2020 Seniors

2020 Seniors Faced with Uncertain Future Remain Positive

By Jason Shebilske

Trevor Suess had hoped to spend his summer working with children, but his plans are now uncertain due to COVID-19. (Courtesy: Meghan McCallum)

Senior year at the University of Wisconsin is usually filled with activities like making memories on the Memorial Union Terrace and sitting on Abraham Lincoln’s lap.

However, the announcement that in-person classes had been canceled for the remainder of the semester brought those plans to a halt. Instead, students were left scrambling to sort out their post-graduation employment plans while finishing their college experience in quarantine. Many employers are freezing their hiring process as they deal with the financial fallout that the suspension of everyday life has carried.

Pam Garcia-Rivera, Media, Information and Communication Career Advisor

with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, helps students with connections and advice as they work to find internships and jobs after graduation. That process has become more difficult due to COVID-19 since there are fewer professional development and networking events and fewer job opportunities in general.

Garcia-Rivera worked with SuccessWorks, a career advising service through the College of Letters and Science at UW-Madison, during the financial crisis in 2008. She was able to draw some comparisons between that period and what students are experiencing now.

“I remember then it got really quiet, students were very quiet. I think they sort of gave up, and I think that’s sort of what happens, is people get frustrated. It’s like, ‘well, there are no jobs out there, so I’m not going to look,’” Garcia-Rivera said. “I think students who continue to keep their eyes open, keep looking, try and stay positive, make connections, are going to be in a better place when things start to come back.”

In addition to having fewer opportunities to work with, Garcia-Rivera also said students have been reaching out less for career advice.

“I think students have been a little bit more quiet because there’s nothing really happening and maybe they can’t really think of what to reach out to me for,” Garcia-Rivera said.

UW senior Eric Anderson is double majoring in marketing and management/human resources and was far along in the process of applying for a pair of jobs in Chicago when the companies froze their hiring operations. Anderson’s original plan was to work for approximately four years after graduation prior to applying to graduate school. As a result of the uncertainty surrounding his employment, he now plans to study for his GMAT, the exam required for admission to many MBA programs, during the summer with the hope of attending graduate school one year after graduation.

“I’ve had this future plan for a while. Ever since my sophomore year, I’ve always wanted to have employment right out of college, work for three or four years, go to grad school, and now that that whole thing’s flipped upside down. It sucks,” Anderson said. “It’s caused me a bunch of distress about the future because what used to be really nice and predictable is now kind of flipped upside down.”

Amanda Scharenbrock is also a senior at UW-Madison majoring in genetics with a certificate in gender and women’s studies. She was planning on working in her research lab on campus for approximately two years before applying to graduate schools. She expressed optimism that she would still be able to work in the lab, although there’s some uncertainty regarding when she’ll be able to return.

“I know I’m going off of grant money, so I probably could get hired right away because it’s a little different,” Scharenbrock said. “Even if I did get hired on right away, I wouldn’t have anything due and I couldn’t go into [the] lab.”

Both Anderson and Scharenbrock expressed disappointment about having their in-person commencement postponed. Both said that they knew the measure was necessary, but they had been looking forward to the in-person event.

The university announced plans for an alternate in-person event at a later date, but it’s unclear what that event could look like. Although both Anderson and Scharenbrock were appreciative of the gesture, Anderson was disappointed that he wouldn’t get to have a moment of closure with some of the friends he had made during college.

“For me, the biggest thing that I feel like the pandemic really took away is not being able to have a formal goodbye with some of those people you don’t necessarily see on an everyday basis that you get close with,” Anderson said.

Kathleen Culver is a journalism professor at UW-Madison who is helping to plan a virtual tribute to the graduating seniors. She remembered words of encouragement from an alumnus who graduated approximately 25 years ago who said that he didn’t remember his commencement ceremony, but he did remember the connections he’d made during college and the memories that they had.

While the coronavirus has had immediate impacts for seniors in their second semester, other students late in their college experience have also been deeply impacted.

Trevor Suess is a junior at the University of Minnesota studying elementary education who was completing required in-person practicum hours during the spring semester. As a result of the suspension of in-person classes, he’s unsure whether he’ll require more years of schooling in order to complete his practicum hours.

“[The elementary education program] is currently talking with the governor of Minnesota to see if they can get in-class hours waived so that we don’t have to make up the in-class hours that we lost because of this,” Suess said. “I’m worried for the sake that working with kids is something that, it helps to have a lot of person-to-person experience, and that’s not happening right now.”

Suess was planning on staying in Minneapolis over the summer while working in a child-care program or interacting with children through the parks and recreation department. He still plans on remaining in Minneapolis over the summer, but he’s unsure whether he’ll be able to secure employment, especially in his field.

Elizabeth Somsen is in her first semester of her senior year at UW-Madison, studying genetics and genomics. She intended to intern with the National Institutes of Health in Maryland over the summer, but the internship program was canceled as a result of COVID-19. If fall classes were online, she said she’d likely delay her graduation plans as a result.

