it wasn’t as personable and maybe not as effective in terms of building, or establishing, rapport.  

Caldwell brought up that body language is a very key part of communication and it’s very hard to read body language over the internet or through a webcam. Caldwell, an all-online professor even before the COVID-19 pandemic, explained that he saw way more changes in his job than he expected despite being strictly online. 

In conclusion, the U rose above the criticism and put in a large variety of rules to combat COVID-19. These rules promote social distancing and being educated on how to avoid contracting the virus. The U should be admired and studied by other colleges in the U.S. on how to deal with the pandemic. All rules that were changed in response to COVID-19 will be re-evaluated at the end of the semester to see if any changes can be moved back or slightly altered for the students’ sake. 

A glimpse into online college learning at the University of Utah

Story and photos by REEDE NASSER

Instead of facing hundreds of students or a few professors, students and staff at the University of Utah have been experiencing our new normal this 2020-21 school year due to the pandemic and limiting university events to 20 people. The majority of classes at the U have gone virtual, whether through Canvas Instructure or virtual lectures through Zoom. Education has never been so different. 

The University of Utah’s coronavirus testing center, easily accessible to all students. 

Though online learning is nothing new in this day and age, the ability to sufficiently learn through a screen has become a major point of strife for the U’s students. Students have noted a few issues when it comes to solely Canvas-based classes.

“It feels even harder now, there’s no professor or teaching assistant that can reiterate the information or answer questions quickly. It takes me hours to fully understand the information presented,” said junior Shyann Brown in a Zoom interview. She is currently majoring in accounting.

Another student indicated the lack of seeing their professor in a classroom or joining class virtually takes away from the structure they are used to. Freshman Noah Martin, who is studying engineering, said without a set time to learn and see a professor, classes don’t feel as important. 

Freshman Noah Martin following residence halls guidelines and keeping his mask on while studying.

“The classes where we have to virtually come in, I’m more likely to focus on because there’s more accountability, the professor knows we’re there but when it’s a lesson I lead myself, I will push it off to the last second,” Martin said.  

On the other hand, when students are learning, some worry that they aren’t retaining any information, simply just memorizing. 

“I don’t know anyone in my classes, I have no one to talk to about what I’ve been learning,” said Matt Idlestrom, who is majoring in business. “When I was in a classroom, a lot of information I understood much more after having a conversation with my peers. It was nice to be able to review while we were learning. By the time the exam comes I don’t remember half of the unit because after the lesson I don’t have to focus on it as much.” 

Sophomore Matt Idlestrom adhering to school guidelines by studying in a room alone and keeping his mask on. 

However, the students aren’t the only people struggling with this new form of education. Educators at the U said they too are struggling to navigate this new internet-based way of learning. They have had to restructure lessons, grading policies, learn how to use Zoom and Canvas sufficiently to instruct a class solely on those platforms, and find new ways to keep students accountable and engaged. 

Professors have mentioned multiple frustrations when it comes to this new teaching. They have observed their students keep their cameras off during class, submit assignments late, or be confused about prompts or assignment details that had not been an issue in the past. However, it seems that most instructors are frustrated when it comes to cameras being turned off. 

“[I]t’s hard to see students, it’s hard to read body language, and you know students don’t turn on their camera a lot which I find really frustrating and kind of weird,” said assistant professor, Michael Dichio in a Zoom interview. 

Instructors said they are worried that students are simply just not engaged with at-home learning. Are they really paying attention? Would they reach out if they had a question? Are they comfortable enough on a lesson before their class moves on? To answer their own questions, instructors have been creating and providing more resources than before for their students. Discussion boards, longer office hours, or midterm check-ins. Many of which their students are not utilizing to the best of their ability. 

Once filled with excited students on game day, the university’s stadium is now home to the COVID-19 virus testing center. 

Based on the interviews, there seems to be a major disconnect when it comes to the U’s students and teachers. Both groups are frustrated and confused, just trying to navigate our new normal. Students need to start looking into more active participation when it comes to their classes; participating in class or using the other resources given, turning on their camera, and proactive learning. Instructors could look at starting a weekly discussion where students can interact with each other and their teachers. 

However, the positivity of the situation should be noted as well. Educators and students alike are thankful to be able to learn in times like these. “Logging on to Zoom or Canvas adds a sense of routine and normalcy to my day, something I was struggling to get before classes had started,” said senior Kate Culkin, who is majoring in political science. 

The Mbaki brothers: Studying abroad in Utah

From left: Lawrence, 25, and Kevin, 23, at their home in southern Utah.

