‘It’s not what we want for y’all, but there is light at the end of this tunnel’

Freshmen discuss their first-year experience online

Fatimah Azeem
Mercury Staff

The transition from high school to online college has UTD freshmen finding new ways to cope with new problems.

In a survey conducted by The Mercury, out of 150 respondents, 77% of freshmen respondents said that they felt like they didn’t have a normal first semester of college or a good first semester of college. 30% said that they were not ready for online college.

75% of freshman respondents said that the top feeling they felt during the fall 2020 semester was stress, anxiety or loneliness. Biomedical engineering freshman Alicia Jimenez said that learning at home has caused schoolwork to consume her life, which in turn has taken a toll on her mental health.

“It’s a lot harder to cope with the transition of schoolwork on my own,” Jimenez said. “It’s so much more difficult to get involved and feel like you’re actually a part of something at the school. I’m in a few clubs and it doesn’t even feel like that at all. I forget that I’m a part of something because I’m not involved in any way besides joining their Zooms.”

Criminology freshman Camila Estrada said that for her, learning at home means that her bedroom and study space are one and the same, making it hard to find a spot to just relax.

“I feel disconnected from professors and peers and it gets lonely sometimes,” Estrada said. “It’s also really hard to stay on top of asynchronous classes. I know professors are trying their best, but it doesn’t feel like the college experience we were hoping for.”

When it comes to facing academic and mental struggles caused by the pandemic, Estrada and Jimenez said that maintaining some sort of structure in their day is a must.

“Surprisingly, I have been able to maintain my grades, but it has definitely not been easy,” Estrada said. “It’s easy to feel detached from your classes when you are attending through a computer, so just holding yourself accountable is the best thing to do.”

In addition to academics, social connection has taken on a more virtual format for students. Molecular biology freshman Neeraj Pillai said that due to everything being online, making friends this semester has been harder than usual but not an entirely bad experience.

“All the friends I’ve made so far are based off study groups that we’ve just made very quickly,” Pillai said. “There’s a small connection over there talking to each other on Microsoft Teams. We’ve done a lot of group calls and one-on-one calls, but group chats are definitely the way to go.”

To cope with school fatigue, Pillai said that he has been playing games like Among Us with the friends he’s made.

Student Wellness Center Director Kacey Sebeniecher said that UTD student resources such as the counseling center, wellness center and academic advising have moved online and are available for students if needed.

“A lot of what we’re offering right now is through our social media,” Sebeniecher said. “The counseling center, for example, is using social media to give updates about upcoming workshops and forums that are open. People can just log in and ask questions and have one-on-one support without having to have an appointment. If you’re unsure about a service, you can talk to someone who works at UTD or, you know, a PA. We’re such a supportive community and we’d love to help.”

Sebeniecher said that the advice she would give to students struggling to cope this semester is to set realistic daily expectations for productivity, engage in self-care, find ways to safely connect with others and check up on fellow students.

“My heart goes out to all students,” Sebeniecher said. “I know that this is not what they thought college would be, and it’s not what we thought it would be either. It’s not what we want for y’all, but there is light at the end of this tunnel. Just don’t give up. Keep going, ask for help, get through this time [and] keep pushing, because when we come back, it’s going to be amazing.”