Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter
UMF professors adapting coursework to online platforms last minute has posed some unique challenges, but has also resulted in some positive surprises. Depending on the discipline, the transition has been as simple as utilizing Blackboard more than they did before, changing in-person lectures to Zoom classes, and recording lectures. Disciplines such as natural sciences have posed more difficult problems and require more creative solutions.
Professor Mariella Passarelli’s organic chemistry students luckily completed their basic lab requirements in the fall, but are unable to conduct the lab portion of their capstone projects. “Students have to plan and come up with the procedure to make a target compound – like an antiviral agent – and then try it out in the lab,” Passarelli said via email. “Students will still plan their synthesis, but they won’t get to try out their plan in the lab. They will still write about it.”
While Passarelli has managed to adapt the content, she iterated that there is no replacement for an in-person lab. “It does not matter how good the virtual lab is, it is not the same,” Passarelli said. “It is like virtually cooking instead of actually cooking, or watching a travel show as opposed to going abroad or playing a sport virtually; just not the same.”
Students in Professor Stephen Grandchamp’s English courses–Modern Love Sonnets in the Digital Age and Hip Hop History and Culture–are well-accustomed to digital programs as modern technological mediums are a staple of Grandchamp’s teaching.
Most recently in Grandchamp’s hip hop course, students watched the movie 8 Mile collectively and then discussed the movie together on Zoom. “That project works really well moving into digital modality. It’s been a pretty easy transition,” he said over a video chat in his Farmington home.
As manager of the Digital Humanities lab, Grandchamp has received several questions by other professors as to how to adapt course content to new platforms. “I would say my first rule is to make sure that you are comfortable with what you are doing. Don’t feel like you have to go into a digital program just because we are online this semester,” he said.
English Professor Dan Gunn has stuck to Zoom for the majority of his courses’ content and has found the breakout room feature the most useful for maintaining the discussion-based nature of his classes. This feature automatically generates groups of students into private discussions where Gunn can visit to listen in and help guide discussions.
Nonetheless, there are just certain aspects that he feels are lost in online platforms. “To me, it’s not the same because there’s something that you get from having the energy in the same room. It feels flat to me,” he said over video chat, sitting in front of a towering bookshelf in his Wilton home. “I like to read aloud. I don’t like reading to a screen, to people in little boxes. It feels unnatural to me.”
Yet, Gunn has been pleasantly surprised to see students maintaining high spirits and even making light of the current upheaval. When he enters the Zoom classroom for his Shakespeare course, he often finds his students playing Shakespearean version of hangman.
“I feel like people are getting a little more used to this so it’s not as intimidating as it once was. That’s true for me too, obviously,” Gunn said. “I’m really impressed with the way the students have been willing to adapt to that. I’ve had really good attendance in the last week or so.”
Passarelli expressed a similar nostalgia for in-person teaching since adapting her Forensic Science course to what she described as “guided inquiry” in which students go through videos, case studies, and PowerPoint presentations on their own. “I had a wonderful group of students this semester. We were having fun in that class, and I miss them,” she said.
Luckily, some positives have emerged from online learning. Both Grandchamp and Gunn noted that a handful of students seem to engage more online. “Some students seem more comfortable online than they were face-to-face,” Gunn said. “They have been more active and interested in participating electronically.”
Grandchamp has noticed that more students are reaching out to him during his office hours than they were before quarantine. “I think it feels a little more low-pressure to students than going to their professor’s office. They don’t have to be on video, and if they’re uncomfortable, they can turn their video off or they can just use the Zoom dial-in number. And I have given them my cell phone number just to text during my office hours.”
Passarelli is hopeful that this emergency transition to online learning will foster new strengths in her students. “I am hoping that the guided-inquiry style will teach my students how to be independent learners,” said Passarelli.
UMF’s emergency transition to online teaching has also provided students and professors with socialization, a basic need that is severely lacking in everyone’s lives under quarantine. “We’re all isolated, and this is a chance to talk to people so I think people have been really sweet with each other,” Gunn said.
Gunn lives in Wilton, ME.
The hangman game was an activity Gunn’s students did before the switch to remote learning due to COVID-19 and Gunn “reconstituted” the activity over Zoom.
Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter
As the third week of quarantine approaches, UMF students and faculty have had to adapt numerous aspects of their lives including their faith practices. For many Christians, Easter Sunday was a televised celebration this year as were many of the Catholic Holy Week traditions. Similar alterations to practicing the month-long Muslim tradition of Ramadan starting April 23 will also be made due to quarantine.
Sophomore Abbie Hunt typically spends Easter Sunday watching the sunrise over Sabattus Pond at Martin’s Point in Sabattus with her family and friends before attending a service at Community Baptist Church in Sabattus.
“My family still got up early– around six– to watch the sun rise from our house. Then we had our own breakfast together. Since my dad is the associate pastor and my mom is one of the worship leaders, they went to my church to put on our live stream service,” Hunt said in an email. “My siblings and I watched the church service on Youtube Live from our couch.”
To maintain a semblance of normality, Hunt and her sisters dressed up for the live streamed service and texted friends from church during the sermon.
For creative writing professor Patricia O’Donnell, who practices Catholicism, the week leading up to Easter Sunday is filled with numerous opportunities to attend special mass services. “I would usually go to at least one other service that week, like Good Friday; that’s the service that I would often go to. So it was kind of hard to get into the feeling of Easter,” she said over video chat from her Farmington home.
Instead, O’Donnell live streamed an Easter mass from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. “I have been there before and it’s beautiful! It’s like I can go visit another church!”
She was surprised to see how the service was conducted in the midst of the pandemic. “They had 15 to 20 people conducting the service, and they weren’t doing a lot of social distancing. They gave communion to the attendants. The priest put it in his hands as he usually did and some of the people had him put his fingers right in their mouths!”
Freshman Yusuf Mohamed who practices Islam, can only anticipate how his upcoming Ramadan practices–a daily sunrise to sundown fast, keeping up with praying five times a day, acts of charity and attending Jummah; a Friday prayer service held at a mosque–will be altered to adhere to the stay-at-home order.
“Actually, quarantine makes it hard because you usually try to stay productive because if you just lay down, your body gets lazy and you’re not even gonna want to pray,” Mohamed said over video chat.
Mohamed relies on soccer to keep himself energized during Ramadan even though he is prohibited from food and water during the day. “We usually have a Ramadan soccer tournament. And even though we can’t drink water, I’m used to it. I’ve been fasting since I was 8 years old.”
He also anticipated quarantine interfering with a sacrifice that his family makes every year. “At the end of Ramadan, my family usually slaughters a goat for a sacrifice and eats it as a way of saying thank you to Allah. I think that might be difficult because we usually go to a farm in Green and pay the place to kill it.”
O’Donnell also reminisced about her typical holiday non-quarantine traditions which always includes a big family dinner. “Sometimes my grandchildren would come up and we would have an Easter egg hunt here and they would go to mass with me, the two little girls. They can’t say no, only the adult children can say no,” she said laughing.
Instead, the granddaughters, O’Donnell’s three children and their partners visited each other for Easter Sunday over a Zoom chat and then O’Donnell had a quiet dinner with her husband. “Our special dinner was that we ordered a dinner from Harry and David. We ordered two lobster pot pies and it was sort of like eating out, and it cost about as much as eating out!”
Despite quarantine restricting certain traditions, faith communities have found ways to keep people connected and practicing their religion. Hunt is part of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IV), a bible study group that hosts weekly fellowship, worship and games at the UMF campus.
“Now, we are pretty much doing that same thing, but we’re doing it over Zoom,” Hunt said over a video chat from her family home in Monmouth. “Our leader shares his screen over Zoom and he plays a worship song on Youtube. So that has actually worked pretty well.”
O’Donnell attends Saint Joseph’s Church in Farmington which is remaining connected with congregants in a variety of ways. “Our priest is good at keeping in touch through the Facebook page. He did a drive up confession. I’m not gonna do it,” she said smiling with her hand over her chest. “He let people drive up to the church hall and they have a confession there and then they drive away.”
For Mohammed, remaining connected with his faith community during quarantine will mean spending more time with his siblings and his mother, watching Islamic lectures and leaning in even more to the purpose of Ramadan.
“I believe quarantine will get people closer to Allah because they won’t be distracted. They’ll practice Ramadan more. It’ll make us grateful for what we have for sure,” Mohammed said. “Every year, Ramadan just brings me feelings of being grateful.”
Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter
While domestic UMF students living on campus were able to easily relocate to Scott Hall, or make arrangements to return home in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, international students were forced with tough decisions on whether or not to remain in Farmington and how to get home should they decide to leave. These students had to grapple with the additional stress of navigating border policies, booking flights threatened by cancellation, and the potential of being quarantined upon arriving home.
For 25-year-old French Teaching Assistant Enzo Boulay, the desire to remain in Maine and wait out the pandemic seemed like the most viable option, until March 19. “I had two choices. I could stay at my friend’s house in North Yarmouth or I could have stayed in Farmington,” Boulay said over video chat from his room in Le Mans, France.
“They gave me a room in Scott, and my plan was to come sometimes to Farmington to work and stuff, but one week ago Lynne Eustis and Linda Beck, my advisor, told us, ‘You should leave now, I highly recommend that you leave now.’”
Boulay made plans to return to UMF for the Fall 2020 semester and made his way back to what felt like a deserted country. “In Paris a lot of people have masks and in Levon I saw nobody. I just saw people in the train station, but in the streets there’s nobody.”
French exchange student Jennifer Guisset received the same recommendation by Eustis and Beck, but ultimately made the decision to return to her hometown of Toulouse due to the pressure she was receiving from the French embassy. “I didn’t feel kicked out from Farmington. That was my choice, and I took one week and a half to make my decision,” Guisset said over a video chat while walking around her mother’s vacant flat. “I had a lot of support. Linda and Lynne were always there for us; they gave us the support we needed.”
Meanwhile, Spanish Teaching Assistant Alba Fernandez had every intention of remaining in Farmington rather than returning to Argentina during the pandemic as she was already in the process of extending her visa for a summer teaching position with Upward Bound. When the announcement first broke about the UMaine system transferring the remainder of the semester to virtual courses, Fernandez was assured that she could continue her position as a TA online and continue to live on campus.
But responses to the pandemic were changing on a daily basis for the UMaine system as well as immigration policies for the United States and Argentina, and on March 19 Fernandez was strongly urged to return home by her advisor.
“By that time, it was impossible. Flights were cancelled, airports were closed,” Fernandez said via video chat while sitting in the sun outside of Scott Hall. “It will be at least May until I am allowed to go back to Argentina because the government closed the borders, and even Argentina people are not allowed to get into the country. So basically, at the beginning it was my decision, but now I don’t have a choice.”
Both Fernandez and Guisset had to take into consideration the health and safety of their families as well. Fernandez feared returning home because her mother already has a compromised immune system, and Guisset’s mother has cancer.
“This is all about adaptation everywhere,” Guisset said, standing in a room full of half-packed boxes left behind by her mother. “I took the plane on Friday; I arrived on Saturday. I stayed at my friend’s house in Paris to rest a little and to let my mother quit her apartment and go to her family’s house.”
Guisset will live alone in her mother’s flat to ensure her safety, but despite the isolation, she maintained a positive attitude. “When I was in medical school, I was always studying alone in my flat. So I am kind of used to this.”
Boulay, who has been quarantining himself in his room for the recommended two week period, expressed less contentment with the situation. He had been watching television and playing video games to pass the time, but even after his two week quarantine he will have very little freedom. In France, people are only allowed out of their homes for one hour of exercise a day or to go to the grocery store.
“If we go out without a good reason we get fined 135 Euros,” Boulay said. After the third offense, the police have the right to arrest people for violating the safety precautions that France is enforcing nation-wide.
“The police are in my neighborhood, and they are always watching,” Guisset said. With movement so restricted in France, she is thankful for UMF’s quick response to convert all courses to online classes, knowing that this will add structure and routine to her days.
“I think Americans reacted very fast when faced with coronavirus. For example, in France they don’t have online classes,” Guisset said. “They don’t know how they are going to have graduation at this moment. They don’t have classes, they don’t have exams, they don’t have anything.”
As courses resume online, Fernandez will be adjusting to virtual platforms to conduct her office hours and assist with Spanish courses while also consistently checking in with her family and friends in Argentina. “I think international people face an extra obstacle or challenge, which is processing this pandemic situation while so far away from home and from our people,” Fernandez said.
Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter
Less than 90 students now reside on UMF’s campus in Scott Hall after the university officially closed all other dorm residencies on March 19 in response to COVID-19. The students living in Scott must now adjust to a condensed version of UMF which consists of their residence hall and the Student Center. Previously, students were able to use the Fusion lab spaces, but as of Sunday evening, VP of Student Affairs, Christine Wilson, announced all campus labs will be closed until further notice as a precaution.
