Thursday, March 26, 2020

‘Everyone just kind of disappeared’

Dan Mahony is one of about 140 students who remain on the University of Illinois Springfield campus after the school announced that the rest of the semester will be taught online amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mahony couldn’t go home even if he wanted because his home is Brockham, England, which the United States banned all travel to and from last week to curb the spread of the virus. As a member of the UIS soccer team, however, he didn’t expect to go home anytime soon.

“I was prepared to be here until May and I was actually planning on playing in a summer league, so I wasn’t expecting to go home for quite awhile,” Mahony said. “It’s not too bad. It’s quite easy to stay connected with your family through group chats or video calls.”

UIS Chancellor Susan Koch said students were not required to go home, but were encouraged to. She said students who needed to stay could submit a request. “That includes a lot of international students, not all, but a lot, but it also includes some domestic students – maybe from Illinois, maybe from someplace else – who for whatever reason simply don’t have another option.”

While food, health and counseling services remain open at UIS, Mahony described campus as a “ghost town.” “It’s pretty weird,” he said. “There’s no cars in the parking lot, no one’s walking around, you don’t hear music coming from anywhere, so it’s strange. I don’t know how really to describe it, it felt a bit like living in a movie how everyone just kind of disappeared.”

Mahony has spent most of his time playing video games online with friends and watching movies.

UIS soccer strength and conditioning coaches also gave the team bodyweight exercises to do at home to stay in shape. He also noted that the practice fields aren’t closing and is taking advantage of that. 

However, as classes resumed Monday, he’s trying to shift the focus back to school. He was already enrolled in one online class, as he prefers in-person classes because he thinks it’s easier to get more out of it, but he understands the reality that everyone must adjust to. “It’s hard to stay disciplined,” Mahony said. “It feels like you have a lot of free time because there’s nothing scheduled, but then really you do have to get stuff done and otherwise it will just build up.”

Some professors may not be fully confident in using technology to continue courses, but Koch said the decision to extend spring break for a week was to make sure professors were equipped and ready to implement e-learning. “Regardless of the level of digital skill of any faculty member, one thing they all have in common is that they want their students to be successful and they really want our students to successfully complete the semester,” Koch said.

One of the first things he noticed was how well UIS was communicating with students about the coronavirus.

The university sent email updates after the first case was reported in Illinois in January, despite no confirmed cases spreading to Sangamon County until mid-March. Koch said communication with students, faculty and staff has been one of the top priorities. “We are working on that literally every day making sure people know what they need to know not only about the virus itself and the spread of the virus in Sangamon County and in Illinois, but also about what decisions are being made at the campus level that affects their lives,” Koch said.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on March 25, 2020.

Read the entire article online.