In It Together


Dealing with the stresses of a global pandemic has made life more challenging for everyone, including college students. We sat down with Claire, a Gies College of Business student double majoring in marketing and supply chain management, to talk about what college is like during this strange time and the advice she has for future students.

Why did you choose UIUC?

“I went to a really small school growing up, so I wanted to go to a Big Ten school and have a really big public school experience for the first time, and I fell in love with Illinois pretty fast. So it’s kind of sad that I’m graduating already; it feels like it went by so fast.”

Claire working on her laptop decorated with Illinois Business stickers
“I think Illinois has served me really well,” says Claire, a soon-to-be graduate of UIUC’s Gies College of Business. “So I’m excited to see where I end up and how it all goes from there.”

What drew you to business?

“Every year for my [high] school’s chapter of National Honor Society, they ask a junior to run [a] conference, and the faculty advisor asked me to run it. That was my first business experience of putting on an event, marketing it, doing all the logistics of it, and having that sense of it. And I kind of fell in love with it.

“I knew I wanted to do marketing because I liked the creative side of it, but it still felt like a practical degree to get, so to speak. … And I also liked that in the business program here, you start unassigned, so you don’t have to pick your concentration right away. … The business program is hard to beat, for what I was looking for in it.”

How did you feel coming back to campus during the pandemic?

“Being a senior, I was really looking forward to being back on campus, even though it’s not the same as it normally would be. Just being able to be living with my roommates [in] an apartment on campus, and having some sense of like, normalcy, and having some kind of senior year was really what I was looking forward to. I also thought that [the university] did a pretty good job of laying out how the testing and hybrid classes were going to work.”

Are you taking both in-person and online classes?

“Most of mine are on Zoom. I’m taking vegetable gardening as an elective because I’m running out of classes to take for my actual major. So me and my roommates decided to take it for fun … Our lecture’s online, but our lab is in person, and that’s the only thing that I have in person in terms of classes. So, once a week, I get to leave my apartment and go, like, grow some vegetables, which is really fun. It’s kind of a nice way to break up the week and break up all the Zoom.”

How does that class feel compared to previous semesters?

“I haven’t taken a class quite like vegetable gardening before, so it’s different in that sense. It is also different because we have to go in one door where there’s a person working to check Safer Illinois apps and prove that we have building access. There are only 10 people in our class max, and all of our desks are separated out to be six feet apart.

“It is weird to sit at your desk with a mask on. Every day gets more and more normal to me. … And it’s just a fun class, and everyone’s there having a good time. So that helps, too.”

How do online classes compare to in-person learning?

“I think the tough thing about online classes is that you feel like you have to check your class site, like, a million times a day. I think part of that’s probably just because you don’t really get that face-to-face connection. It’s harder in that sense, and I think sometimes it’s harder to have discussions. People can be kind of shy about speaking up on Zoom—I know I am sometimes, too.

“I have a lot of group projects being a business student; that’s just part of your curriculum. Normally, you’d just be able to meet up on campus, but I have some group members that are back at home, so I have a lot more Zoom meetings than I have ever had before. I’m really looking forward to the day that I can just delete Zoom off my computer!”

“I think it takes more effort to be on top of everything and understand fully what’s going on in terms of some of the logistics. … I feel like the content is the same, and the professors are doing a really good job of trying to make it as normal as possible. Given the circumstances, it’s been really positive. But there’s only so much you can do.”

What’s a typical day look like for you on campus right now?

“My roommate and I have started doing this thing where we both get up at 8:00, which is really early for us, and we go on a walk together just to jumpstart our day . … Most of my classes are in the afternoon, so I’ll come back and do some homework and apply for jobs or have interviews in the morning before it becomes time to log on to Zoom. …

“I’ve been trying to do a lot of things outside and have a reason to get up and walk around, because there are some days where I’ll have, like, five hours of Zoom lectures back to back. And then there are some days where I only have an hour here and there.”

Claire and her dance team wearing face coverings at an event.
During COVID-19, Claire’s dance team has continued to practice outside while wearing their masks. Says Claire of the safety precautions taken at UIUC this year, “It shows how cool the school is and how much we accomplished.”

What other activities are you involved in on campus, and how have you been able to make them work this semester?

“I’m involved in three main organizations. There is my dance team, the athletic board, and I’m also in a sorority. Our sorority is mostly virtual … we’ve been doing things like over Zoom. … My dance team practices every week with masks on. I’ve had a few different board events with Illini Pride where we’ve done Zoom meetings, but we’ve also done a couple outdoor meetings where we went to a field and just played games.

“I think everyone’s making a conscious effort to still do things, which is nice. It’s obviously different. I think the effort is way more appreciated, though.”

What kind of events has campus organized for students?

“At Memorial Stadium [on] Friday nights, [they have] a double feature movie, and then Saturday nights, they have different bands performing. There was [also] a comedian from Chicago who came, and there were a lot of student groups that also did things—like, my dance team was there, there were a lot of musical groups, a Broadway-like musical theater group, things like that.

“Gies Business has been doing a Fall Fest, which they’ve never done before. They have a tent behind the BIF, and you can paint a pumpkin. … A lot of people have been getting really creative about the different types of events they can hold, which has been kind of cool.”

In what ways has the UIUC community come together during COVID-19?

“I think everyone recognizes that this is a weird time. There is a sense of camaraderie, where everyone’s like, ‘Well, we’re in it together, so how can we make it better?’ I think it’s a lot of everyone in the community taking it seriously and holding themselves accountable to get tested when they’re supposed to get tested and do the quarantining if they have to.”

What advice would you give to incoming freshmen right now?

“What I usually say to freshmen coming in is to be bold, because I was kind of timid. I can a little bit shy at first. … I think [now] more than ever, it’s important to be bold, because opportunities may be a little bit fewer than they are normally. … So I think the biggest thing is, if you see something that interests you, just go for it. There’s no reason not to, and the worst that can happen is that it just wasn’t meant to be.”

How can they get connected or involved on campus?

“There was a virtual quad day at the beginning of the year … Greek life ended up being a great way to meet people. If you join a club, you can often find lots of other clubs to join off of that. If you have an interest from high school that you’re trying to pursue in college, the RSO website lists every single RSO, so you can see exactly what’s out there. And there are thousands.”

What has experiencing college during COVID-19 taught you?

“I think it taught me that I’m a lot more resilient than I thought I was. … I feel like it teaches us to not take for granted a lot of the things we took for granted before: going out to dinner or being able to hug your grandma, because I haven’t even seen one of my grandmas since Christmas of last year. Make sure that you value all those little moments that you never really thought twice about before.”