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University of Montana students reflect on virtual semester

Posted at 9:05 AM, Nov 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-23 15:14:21-05

Students at the University of Montana are packing up and heading home after arguably the strangest semester they’ve ever seen.

Geneva Zoltek and Hailey Monaco are both on track to graduate in May, but this year certainly hasn't felt like the celebratory final lap of college they had imagined.

“I had one class that was online right from the beginning, and it involved a lot of online course work, then weekly meetings where all 40 of us met in an online Zoom classroom,” said Zoltek.

For Monaco, only two of her six classes this semester were held in person. Zoltek and Monaco said their online classes made interactions with their classmates nearly impossible.

“We had to do presentations, and people turned on their cameras, and I’d never even seen them before,” said Monaco.

Camaraderie typically found between peers was practically nonexistent.

“If you need to lament about a hard class assignment or tell jokes before class you can’t do that, it’s very just straight to business,” said Zoltek.

In general, the online platform that UM and other universities across the country became accustomed to this year left students like Zoltek and Monaco feeling isolated.

According to Zoltek, this semester reminded them how important community is. When it came to motivation and discipline, that was a whole other issue in itself.

“Every single week you just sit in front of your computer and listen to someone talking to their screen, and I found myself getting very bored and I would sit on my phone sometimes when I was supposed to be taking notes because the professor couldn’t see me and I could turn off my camera,” said Monaco.

Outside of the virtual classroom, the college experience that often sells the college itself was also a major letdown. Bleachers with no fans, auditoriums with no audience, and quads with no commotion.

Of course, that’s the price you pay to stay safe during a global pandemic, but the question remains, was it worth it?

“The beginning of this semester, it was really hard coming to Missoula because I didn't know if I was saying goodbye to my parents for the last time, and all of those scary things you have to think about,” said Monaco. “Honestly I don’t think it was worth it this semester.”

Zoltek said she didn’t necessarily think the semester was a waste, but thought perhaps she missed out on too many opportunities to pay the same cost as a normal semester.

“I don’t regret it because I’m gonna get a degree, and I just think this year is gonna teach everyone something, and everyone has had to go through different battles in 2020, mine was school I guess.”

Both Zoltek and Monaco told MTN News that their best-case scenario for next semester would be having a traditional commencement and walking with their classmates at graduation.

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