Story and photos by TAYLOR THORNTON

The idea of leaving home always intrigued Lawrence Mbaki. The world and all of its corners seemed to call him for exploration. 

It was a long flight from Cape Town, South Africa, to Salt Lake City. One deep breath reminded him that his life would be forever different.

The hot desert air was unlike what Mbaki was used to from the Mediterranean climate back home. Stepping off the plane reaffirmed that his dream to travel the world had just become a reality. 

It was a giant leap. He had never left his home country alone. It was an opportunity that he, an adventurer at heart, had to take as it came to him. However, he didn’t expect that something would threaten the progress of his international journey later on.

“I always wanted to study abroad,” Mbaki said. “The United States seemed like a very nice country where the program I wanted to study was better than elsewhere.” 

Early years in Cape Town

Mbaki had always had a passion for the performing arts. From playing pretend with his two younger siblings to participating in extracurricular activities in school, he has presented himself as a performer and a creative.

Mbaki decided to participate in evangelical work in Johannesburg a few years after graduating from high school. Bubbly and always joyful, it was not hard for him to make friends while there. Among those were several friends from the United States who later helped him find university study opportunities. 

The day finally came in early August 2019. Mbaki packed his bags and made the courageous leap for a new beginning. 

Mbaki began his educational pursuits at Southern Utah University the fall semester of his arrival. He soon reunited with his brother, Kevin, who also moved to southern Utah for school opportunities in early December 2019. 

Lawrence (pictured on the left) and Kevin Mbaki at their home in Cedar City, Utah. In the images below: Lawrence is an ambassador who helps other international students at Southern Utah University; SUU is home to international students from across the world.

“I’m only here because of Lawrence,” Kevin said in a phone interview. “I don’t really have a motive behind being here, besides the fact that Lawrence is here.”

While Lawrence has been pursuing his passion for the arts, Kevin has found a new love for computer science and security while studying abroad.

Things seemed to be going well for the brothers as the spring semester kicked into gear. Suddenly, with the coronavirus pandemic’s appearance in March 2020, a fear of returning home early from their studies abroad hung over their heads.

A contributing factor to an international student’s ability to study in the United States is the number of face-to-face credits they take per semester. The ratio of online to in-person classes can vary due to an institution’s policy. An international student, however, must be registered as a full-time student.

This requirement posed a massive problem for international students as universities and educational institutions began to close their doors and move to a fully online class schedule. 

“I was very fearful,” Kevin said. “I didn’t want to go back to South Africa.”

Fearful as they were, they took to action to maintain their education.

Lawrence has been an international student ambassador at Southern Utah University from his first semester of attendance. He and his fellow ambassadors met with the department heads to decide which course of action to take. 

Would it be best to send the students home to their mother country? Would the current and rapidly changing travel restrictions allow for such a move?

Jamie Orton is a director with the International Scholar and Student Services Office at Southern Utah University. That office has the primary purpose of advising, supporting, and providing aid to international visitors attending SUU. These services include providing students with proper travel advising, employment opportunities, immigration maintenance, and so on.

She worked directly with Lawrence and other ambassadors during this time. 

“[We] held an emergency meeting for all international students in March, right before the drastic adjustments were made due to the pandemic,” Orton said in an email interview. “We encouraged students to consult with their parents and families to make the best decision regarding staying in Cedar City or traveling back to their home country.”

It was a time of thoughtful consulting and rapid decision making for students and university leaders. After speaking with their families, half of the international student population decided to return home due to the coronavirus’s fearful circumstances.

Lawrence and Kevin were not among this group of fleeing students.

A view of SUU’s campus from on top of the student center.

As the situation continued to change, Lawrence said he and his fellow ambassadors worked with the school, in conjunction with the government, to adjust the regulations that are tied to international student visa requirements

The conditions for study set in the visa documentation, as mentioned above, stated that to stay in the country, a student must have an equivalent of nine in-person credits or more and a maximum of three online credits. 

With in-person lectures no longer available to students, the school worked to override the requirement so international students could maintain their visas.

The university succeeded in waiving these conditions after a time of uncertainty. Lawrence and Kevin said they were excited to remain at Southern Utah University.

With eased restrictions, they have both attended hybrid courses that allow them to continue their education and extracurricular activities safely.

Lawrence said he hopes to take his knowledge and experience from studying abroad and open a school for performing arts in his home town Cape Town.

Kevin is enjoying his time in the United States. He said he plans to increase his knowledge of computer science and cybersecurity and someday work in U.S. national security.

