‘A Light at the End of This Long Tunnel’: A Rising Sophomore Reflects on a Year of Pandemic-era College

RJ Streater '24 says making connections with his fellow students and his professors helped him thrive during a year that no one could have planned for

Although things are different, the core of the UConn experience - even with masks mandatory - remains the lifelong bonds forged on campus. (Courtesy of RJ Streater)

At the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, RJ Streater ’24 (CLAS) was one of thousands of new UConn students starting their college career in the midst of the uncertainty and challenge of the pandemic. Masks, six-foot distances, COVID-19 tests, classes where 20 students would spread out in a large lecture hall; all of these were wrinkles that UConn students had never had to cope with before on top of everything else that college life brings. Looking ahead to the year, Streater proclaimed himself “nervous but excited,” and struck an optimistic note: “I have faith in us,” he said then. “We’ll get through it.” Two semesters later, UConn Today caught up with Streater to find out how things went.

What has this past year been like?

The year was very unique yet very interesting for me. I was initially a bit worried how schoolwork would be handled online, and I wondered how it might still be like the traditional college experience. I was able to stay on campus for both semesters, living in a Learning Community – Public Health House – which allowed me to meet new people and get a sense of some normalcy during this year. It took me a few days to get used to online college and transition from high school. However, I was able to get actively involved around campus, participating in a learning community, getting involved with Undergraduate Student Government, being a part of EcoHusky, MAPS, and many other organizations on campus that made me feel at home. From the support of many professors, teachers, friends, and mentors, I felt that I was able to succeed even in the midst of an uncertain time.

Student RJ Streater takes a selfie in front of a UConn flag in his dorm room
RJ Streater ’24 (CLAS) at the start of the 2020-21 academic year. (Courtesy of RJ Streater)

Were you able to gain the research experience you had hoped for?

Yes, I was hoping to gain some research experience. I was not able to connect with researchers to get this desired lab experience, but I hope to reach out to more researchers next year. I am constantly exploring and looking for research areas of interest that would excite me especially in neuroscience, clinical psychology, physiology, or a combination of my favorite subjects.

What was it like learning virtually or via hybrid classes?

Learning virtually was definitely a process of adaptation, for sure. All my classes were online and none were in-person. I was hoping to have a more realistic and normative college experience by having at least one in-person class. I most certainly had to reorganize my schedule around this new format, trying to find ways to do my homework while finding new methods as well as places to study. One support that I discovered is that it is perfectly OK to seek out UConn’s many resource centers to supplement your continued learning such as the Academic Achievement Center, Quantitative Center, Writing Center, and Office Hours for Professors and/or Teaching Assistants. These resources were very critical in having the success to maximize potential during an unprecedented year, but to also just talk with others and to have a sense of connection and hope for the future.

Is there anything that stands out or really left an impression from the past year?

 One thing that stands out the most this year was joining a UConn Learning Community. Being a part of Public Health House has allowed me to meet so many new people with diverse interests allowing for a strong network of friends and mentors. During this past year, constructing a special network of friends was critical, especially during the isolation, fear, and anxiety of the pandemic. This community is truly a beautiful and ever-growing family that has a special place in my heart. And, getting involved in organizations allowed me to see different perspectives and strengths of others, helping to form a new idea and approach to ways of thinking as an adult and a college student.

What are your hopes for next year?

I would definitely like to see more in-person classes next year, and more spaces on campus opened with limitations. Most importantly, I would love to see more people on campus safely with a return to a sense of normalcy in our shared college experience. I am also excited to see what actual in-person classes will look like with an interactive, in-person learning experience. I believe this major transition will affect everyone in finding new learning styles and ways of studying. I sense a light at the end of this long tunnel we all have endured. And hope that we continue to build and stay aware of what we collectively and individually experience.