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Study-in-Place: An Interview with a Quarantined College Senior

As college administrators throughout the country strategize their next move during these unusual times, on-campus students are dealing with a massive change in everyday life. No student has been impacted more by the at-home Spring 2020 semester than graduating seniors. Liaison recently connected with Ella Brownson, a Health Sciences major and Women’s Lacrosse player from Franklin Pierce University, to ask how the quarantine has impacted her life.

Liaison: What were your plans at the beginning of the senior year? Have those plans now changed?

Ella Brownson (EB): I was always planning on going to medical school, but always wanted to take a gap year to start saving up and take the MCATs, so I have been lucky in this situation. I didn’t have the added pressure of trying to enroll in medical school this fall. By deferring that a year, this transition has been a little easier. I have made the adjustment at my own pace while finishing up the last few months of school.

Liaison: What was your initial reaction to the campus shut down? Did you think you were going to go back in a few weeks and return to normal life?

EB: It was surreal. Half of us were not taking it that seriously. “Do I bring home all my clothes?” Because I am on the women’s lacrosse team, we left our uniforms and stuff anticipating that we would be back for practices or games in a couple of weeks. We were confused. Packing was the hardest day because we found out we had get off campus by 8 a.m. the next day. It was really strange.

It sunk in when we got a message from the president saying that we couldn’t come back. She gave a video message that she recorded and posted. It was kind of nice to see and hear it come from her personally, rather than in an email or something. It was comforting, but it made it a lot more real.

Liaison: What do you miss most about campus?

EB: The people. Franklin Pierce is located in a beautiful area with the mountains in the background and a lake that is such a joy to look at every day. But it was originally the people that sold me on the school. I miss my friends and my teammates and all of the administration. I was emailing my professors a few weeks ago just thanking them for everything they have done. And for supporting me for the past four years. It is surreal because I will see my friends and teammates again, but there are so many professors I won’t get to thank in person. That has been difficult.

Liaison: The nation is currently experiencing life without sports. What do you miss most about being a student-athlete? How have sports impacted your college experience?

EB: When you are on a team, your teammates are like your siblings. Whether you are having a crappy day or the best day, you have to be around them, and they end up being your sisters. You see them for multiple hours for practice or lifts or team meetings, and they see you at your highest and lowest points. Having a real support system through all different emotions and phases of your life is something I don’t think you will find in most places.

I miss the pureness of competition. You always had the game. You always had your team. But you can’t really recreate the feeling of a game. It’s been tough to not have that last season. Being on a team is extremely challenging with scheduling and physical exhaustion, but it’s the most rewarding thing. It has opened up doors for me. I have made connections. I served on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee which is organized by the NE-10. I helped organized Make-A-Wish Foundation fundraisers and work with other teams in our conference to bring light to causes we are passionate about. It was an experience I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t an athlete.

Liaison: As everyone is currently going to college online, do you feel the on-campus experience was worth it? Would you do it all over again?

EB: Absolutely. I think our faculty and administration have done the best they possibly can do in this situation. Adapting to an online-based education system is not easy. I would not change living on campus for the world. It gives you a different sense of camaraderie living with people. A real sense of community. Franklin Pierce is a community where people know you and care about you. When you are at home or online, the onus is on you to get the work done. You have to figure things out for yourself. On campus, you can get a tutor, get a second set of eyes, collaborate. That is just invaluable, and we don’t get that online.

Liaison: So, if you were the FPU President, what would you like to see happen for college students over the next 6 months?

EB: No one has a perfect answer. I give credit to our current president. In a perfect world, I would love to celebrate the seniors. An acknowledgment of all the accomplishments. It’s more than just a GPA. All the volunteer work, status on the honor roll and all the clubs. I would like to have a celebration and reminisce on all those times. It would be really amazing.

For underclassmen and incoming students, just reassure them. I can’t imagine the amount of anxiety people have coming in and going back. You are going to be in such close contact after three months of telling people to stay away from each other.  I would try to calm the nerves of everyone and drive home the fact that we are still Franklin Pierce and this is still home. It is a really special feeling to be a part of that and I would want to recreate it for them.

Liaison: Today is May 1st. What advice would you give a high school senior worried about starting in the fall?

EB: Everything scary and impossible in their school lives; they have overcome. Whether it was the SAT or graduating from 8th grade to go to high school. It is no longer scary. It is something I keep in the back of my mind before I start something new. It is such a cliché that college is the best four years of your life, but it is true. Keeping an open mind and letting it be new and exciting and scary is the most important thing. College is curiosity and discovery and trying new things and failing and succeeding on your own terms. Everything is going to be okay and this too shall pass.

Liaison: What is one thing you would like to say to the FPU community right now?

EB: If I could replay any memories with my best friends like fires down by the lake or times we had at our house. I would like to create a video mashup of our 4-years together. I think about it a lot. I have been avoiding going through old pictures and things like that. It hasn’t fully sunken in. I want to see the old cliché slideshow that they have at graduation and play it for everyone.

Liaison: Any shout outs you want to give to the community?

EB: I would love to give a shout out to the Athletics Department. Everyone there. The trainers and the director, and Jeanette McKillop, our Compliance Coordinator. She always is checking in and seeing if we are doing okay. We didn’t get to have our athletic banquet this year and we had our best athletic year to date as a school this past year. So, it has been tough not to have that acknowledgment. But we had it online and virtually streamed the awards. I actually got to host with my other friends.

Shout out to everyone that has been checking in. My professors keep asking how we are holding up. I just don’t think you get that at big schools. And also, all my roommates from LV 19 (Lakeview 19)!

The “new normal” world we are living in will not slow down students’ interest in on-campus college life. One thing was clear throughout our interview with Ella — checking in means a lot to these students. We have adapted to a more nurturing approach in our marketing communication during these confusing times and will continue to listen to our students’ questions, answers, concerns and comments. After all, they are the lifeblood of our institutions, whether on-campus or online.

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