The experience of the coronavirus through three immunocompromised young adults

Story by MIABELLA BRICKEY

Stickers on the grocery store floor asking us to remember to social distance, hand-sanitation stations placed directly in front of every public door, and shortened business hours are lingering reminders of the already 223,000 people who have died in the United States due to the arrival of the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 in March 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that wearing a mask in public may slow the spread of the virus.

Life looks differently during a pandemic, and most have come to be well versed in the new changes happening nationwide in response to the coronavirus. The precautionary changes and procedures put into action in response to it are affecting most Americans’ lifestyles and day-to-day routines.

But for three immunocompromised people, their new normal looks very different than the new normal of those with healthy immune systems.

Sophie Dubois smiles for the camera over Zoom. Screenshot by MIABELLA BRICKEY

Sophie Dubois, who works for an in-home cleaning company, struggles with setting and communicating boundaries for her health-safety. She said it has been “hard to navigate.” However, in a Zoom interview she said her biggest concern is, “What if I get COVID from being at work, and then I can’t work?” Ultimately, she’s left stuck between the need for income and the need to protect her health.  

Athena Schwartz holds her coffee mug and smiles over Zoom. Screenshot by MIABELLA BRICKEY

For Athena Schwartz, who uses they/them pronouns, managing their small embroidery business and working at a separate online day job are distractions from the politically charged social media posts.

Most often, the constant stream of online posts feature Schwartz’s community, and even close friends, out and about — and more often than not — without a mask on. The notifications remind Schwartz that most people aren’t in fact practicing social distancing. This leaves them with few options other than to “avoid social media because it just makes [them] angry.”

“When you post on social media, we immunocompromised people see that, and we know that we aren’t in your thoughts,” Schwartz said in a Zoom interview.

“When people with autoimmune disorders or immunocompromised people get sick, it’s a lot scarier. Not only are we more likely to get sick in general, but we’re more likely to become fatally sick from COVID,” Schwartz said. “I once had a near-death experience because I had a UTI (urinary tract infection).”

Being a young adult holds many a responsibility, but it also comes with the excitement of reaching and celebrating significant milestones.

Gaeble Jones sitting in her new studio in Salt Lake City where she creates homemade rugs. Screenshot by MIABELLA BRICKEY

Gaeble Jones said her 20s are looking differently than she planned. During a Zoom interview she sighed and said, “I was expecting to graduate with money in the bank. I was expecting to have the college experience that my dad talked about and going out with friends and partying.”

Being immunocompromised has left Jones with less than her ideal college experience. Still, she’s adamant that she continues trying to live her life to the fullest potential. “I don’t want it to take any more of a toll on my mental health than it already has,” Jones said.

Friends of all three of these individuals are throwing parties, despite the already established dangers with such an activity. “Every single weekend, every single Friday, I’m here in my apartment, and they’re out there,” Jones said.

A masked young woman gazes outside from the safety of her home.

As the world tries to return to some sense of normalcy, the pursuit of one’s career is back in action for most people.

However, for any immunocompromised young adult today, their dreams and actions towards securing future opportunities are still being put on pause. Their health-safety must take priority.

“Every future change for me will be influenced by COVID. I feel so grateful that my job is all online, but that could change at any time,” Schwartz said.

The rest of the world doesn’t seem to be keen on supporting its immunocompromised population. “It just feels like everyone’s against you,” Dubois said. “It feels like nobody understands, and nobody is willing to help or make any accommodations for you.”

Schwartz described one particularly frustrating experience. “It took three months and three doctors notes showing proof of my blood tests so I could get my in-person class moved online.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since the pandemic began young adults have reported having experienced “disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.”

Research on reported mental health rates for immunocompromised individuals is limited. According to Schwartz, Jones, and Dubois, the ability to manage their mental health becomes more challenging with each passing day. This continual theme of poor mental health contributes to a growing concern for immunocompromised young adults nationwide.

“I think it’s just a lot more real, a lot scarier, and impacts my life more than others because I have more to lose and more to worry about,” Jones said.

Schwartz added, “I think my anxiety and paranoia have gotten worse because I have to be more cautious, and I have to be more aware of everything going on around me more than I already was before.”

All three of these individuals said they felt as if they’ve been assigned the role of mom in their friend group. They are always the safe ones in social situations. “I feel like it gets annoying, and it feels annoying to ask because it once again makes me feel like I’m the bad guy,” Dubois said.

The CDC counts persons with weak immune systems as “those with HIV/AIDS; cancer and transplant patients who are taking certain immunosuppressive drugs; and those with inherited diseases that affect the immune system.”