Junior Khadija Tawane said over a video call that she is struggling to establish a healthy routine under the new restrictions. “They don’t have any activities in the dorms, and we are just in bed all day. My back hurts just from laying down all day and eating trash food!” she said.
UMF has put a slew of safety measures in place to help prevent the spread of coronavirus on campus which has greatly impacted socialization. All students are living in their own rooms in Scott and bathrooms have been assigned to a maximum of three people.
“This just lessens the risk of bacteria and what not,” Community Assistant (CA) Kellsie Britton said during a video call interview. “There’s also a no guest policy. Anyone who does not live in Scott, even people who live in campus apartments, can’t visit.” Britton did add that students living in Scott can visit each other within the residence hall.
Even the Beaver Lodge has new restrictions to minimize contact for employees and students. No more than 10 people are allowed in the cafeteria and lounge area and students are now required to pre-order dinner. “They sanitize everything as soon as people are done,” Britton said.
Students are also discouraged from traveling out of state or to any high-risk counties within Maine. “If they leave to go to a county that is high-risk like Cumberland then when they get back they are expected to go into a quarantine period which is in FAB,” Britton said. “They get their own suite and their own bathroom and they get food delivered to their door.”
Spanish Teaching Assistant Alba Fernandez is staying put in her dorm room with the exception of the occasional walk. “I am listening to music, watching the news, talking to people over the phone; that’s really important for me, talking to people,” Fernandez said during a video call on a sunny afternoon while she sat outside of Scott Hall.
Tawane and Fernandez keep each other company on campus, but Tawane does leave UMF regularly to work at Pinewood Terrace, an elderly home care center which has enacted similar safety precautions to UMF. “At my workplace, no visitors are allowed,” Tawane said, who seemed confident to continue working during the pandemic. “I am healthy. I’m not going anywhere. I am just working.”
Instead, Tawane was primarily concerned about adapting to virtual platforms for classes. “I have never done online classes and it’s just stressing me out, and I learn better in person,” Tawane said. “I am not good with technology, and I have never used the Zoom thing and one of my professors wants me to do a presentation through zoom.”
For Fernandez, loneliness is more of an issue than the stress of adapting to online courses. “Even though you are with people, you feel so lonely. We are all trying to process this situation so I feel like I cannot ask for help because we are all going through the same,” Fernandez said on a video call while sitting next to Tawane. “We all feel lonely and this is a huge mess in our lives.”
As a CA, Britton is used to helping students cope with a variety of circumstances while living on campus, but now she has the added responsibility of deciphering the new waves of information that she receives on a daily basis regarding the coronavirus.
“I have tried to be as informed as possible with the emails coming out. Any misconceptions coming out, I need to kind of correct those,” Britton said. “I think it’s very important to just be there and make sure that everyone’s feelings and thoughts are being heard which can take a toll on some of us.”
Andrea Swiedom Staff Reporter
When people ask senior Samantha Rose Aloba Melgar where she’s from, they’re rarely satisfied with her initial response of the Gardiner/Augusta area. Often, they ask her again with an emphasis on from. “I feel like I have to explain because I don’t belong to one place. To me, where you are from is such a heavy question,” Aloba Melgar said. “I assume they’re asking where you are originally from and I don’t know. I am just used to telling people the Philippines-Maine-Texas-Maine story.”
Aloba Melgar moved to Augusta with her mother and older brother from Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines when she was nine years old. Her mother had remarried a man from Maine and they arrived during a Jan. snowstorm. “It was my first experience of snow because in the Philippines there’s only a wet and dry season, and I was just looking around really fascinated,” Aloba Melgar said.
While she’s still fascinated by snow, she admitted that that’s about as far as her appreciation goes for Maine winters. “I like it when it first initially snows,” Aloba Melgar said with her fingers dancing in mid-air to mimic snow falling. “But the cold that comes with it and when it gets dirty…” she trailed off shaking her head in discomfort.
She experienced a short break from New England winters when she was 11 years old after her mother’s divorce led the family to move to El Paso, Texas where they reconnected with extended family members. For the first time since living in the United States, Aloba Melgar was amongst Filipino Americans. “There is a community here in Maine, but we’re not really a part of it. It was nice in Texas to get to know them and not have it be as scattered as it is here in Maine,” she said.
