When junior instrumental music education student Nicole Loftus arrived on campus this fall in the midst of a global pandemic, she didn’t know what to expect.
“I was hopeful that we would stay in-person for the entire semester, but I didn’t actually think we would,” Loftus said. “I had people telling me that I shouldn’t bring warm clothes down here or set my room up too much because we would move home.”
But students were able to stay on campus the entire semester thanks to the joint efforts of the campus community - faculty, staff and students - who for the most part took the mask and social distancing requirements seriously. The successful semester was also a result of the massive efforts faculty and staff put into making campus more resistant to COVID-19 spread, rearranging classrooms to maintain social distance guidelines and issuing strict mask requirements in all campus buildings.
“The people who followed the rules, and did what they were supposed to, made this semester work,” said first-year elementary education major Madison Riemersma. “I know there were people that didn’t, but we outweighed them.”
The university also regularly cleaned and disinfected campus spaces, changed its HVAC systems to bring more fresh air, reduced occupancy in classrooms, offices and common spaces, and placed physical barriers in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain six feet apart.
Understanding the pandemic was not just a campus issue, UNI officials advocated for regional mask mandates. In September, the Cedar Falls City Council approved a six-week mask mandate, joining Waterloo, which adopted a similar mandate in August.
“I feel like UNI cares about its students more than profit, but I really feel like they made a lot of decisions to keep us safe, because we were the least infected state school,” said first-year biology major Anna Carmen. “Proportionally speaking, we should have hit like 300 cases by midterms and we didn’t, which is incredible.”
And while students adapted quickly to this new normal on campus, it wasn’t without its struggles. First-year students had to learn to navigate their first semester away from home with the added pressure of health restrictions cancelling or postponing typical fall traditions like homecoming, fall athletic events, music and theater performances, and numerous student cultural gatherings.
“I definitely had kind of a hard time adjusting to college life and COVID life at the same time, but UNI did a good job at smoothing out the transition as best as they could,” Riemersma said. “I’m definitely looking forward to going home over break and seeing family.”
UNI’s winter break, from Nov. 25 through Jan. 25, is nearly four weeks longer than a typical break. Some students are looking forward to an extended amount of time to rest and recharge, while others are eager to get back in the swing of things sooner rather than later.
“I don’t particularly love long breaks, but this one is needed.” said senior communications studies major Austin Korynta. “I’m kind of burnt out from this stressful semester, plus I hope the long break will help flatten the curve while we wait for vaccines to hopefully start being distributed.”
Carmen is looking forward to some time that she can spend pursuing other hobbies as she waits for the spring semester to start again. As a resident of Campbell Hall, she’s looking forward to the freedom of having her own kitchen again.
Junior Nic Englin isn’t thrilled for such a long break, but understands why it’s needed. “I'll be able to work full time to afford some of the things I've been trying to save up for. I just hope that people will acknowledge that just because we're on break, the virus is not,” Englin said. “Yeah, there was a vaccine submitted to the federal government for approval. It doesn't mean that we are out of the woods yet. It takes all of us to keep each other safe and healthy during this pandemic.”
Students are uncertain what next semester will look like, but most agreed the country will still be living with the pandemic
“I hope for something similar to what this semester looked like,”Loftus said. “While it had its ups and downs, I was able to be in person for most of my classes. I hope that with the vaccines and treatment that are coming out that we will be able to continue in-person for the most part and get the best opportunity to learn that I can.”