“If we were going to go all online for the fall semester, I would seriously think about dropping that semester and finishing in the spring,” Somsen said. “I’m missing out on the things that I would have learned, and I just don’t want that. I’d rather just be able to learn all of the things.”

Despite the uncertainty in the middle of her senior year, she recognized how important the safety measures were for protecting public health.

“I think that we all have to not lose the perspective of the situation which we had at the beginning, which is that this is a virus that kills people,” Somsen said.

Seniors in quarantine face disappointment and uncertainty, but many are remaining hopeful for their futures following commencement.

Online Art Classes

Online art classes aren’t really art classes 

By Genevieve Vahl

Silence drowns the halls of campus buildings once buzzing with creative chatter. Table saws silenced, woodshops locked, work benches cleared. Kilns sit empty and cold, ceramic wheels left stilled. Mirrors reflect the motionless studios in Lathrop Hall, void of their daily dance entertainment. 

For studio-based art students, going online has ultimately halted their education. 

“I think for the most part, online art classes aren’t really art classes,” junior graphic design BFA student Ellie Braun said. “It is hard to recreate that experience, if you think about painting students or screen printing students, they are not getting the education they signed up for, they are not able to gain those skills because it is such a hands-on thing.” 

The skills for their tactile professions adjourned for the rest of the semester, forcing graduating seniors out of the nest sooner than anticipated. 

“I feel like I graduated early. I was just shoved into the real world way sooner than I expected,” senior BFA woodworking student Lauren Newby said. 

“Being cheated out of our last months of undergraduate is a huge deal and I feel like no one is talking about that,” senior BFA dance student Alice Svetic said. “I have given my heart and soul to this dance department for the past four years, that is all I have cared about.” 

Alice Svetic – personal project

Not to mention how spring break unintentionally marked the end of the in-person semester, leaving incomplete projects stranded in the studios. 

“But there wasn’t really much we could do, especially the way it coincided with spring break…it was like ope, now everyone is locked out,” Newby said. 

Even for students not graduating, going online has resulted in longing and disappointment.

“I am quite bummed out because I had so many ideas for projects I wanted to do…outside of class. And now I don’t get any of the opportunity, but I am still paying for it…” Braun said.  

Paying for classes that do not have the same effect online has spurred even more animosity. Especially when professors have taken their own liberty in enforcing varying levels of involvement. 

“It is hard because it is so individualized, how is everyone having a similar experience…when I can basically dance full out and other people I know are not having that but we are all paying the same amount of money,” Svetic said. “My ballet class, I am getting zero personal instruction and we’re still going to have to pay.”

“I feel the implications because you can’t get help as much, you can’t interact with your classmates as much. So I think it [going online] has a huge impact, the whole art department is online and the vast majority of those classes have to be taught in person,” Braun said. 

Ellie Braun – pinch pot

“A lot of technique classes for dance are actually lab courses, not lectures; they are actually in the studio hands-on so how are we supposed to do lab courses when we are not in the studio, when we’re not face-to-face, so give me my money back please,” Svetic said. 

Students struggling with their mental health in this especially unstable time has added another dimension to navigating online classes. 

“There are individuals with severe mental health problems, and they don’t know from day to day; [one day] they could be able to have their video on and be super present, but the next day they are just unable to do that, so they can’t show up for class, so then how are we all expected to have the same experience…” Svetic said. 

Cabinets left cuts away from completion, pieces choreographed without a showcase, skills on a potters wheel left unknown. 

“We didn’t really even get to make anything on the wheel. I got one pinch pot out of the entire class,” Braun said about her ceramics class. 

“I won’t end up with two [cabinets] which was ultimately the plan. But it is okay, I think we have all come to terms with it,” Newby said. 

Still those creative minds constantly need stimulus, with some student’s appreciating the structure and taste of normalcy classes offer. 

“Honestly this [having classes via video] is the only thing keeping me sane, having a scheduled dance class and having that embodied practice in my schedule,” Svetic said. “I am thankful for these online classes and the teachers making us do the most because that is giving me just a little taste of normalcy.”

Some even find the extra time nifty. 

“It is a nice way to scour the internet for opportunities, as a senior especially; it is giving you so much time to really contemplate where you want to be and what you want to do and to research opportunities which I do not think I really gave myself time to do before,” Newby said. “Giving yourself something to look forward to and keeping your name out there.” 

Others find classes a burden to their creative flow. 

“I feel like I have so much homework where I cannot even do the projects that I want to do which is frustrating because I don’t care about these [school] projects anymore…Keeping motivation to produce work that I care about is just different when you are not around your classmates, and you’re not able to see what they’re doing,” Braun said. “I think it is hard to create the atmosphere of art classes where you are not commenting on each other’s stuff as the process goes along and able to ask for help from your classmates.” 

Lauren Newby – in the shop on film

With creativity at the core of their identity, going online will never match the communities these art students have built themselves upon. 

“If not a dancer, I don’t really know who I am. Yes I can dance a little bit in my house, and make these silly dance projects, but it’s just not the same…When literally all of your identity is based off this thing you cannot do anymore…I don’t understand how I am supposed to access that kind of sense of self,” Svetic said. 