Exposure to Filipino culture in Texas brought back nostalgic memories of Aloba Melgar’s early childhood in Cebu where large family gatherings consistently took place several times throughout the month. “I do miss the physical gathering of us together,” she said. “Sometimes we would go to the beach. Mostly, we would either go to someone’s house or go to a restaurant together.”
Samantha Melgar. Photo Courtesy of Samantha Melgar.
Aloba Melgar’s face lit up as she described the strong tradition surrounding food at family reunions and one of the dishes her mom still makes regularly at home called pancit, a noodle dish similar to chow mein that is quickly fried with vegetables and seasoned with soy sauce.
“Food is a big thing in the Philippines, we love to share food. We just love food, and I think that transcends beyond any language,” Aloba Melgar said. Although, she admitted that she has struggled to carry on her culture’s culinary traditions in an attempt to avoid washing dishes.
While in El Paso, Aloba Melgar joined a Christian church and was baptized in the Protestant faith while her mother remained Roman Catholic, the primary religion in the Philippines. While this was not a dramatic change, it does demonstrate how Aloba Melgar’s identity often reflects her dual origins of the United States and the Philippines.
“There are views that formed while I grew up here, and there are views that stayed with me that I learned from the Philippines. I’ve noticed in Western culture, you guys like independence very much and by the time you’re 18, you’re expected to go off,” she said. “Usually in the Philippines, for my family anyway, you stay with the family and usually the older sibling takes care of the parents.”
Aloba Melgar considers herself Generation 1.5, which refers to immigrants who moved to the U.S. as adolescents. “You’re not really a generation one, and you’re not a generation two; you didn’t entirely grow up in the States,” she said. “So you are both, battling with two identities.”
Aloba Melgar still has vivid memories of her childhood in the Philippines and how certain aspects were ironically unaffected by place. She played with Bratz dolls and princess Barbies and binge-watched Disney movies.
But she also reflected on aspects of her childhood that were unique to the society and culture in the Philippines. “We would play hide-and-go-seek in the woods with a lot of bugs or go into abandoned houses,” she said. “I could say, ‘Mom, I’m gonna be gone and I will come back later,’ and it was usually fine. I don’t think it was dangerous, there was never an idea that there was a dangerous situation.”
Aloba Melgar also remembered the cost of education and the strain it had on her mother who was determined to keep her and her older brother in school.
“We were a middle class family in the Philippines, but there was a time when my mom’s salary was not enough, and my mom had to pick between me and my brother,” she said. “My mother sat me down once and told me that I might have to stop school, and I started crying. Luckily that didn’t happen. My mom moved me to a different school that was cheaper.”
Aloba Melgar’s family spent a short year and a half in El Paso before returning to Maine which seemed to be beckoning them back. “I think we just met the right people, and that really contributed to why we came back and stayed here.”
After graduating from Cony High School in Augusta, Aloba Melgar enrolled at UMF to pursue psychology after breaking the news to her mother that she would not be going to school for nursing. “I was going to go to USM, but then out of nowhere, I realized that I didn’t want to become a nurse because that is more of what my mom pushed me to do. Nursing is actually a Filipino stereotype,” she said, chuckling.
Samantha Melgar as a kid in the Philippines. Photo Courtesy of Samantha Melgar.
Her mother supported her interest in counseling, but as Aloba Melgar studied psychology she found herself more drawn to social work. She also realized that her mother had imprinted some career ideas on her that were still intriguing such as working for the United Nations or the Peace Corps.
When Aloba Melgar was still considering nursing in high school, she always imagined traveling for work. She started exploring international social work options and that’s when she learned that the Peace Corps was essentially just that. “I wanted more experience before going into grad school and I was just exhausted with academia.”
Aloba Melgar applied to the Peace Corps last semester and will be returning to the Philippines in early July for the first time since she was nine years old to work as a youth development facilitator.
“I am going to be working with elementary age to even up to college age people, just helping them with education, to access resources, with positive identity and vocational skills, with critical thinking and healthy lifestyle activities, with mentoring and workshops.”
For the next two years, Aloba Melgar will be reintroducing herself to a place that she considers to be a significant part of her identity. “I want to explore and go back to where I started. I just want to see the changes,” she said. “I want to make connections again with the culture and see how I will react to it now that I’ve spent more than half my life here in the U.S.”