First Year Experience (FYE), is the class that every first-year student takes their first semester at Fairfield to help them adjust to college life. This program has experienced some drastic changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New student leaders (NSLs), who are responsible for teaching the FYE courses, have had to change their teaching methods in order to make them more appropriate for the current situation. To get more information on the subject, we interviewed Corinne Cude ‘22, a Fairfield University student who has seen firsthand the difference between FYE before and after the impact of the pandemic, having been an NSL and FYE instructor for two years.

Like many other classes at Fairfield, most FYE classes are fully online, but some have taken on a hybrid approach. Cude teaches a hybrid class herself, in which “the class is divided in half, where half of the class attends online while the other half is in-person” with “both groups attending concurrently.” 

Each half takes turns attending class in-person or online. The location of in-person class meetings depends on which FYE class the students are in, as every NSL teaches their class a little differently. Cude’s class takes place in a classroom in Langguth, with the majority of NSLs having been assigned to different indoor locations with varying COVID-19 room capacities. NSLs may also decide to have classes outdoors.

The FYE courses have had to make other changes, and many aspects that were always a huge part of FYE have now been modified or had their roles reduced. For example, icebreakers, which any Fairfield student who experienced FYE pre-COVID-19 will tell you, have always been a characterizing aspect of every class. I remember starting each and every class with at least one icebreaker, to help us first-year students get to know each other or start a conversation related to the theme of class for that day. Themes ranged from peer pressure to coping with failure. 

According to Cude, icebreakers have now been modified “so that they are compliant with social distancing.” Icebreakers often require students to get up and move around or be in close proximity to each other. This makes icebreakers extremely difficult to pull off in our new learning environment. Many NSLs still make icebreakers a part of their class, but their usage has been reduced.

Another element of FYE that was once a major part of the class but has now changed is the in-person events that students were required to attend in order to receive certain credits. Attending these events were vital during a student’s first-year. They were a fun way to meet new people or hang out with friends. Students used to be required to attend seven in-person events with different themes to earn the three kinds of credits: thrive, inspire and connect. 

Cude explained that now students “can’t attend in-person events the same way anymore.” The amount of required events has been reduced from seven to five, and any events that students attend now must be socially-distanced and take place outdoors, or occur over Zoom. Events also have a maximum capacity for student attendance, which was not in place before COVID-19.

These changes that have taken place may appear to inhibit students from connecting with one another, but they are necessary in order to protect students from contracting the virus. NSLs, including Cude, are doing their best during these difficult times to continue to help students adapt to their new college lifestyle, while also providing them with safe, fun ways to connect with each other.

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