A free lunch was the big draw at the four welcome back events last week at the Hampton and Historic Triangle campuses.
The excitement of resuming in-person classes was evident last week when 400 Thomas Nelson students showed up for celebrations welcoming them back to campus.
Great Expectations coach Sonja Vega said returning students were especially glad to be back, and were glad to see faculty and staff on campus as well.
“They miss that interaction,” she said. “Several of my students have stopped by just to say, pretty much, ‘We love and miss you all.’”
Math instructor Marie Struble said she noticed that reaction, too.
“I’m excited to be back on campus. I’m excited to have (students) back on campus, and the ones I’ve spoken to, they’re excited to be back,” she said.
When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the College switched to virtual learning in mid-March. This semester is the first time students have been allowed back on campus in large classroom settings.
Kayla Cartwright, who is starting her second year, is disappointed she has just one in-person class.
“I’m kind of sad I don’t have more,” she said.
Cartwright attended Grafton High School and is working toward an associate degree in social science. She plans to major in forensic science at a four-year institution, with the goal of becoming a crime scene investigator. She enjoyed having classes on Zoom but found it hard to get motivated for her asynchronous classes.
“I’d much rather be in person, get to learn face to face,” she said. “I’m more of a visual learner.”
She enjoys interacting with people, which is much more difficult online.
“The experience is a lot more enjoyable,” she said of in-person learning.
Ethan Frantz of Smithfield also prefers in-person classes, but for a different reason.
“I like being able to go somewhere that is specifically dedicated to learning,” he said. “When I’m at my house, that’s where I relax so it’s hard to switch from me relaxing to me studying to me going back to relaxing.”
He has two semesters remaining before earning an applied science degree in engineering at Thomas Nelson. He then hopes to transfer to a state school for structural or civil engineering. In-person instruction works well for him.
“I’m glad to be back in those classes,” he said. “I’m ready to get my classes going again.”
While he prefers in-person classes, he said there were advantages to online learning, and was glad the College offered it.
“Virtual is better than nothing,” he said. “I liked being able to work on my own schedule.”
Gabe Reyes is a public health technician and National Guard member. He has been taking classes at Thomas Nelson since 2016, so having a flexible schedule works best for him. However, when he first started at the College, he had in-person classes, which he liked.
“It was definitely a more traditional learning environment coming straight from high school to this,” said Reyes, who is from Williamsburg. “That was an easy transfer because it was just like high school except a little higher level.”
Judith Contreras also is in her second year at Thomas Nelson. She has all online classes this semester but hopes to have in-person classes next semester. She’s studying psychology and hopes to transfer to the College of William & Mary when she’s done next semester. She likes the quick response she receives with in-person instruction.
“I can communicate more with the instructor and not wait for an email response,” she said.
The one drawback to in-person classes is the mask mandate, although everyone understands the reasoning.
“I can’t see people’s faces so it’s hard to make a connection,” Cartwright said. “But you can still talk to them. It’s better than being online, most definitely.”
Struble expects it will take a while for students and faculty to adjust to being back on campus.
“Students are having a hard time getting back in that swing because they’re kind of used to doing it synchronously or asynchronously at home; same with me,” she said. “Just getting used to being back in the building has been a bit of a challenge for some students.”
She noticed one unexpected benefit of a return to campus.
“I’m actually getting out of my house. I’m enjoying that,” she said.
At the four welcome back events, two at each campus, there was a DJ, along with information tables for Single Stop, TRiO, Great Expectations and Traffix.
SaraLynn Goergen, a TRiO counselor, spoke with numerous students. A lot of them, she said, just aren’t aware of what the College has to offer, but were appreciative of having the chance to learn.
“They like hearing the information about resources,” she said. “I think it was a good opportunity for students to connect with resources and have a good time, and see people they hadn’t seen in a while.”
Also at the events, the College provided food in the way of Subway sandwiches. On a college campus, that’s never taken for granted.
“I just got free lunch, so that made my day,” Cartwright said.