Going online impairs art students’ opportunity to their education, and even to their sense of self, something the university is going to have to consider moving forward.  

COVID-19 Mental Health

Students particularly affected by mental health disorders during quarantine, expert says

The US has seen a 34% increase in severe anxiety since start of the coronavirus pandemic

By Abby Doeden

In light of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, students struggle with severe anxiety and other mental health issues.

With COVID-19 forcing classes to move online, students to move home and most of the country to #stayathome, many things have changed in the last few months. For University of Wisconsin sophomore Audrey Swanson, the biggest change has been to her mental health.

“I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since like before I can remember,” Swanson said. “So I mean, it’s definitely had its ups and downs in college, but now it’s kind of down. It’s not the worst it’s ever been, but I can definitely tell that there’s a lot I need to work on.”

Swanson said since she has struggled with her mental health for so many years, she notices when it is better and when it is worse. Swanson said she noticed such a change because her mental health was actually the best it has ever been this semester, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

And Swanson is not alone in noticing an increase in anxiety and depression during the pandemic. 

According to Mental Health America, there was a 34% increase in people screened per day for severe anxiety in the first two weeks of March alone. Because of this, the number of “excess severe anxiety” results associated with the coronavirus rose to over 1,000 on March 15, and has grown since.

Expert on adolescent mental health and Associate Professor in the UW School of Social Work, Tally Moses said this increase has been particularly noticeable among her students.

“This period is causing a lot of people to suffer — whether they have a history of mental health conditions or not,” Moses said. “As we know, rates of anxiety — depression too — but in particular rates of severe anxiety has been going up with recent cohorts.”

Moses said college students may be more prone to anxiety during this time, as rates of young adult anxiety were already really high before the pandemic happened. Moses credits this trend to young adults having grown up with social media and greater social pressures surrounding them.

While the uncertainty of the pandemic can be anxiety-inducing enough, Moses said the anxiety students are facing is different for different people. 

For students with more privilege, anxiety comes more from the ambiguity of what will happen with the pandemic, coping with new living situations and struggles of social isolation while in quarantine, Moses said.

“The other piece of it has to do with the social isolation during an age and a developmental stage where it is sort of expected and developmentally desirable to be with your peers,” Moses said. “And not being able to do that and having that monotony in most routines and not really having a lot of social stimulation I think is, is just putting fuel to the fire.”

However, for less privileged students, anxiety comes from worries of financial insecurity, what their next meal will be and having a secure place to complete school work, along with those other anxieties. 

Moses added she has noticed many of her students struggle with motivation and being able to focus on school work — a problem Swanson said she has been noticing in herself. 

Swanson said while her anxiety can keep her motivated to complete classwork, she has noticed a lack of motivation to exercise and get out of the house during quarantine.

“For things like working out, since the gyms are closed, I can’t motivate myself to do that at home,” Swanson said. “So I haven’t exercised since quarantine started. So that’s the big thing that I haven’t been doing.”

Swanson, who was in Madison for the first half of quarantine and is now quarantining at home with her parents in Florida, said she gauges her mental health on what time she gets out of bed in the morning. And while it has been better at home with her family, Swanson said she often doesn’t get out of bed until 2 p.m. in quarantine. 

“I had classes to get me out of bed this semester and it was great because some of them were earlier and some of them a little bit later,” Swanson said. “But mostly I was able to get all of them in the morning, which was great because that is kind of how I gauge how I’m doing mental health wise, is how easy it is to get out of bed in the morning. And I was doing really well before quarantine, and now it’s just so bad. So if I can get up before 11, it’s great.”

Moses said this kind of regression is ok during this time and should not be something students beat themselves up over. 

“One of the things I would say for people who are coming into the pandemic with a preexisting mental health condition is to give yourself a break” Moses said. “Expect a regression, expect that you’re not going to do as well as you have been doing potentially, expect that some of the work may be undone — and don’t panic about that.”

One of the most important things for people struggling with mental health right now, Moses said, is to remember things will get better soon and to start taking small steps to get there.

Peyton David, a senior at UW who also struggles with anxiety and depression, echoed Moses’ advice, saying what helps her the most is remembering she will get through this tough time. 

“At some point, it’s over and at some point you feel better — and that’s just kind of what you have to tell yourself to get through the day,” David said. “And you don’t really know when it’s going to be over, but you’ll know when you’re on the other side, I think that’s the best advice I can give anyone who’s starting to deal with anxiety, or depression because of this.”

David has found that working on creative projects and reconnecting with old friends has helped her during quarantine. Swanson said she has been working to do this by trying to set a routine for herself and recommends anyone currently struggling with mental health do that as well.

Moses agreed with David and Swanson’s recommendations, adding that it can be helpful to limit your intake of social media and news, and create a strong sense of community right now — whether that is virtually or six feet apart. 

However, Moses said the most important thing for everyone during this time to remember is that everyone is in it together, fighting COVID-19 as a community.

“I think a lot of what I think people need to do right now is to, I guess, accept where we are,” Moses said. “Don’t individualize your stress. Try to understand [this pandemic] as a collective experience.”