The 2020 new Slug reality: Handling adversity and transitioning to a virtual learning experience

Remote learning has its challenges, but the newest class of Banana Slugs is making the most out of this uncharted experience

Sammy the Slug wearing a mask and working remotely
Sammy the Slug practicing social distancing while learning remotely. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta.
Freshman Elliott Harrington
An image of freshman Elliott Harrington (Rachel Carson ‘24, molecular, cell, and developmental biology) over the summer. Harrington will remain in Southern California until he can live and learn on campus. 
Dmitrius Rodriguez's desk set-up
Transfer student Dmitrius Rodriguez (Merrill ‘22, environmental studies and economics) shares an image of his at-home study space. Rodriguez is learning remotely from his parents' house in the Bay Area.  
Campus shot during fall
Although UCSC is eerily quiet these days, the seasons continue to change on campus, providing picture perfect shots we can all admire from afar. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta.

In most years, the beginning of fall quarter at UC Santa Cruz is a bustling time on campus, with new Slugs meeting roommates, joining campus organizations, and attending welcome events. 

But this fall looks quite different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced a pivot toward online operations almost eight months ago. 

With only six in-person classes being offered this quarter and less than 15% of on-campus housing available to students—with priority given to students who do not have alternative housing options—campus is eerily quiet these days. 

But UC Santa Cruz’s newest freshman and transfer students are learning to be adaptable and creative, finding new ways to build a strong sense of community while living and learning remotely. 

“Although I had to start my university experience fully online, I’m trying my best to develop and maintain community in the virtual world by attending career webinars, joining campus organizations, and forming study groups with my classmates,” said transfer student Muhammad Khan (Kresge ‘22, accounting).

New experiences

New transfer student and Santa Cruz native Juliana Hale (Kresge ‘22, molecular, cell, and developmental biology) was looking forward to exploring the heavily wooded, 2,000-acre campus.

In her first quarter, Hale, who only lives a short bike ride away from campus, was hoping to network with faculty in person, begin hands-on research opportunities, potentially join the track team, and form in-person study groups with her classmates. 

While Hale waits patiently for her highly anticipated on-campus experience, she is adapting to a virtual learning environment with a self-paced schedule and an at-home work and study space that keeps her focused and grounded.

“A couple of my classes have pre-recorded lectures, which gives me the ability to pause, rewind, and take better notes to fully comprehend the material,” said Hale.

Just a few weeks into the fall quarter, Hale had already established a virtual support network through participation in two different STEM programs and the Academic Excellence Program (ACE). These programs have provided a much-needed support system while she navigates university life online.

Silver linings

Freshman Elliott Harrington (Rachel Carson ‘24, molecular, cell, and developmental biology) was able to make the transition to a fully online schooling experience without any difficulty. 

“Personally, having an independent learning style has made the online component of school much easier for me, and being able to maintain a daily routine while remote allows me to stay productive,” stated Harrington.

Although Harrington was looking forward to meeting new people in person, he’s been able to meet and connect with his peers in online classes, including some of his fellow Southern Californians. 

“My professors have been doing an excellent job of familiarizing students with their classmates through breakout sessions to help build connections,” Harrington said.

Even through all the adversity this year has brought, new Slugs have still been able to identify the upside of remote learning. 

“I noticed that there are many resources available when studying remotely that you might not always have or at least have the time to tap into when studying in person,” Khan said.

Khan credits the UCSC social media pages, his major department, and his college for keeping him connected to the campus community and informed on important events and news while in the virtual world.

Looking forward

Because the new group of Slugs has yet to experience on-campus life, and it remains unclear when as a campus we will be able to return to normal operations, the need for community is greater than ever. 

For many students, the encouragement of loved ones, and knowing what to expect from this unusual year, helped ease them into a challenging situation. 

“Having family support during the emotional shock of quarantine, and learning that school was going to be online indefinitely, was critical to helping me keep mentally healthy and moving forward,” said transfer student Dmitrius Rodriguez (Merrill ‘22, environmental studies and economics) who remains at his family’s home in the Bay Area. 

Though he’s thriving in this new, remote-learning format, Rodriguez looks forward to “making genuine connections with people across campus, doing undergraduate research, and being able to explore the vast redwood forests that run through campus.”

For transfer students—especially—the window of time that they have to experience UC Santa Cruz in person is minimal. So Khan, for his part, is going to make the most out of every moment he has on campus. 

“If I’m not able to get to campus until let’s say next fall, then you better believe I am going to make sure I fit four years of university experience into one,” he said.