“It feels a little nerve-racking to have class in person again," says Prathusha Jayaprakash, a first-year management major who spent her first semester of college at her family home in Fremont, California. For the spring semester, she traveled to Amherst to live in the dorms and has been attending the seminar Big Ideas in Business in person in the school’s Business Innovation Hub. "We're able to have group discussions and collaborate instantly, which is something I think a lot of people missed having during the pandemic."
Although Covid-19 precautions mean that Jayaprakash and the rest of her Class of 2024 college cohort who returned to campus still attend most of their classes remotely, Isenberg rearranged the furniture and layout in its Learning Commons to allow the space to be used as a classroom.
“Teaching is where my passion lies,” observes Nora Junaid, a lecturer in Isenberg’s Department of Operations and Information Management, who has been an instructor for the in-person class.Big Ideas in Business is the second semester of the mandatory Transitions course for all first-year Isenberg majors, which introduces students to some of the innovations and timeless concepts that drive business performance today, including leadership, teamwork, and issues of ethics. It also takes them on an informational tour of the school’s seven departments and its key resources, including the Chase Career Center.
“I teach three sections of about thirty-five students each in the Hub,” Junaid continues. The setting’s extraordinary spaciousness allows for ample physical separation among her students. And, she notes, Isenberg staffers conscientiously disinfect the podium, furniture, and other surfaces before and after each class. Teaching in-person, she adds, has been voluntary. “The dean’s office asked some of us whether we might consider teaching in the venue. I jumped at the opportunity.”
The students have been no less eager. “Having an in person class in Isenberg has given us some sense of normalcy,” says Aaron Bohlinger, a first-year finance major. “For the entire first semester, we felt kind of disconnected and like we weren’t part of the student body at UMass, or outliers.”
Marketing and sport management major Paulette Palomares agrees that being able to meet with faculty and peers in person makes her feel more like a real UMass Amherst student than logging on from her family home in Morristown, New Jersey, where she spent the fall semester. “It definitely adds to the college experience. You start remembering faces better. The class feels more unified rather than just being separated by screens. Education is not just the material that you learn in the classroom; it is also about the interactions and friendships you make during class and how they start to enrich your life.”
“The students have impressed me as even more driven than I had imagined,” underscores Junaid. “They’ve been amazingly motivated to learn. Almost no one has missed a class.” And there’s a silver lining in all of this, she observes. “Their often-stressful experience over the past year has made them more agile, more adaptive. That will give them an edge after graduation when as business practitioners they encounter uncertainty and change.”
Faculty members and students shared more thoughts about this semester's partial return to campus:
Bob Bowse, Senior Lecturer II in the Business Communication Program
It’s been really fun to be back teaching in-person. This Transitions course is designed around group discussions and collaborations, and it’s exciting to see the students engaging each other with so much enthusiasm and energy, as though they’re making up for lost time.
I have a greater sense of appreciation for our being together in person. It’s just a much richer, more vivid experience for all, and it’s made me realize how much we’ve lost over the last year. I’ve gained a greater sense of empathy and compassion for my students, for all they’ve gone through, and it’s made me want to be a better instructor, almost as a way of making it up to them.
Paulette Palomares, first-year marketing and sport management major from Morristown, New Jersey
It’s funny because in my experience and most of my friends', it seemed like the world was against letting us go to our 192T class. The first week of school, all in-person activities were cancelled because of the weather. My class section, however, would have been able to meet before the snowstorm, but our professor cancelled class because he tore his Achilles tendon (absolutely understandable). For the second week we were in "Elevated" status for Covid-19, so no in-person classes were being held. After we got out of "Elevated," our 192T class was in a virtual section of the course, so no meeting in the Hub. It was only until week 6 (basically halfway through the semester) that I was finally able to attend my first in-person, college class.
Aaron Bohlinger, first-year finance major from Walden, New York
With this class, it is easier to interact with other students and build relationships that will last throughout our tenure here at UMass.
Kerri Bohonowicz, CPA, Lecturer in the Accounting Department
It's been a great experience getting the first year students into the live class setting. We did a ton of group work in this class so students were given time to get to know each other and connect with students that they do not live with. I feel that students appreciated getting to know their peers and finally seeing the Isenberg Hub!
Caroline Wise, first-year business major
I embrace the walk from my dorm to Isenberg. Even thinking about going to an in-person class after a year of staring at Zoom after Zoom on my computer seemed surreal. Being in a building with other students seemed like something I did in another lifetime—a lifetime that didn’t involve awkward silences in breakout rooms; a lifetime where students had never heard the words ‘asynchronous’ and ‘synchronous.’
Anna Litteer, first-year sport management major from Marlborough, Massachusetts
It was incredibly freeing to have a class inside the Hub. For the past year, I haven’t actually felt like I was in college, so this class was the first step in having a normal college life. The remote classes I am taking and dominantly asynchronous, so this is really the only time I have to actually engage with my peers and professors. It is still painfully quiet, but at least we’re all in one room together.
Brett Albert, Lecturer in the McCormack Department of Sport Management
Unfortunately, the early campus outbreak kept us remote for the first month or so of the semester, but the energy and engagement has been fantastic since we've been back in person. I think all of us hit our different version of a quarantine wall around the 1-year anniversary this winter, so it's just been nice to interact in person and not behind screens.