UWM Makes In-Person Return As Concerns Over Pandemic Linger
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee came back to life Thursday as most students returned to in-person classes for the first time in a year and a half.
In the bustling student union café, sorority sisters Alyssa Windau and Sarah Kenwood said they're excited for an in-person semester.
"The entire campus just feels more electric," Windau said. "There’s so many things going on. Just seeing people everywhere is a crazy difference."
Windau is a sophomore architecture major. She is ready to have a more normal school year after spending her freshman year online.
"It was really weird starting classes all online and not having the experience of being on campus at all," Windau said. "I didn’t meet anyone or get to see any of the things that really made campus what it was."
Kenwood, a junior studying journalism, advertising and marketing, is cautiously optimistic. She is worried about a repeat of spring 2020 – when UWM first shut down because of the pandemic.
"It definitely was a concern the last couple weeks, seeing those COVID numbers go up again, and definitely is a concern now that everybody’s back on campus – like it’s bound to spike," Kenwood said. "But everybody has to kind of like pitch in and do their part to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Because every student knows what it’s like to have a year or two of school ripped away from you. And I don’t think anybody wants that to happen again."
UWM is telling students to do their part to keep campus safe. Masks are required indoors, and the school is strongly encouraging vaccination. Students who aren’t vaccinated are required to get COVID tested weekly.
Freshman Dorian Sanchez was one of 81 people to get vaccinated at UWM's campus pop-up clinics Wednesday and Thursday. He said he was glad to finally get vaccinated, after not being able to access the shot before arriving in Milwaukee.
"Because I was in a really rural area and I couldn’t get to a clinic without someone driving me," Sanchez said. "And my family didn’t really want to do the whole vaccine thing for some reason. The other reason is for the public health and my health – it was really important to get the protection that I needed from the vaccine."
As a freshman, Sanchez prepared for the first day of school by doing a practice run between classes.
"Yesterday me and my friend did a test walk across campus to see how fast I needed to get from one class to another, because I do have one class that’s 10 minutes apart and they’re on opposite sides of the campus," Sanchez said. "So I needed to see how fast I could get from there to there."
He said, with a little bit of speed-walking, he made it in time.
UWM instructors are also reacclimating to campus. Ann Raddant, a lecturer in the Biological Sciences department, was in a classroom Thursday for the first time since March 2020.
"You know, I thought I would feel more nervous," Raddant said after teaching her first class Thursday. "But I think I’m just kind of at like, typical first-day-of-school nerves. I feel like the students are taking the COVID precautions really seriously."
Raddant is teaching two sections of an upper-level cell biology class and a large anatomy and physiology class with about 200 students. With a son at home who is too young to get vaccinated, she’s worried about that one.
"I really wanted my large lecture class to stay online – for safety reasons primarily," Raddant said. "Even back in March when they were scheduling, I was like do you really think 200 students are gonna be in a room? So yeah, that one I sort of wish I could have kept online. But also, I didn’t think it was that important that I really needed to fight for it."
According to UWM, 40 instructors have made requests to change their course modality since the beginning of July, and 95% have been approved for a change from in-person to fully or partially online.
During Raddant's Thursday class, one her introductory activities was creating a seating chart. She said it's something instructors have been encouraged to do, in case there is a COVID case in class. The seating chart will allow UWM to more easily identify close contacts.
After class, one student stayed behind to chat, telling Raddant she took an online class with her last fall.
"I really enjoyed your teaching style," the student said.
Raddant missed these interactions.
"Those little personal connections – I do miss those," Raddant said. "Usually even in my big A&P course, there would be a handful of students who would pop out like that. And so it will be nice to have that interaction on campus."
Raddant is enjoying being the classroom, but with the pandemic still looming, she says it feels like a matter of when, not if, UWM will have to pivot back online.