After nearly 18 months of remote work and study, UC Riverside students, staff, and faculty members are anticipating the return to campus this fall with a mix of excitement and nervousness. Here’s what some of the campus community had to say about their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, what they’ve missed most about being at UCR, and the things they’re hoping for following a return to in-person operations.
By Imran Ghori
Elizabeth Croft, an outdoor excursions program coordinator with the Recreation department, said the initial transition was tough, although over time, the process of virtual interactions became more familiar. She was able to connect with other outdoor recreation professionals and noted that outdoor activity actually increased during the pandemic.
“I’m excited for campus to fully reopen this fall,” Croft said. “I miss seeing students every day and getting to engage with students about their interests and help them to explore campus and our surrounding parks and outdoor spaces.”
Julie Salgado, an events manager with CHASS Facilities Management, recalled she was on her way back from a conference in Las Vegas when she was told not to return to work. Salgado said her duties suddenly shifted.
“It all happened very fast,” she said. “This drastic change proved that we can adapt to change and get the work done. In my case, I was able to thrive in this new remote setting. What I miss is the energy of the campus and especially my team. We used to touch base every morning, and at least twice a week we would go get coffee at Ivan’s.”
Mark Hanin, a third-year biology major, found the past year challenging, but ultimately transformative, as he took on student leadership roles with groups such as ASUCR and began working as a tutor.
“This past year served as a period of contemplation and reflection for me, where I took a moment to step back and analyze my future plans, as well as how I would be able to remain civically engaged in my community now that the pandemic changed the way we went about our lives,” he said.
Fatema Shalabi, a fourth-year English major, stayed in her family bubble for much of the pandemic and is eager to return to campus.
“The thing I miss most about campus is its early morning vibes,” she said. “I love the hustle and bustle on campus, but the early hours are just so peaceful. I can’t wait to pick out a book, read at the HUB’s Coffee Bean, and watch the campus awake every morning, just like I used to do.”
Rich Yueh, an assistant professor of teaching in information systems, said the switch to virtual instruction was a smooth one for him due to his experience in working with technology. Students told him his class was one of the most organized and technologically seamless. Still, he’s excited for the fall.
“I teach large classes, and I really enjoy the buzz of a lecture hall and walking around to talk with students before class starts. I’m looking forward to a fresh start,” Yueh said. “Everyone — administrators, faculty, staff, and students — did their best during the pandemic. I hope we can move on and start putting the humanness back into education.”
Valerie Rose Batlle, a chef and cooking program coordinator with the Recreation department, switched from in-person to virtual cooking demonstrations during the pandemic. She said the change resulted in a better worklife balance, allowing her to be there for her child’s remote learning. Batlle noted she has mixed emotions about the return.
“I am also nervous about how this return will affect COVID transmission or outbreaks,” she said. “I am excited and looking forward, however, to returning to my inperson recreation programming and interacting with the students. I miss being able to host events on campus for the Student Recreation Center and Staff Assembly.”
Chelsea Luong, a third-year business administration major, described the past year as a collective trauma as people adjusted to changes. But it also taught her to enjoy little things in life and take up new hobbies such as cooking, gardening, and going on walks with her little sister.
“I enjoyed remote learning because I did not have to commute to school,” she said. “It was nice to be able to sleep in a bit more before my morning classes, though I definitely miss studying on campus and meeting new people in lecture halls.”
Flip Tanedo, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, said he’s adapted to remote teaching by trying to find strategies that preserve what’s special about a UCR education. For research, he switched from chalkboards to tablets, although he misses the chalk dust. Tanedo also misses swimming and sports at the Student Recreation Center as part of a regular lunchtime group, which was a high point of his day.
“That’s the kind of positive energy that can carry you through the day, and it’s something I’ve missed while we’ve been isolated,” he said.
Bella Merlin, a professor of theatre, film, and digital production, described the past year as unexpectedly enriching. As a technophobe, she learned new technological skills and was impressed with the resilience of students in creating an original theater-film-musical hybrid titled “20:20 Vision” this spring. She said she’s both excited and nervous about the fall.
“Acting is an interactively human discipline. It depends so much on shared energy that it will be great to get back into a studio and hear people’s laughter and share people’s space,” she said.