A total number of 39,718 transplants were performed in 2019. An estimated 1.8 billion Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020, and approximately 1.2 million people in the United States live with HIV/AIDS today. To put this in perspective, nearly a quarter of the world’s population lives with the daily fears and struggles that come with being an immunocompromised person.

As Schwartz bluntly put it, “Everyone knows somebody who’s immunocompromised, you may not know it, but every single time you go out, you’re probably interacting with someone who’s immunocompromised.”

They added, “Just because you don’t have to experience feeling afraid every time you go outside doesn’t mean you can’t have compassion and be consciously aware of everything that immunocompromised people are going through right now.”

A volunteer holds a swab at a local COVID-19 testing drive-through.

COVID-19 and its mental effects

Story by MAKAYLA HARRIS 

Within a matter of weeks in March 2020, schools closed, businesses shut down, flights were banned, and hospitals were working around the clock to treat thousands of patients infected with what would soon turn into a 21st-century pandemic leading virus. Regulations have ensured that everyone young, old, healthy, or ill has ample opportunity to maintain and improve their physical health.

It is clear that when it comes to physical health, nations are doing the best they can to maintain healthy individuals. But how have regulations, quarantine, and new social norms affected individuals mentally?

Three individuals discuss their experiences this year with COVID-19. Gideon Harris, a therapist and counselor in San Antonio, Texas, said, “One of the biggest things that I am seeing is the recognition of codependence on people and unhealthy coping skills.” 

Gideon Harris is a father of four boys and is aspiring to open his own therapeutic practice. Photo courtesy of Harris.

People are now realizing that they base much of their happiness, success, and value on their peers and colleagues, Harris said in a Zoom interview. When someone is used to being complimented, recognized, and praised through social and workplace interaction, there is little reason for people to discover their own self-worth. 

Harris said the best way to begin to start finding self-fulfillment and happiness within yourself — that isn’t dependent on others — is to increase self-awareness and identify the areas that are causing you pain and why they are causing pain.

Harris reflected for a moment on the strategies he uses to help his clients discover their self-worth. A key tool is the cognitive-behavioral triangle, which illustrates a way to change thoughts (cognition) and actions (behaviors) in order to control how we feel.

“Measure your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors throughout the day,” Harris said. Next, he prompts clients to see how they can schedule their day to have more positive outcomes in their CBT triangle.

He also recommends displaying quotations around the house or in the car to help improve areas in the CBT triangle with the goal of enhancing an individual’s overall view of self-worth and fulfillment. 

Sierra Freeman, a University of Utah student, said she has struggled with feelings of fulfillment and self-worth since the outbreak.

Sierra Freeman is a junior at the University of Utah who is majoring is sociology and criminology. Photo courtesy of Freeman.

“In my case, staying at home with not a lot to do leaves me overthinking about the things I don’t like about myself — especially with the mirrors around the house, it’s easy to fixate on the parts of myself that I don’t like,” Freeman said, fidgeting with her pencil. “I also find myself having a lot more social anxiety and not being able to openly meet new people, and that really affects my self-worth.”  

However, she finds a lot of comfort in her roommates.  

Freeman took a deep breath to speak, but stopped short before answering. “I think for me, the way I deal with that is having roommates because they give me a form of companionship. I can talk to them about if I’m sad and they validate my feelings and talk through them with me. I feel a sense of community and that I’m not alone,” Freeman said in a Zoom interview.

Despite the hardships of the pandemic, she said she has experienced tremendous growth in multiple aspects of her life. 

“COVID has forced me to have alone time and be comfortable with it. It has forced me to think about who I am and what I want to be. And I know if it wasn’t for COVID I would have never given myself this alone time,” Freeman said.

Mark Raleigh is a father who spent a lot of time hiking during the summer of 2020 to remain physically active. Photo courtesy of Raleigh.

Mark Raleigh also has discovered new opportunities for growth in the pandemic.

Raleigh, a business owner in Salt Lake City, said he has hiked and climbed more this summer than during any other year in his life as he tries to find activities to do while social distancing. For example, he summited Mount Olympus, a 9,000-foot-tall peak on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley.

Being physically active and walking, working out and hiking has helped Raleigh, 58, successfully cope with the current situation. 

He said he has struggled with depression since his early 20s. “I try not to sit around,” Raleigh said in a phone interview, adding that his mom used to say that idleness “is the devil’s playground, and that is so true.”

For Raleigh, the best way of getting through hardships like COVID-19 is to “believe in yourself against all adversity and let the power of your spirit overcome mortality.”