I am a senior mechanical engineering major at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Drexel already has a weird quarter term system, so classes began at the end of September. All undergraduate classes are online, either synchronous or asynchronous. However, most graduate classes are still in-person.
As of October 19th, Drexel has 14 active cases (13 students and 1 employee). There has been a total of 113 cases in the Drexel community (104 students and 9 employees).
Are you living on campus or off campus?
I'm living off-campus. While I still have an off-campus apartment near Drexel, I am currently living with my family in my home state. It sucks that my family is stuck paying for an empty apartment, but there's no way someone would sublet it and there's still a chance classes could return to in-person this year.
What has your experience been like on campus?
I have not gone back onto the actual campus since March 2020. When I've gone back to check on my apartment, I have hardly seen anyone else that looks like a student. Most people in the area wear masks even while just walking around because Philadelphia is so densely populated.
Do you feel safe being back at school?
I would not feel safe if I was forced to go back to all in-person classes right now. Drexel has a lot of students and is basically an open urban campus. There is no way to restrict who can come and go.
Are students and faculty wearing masks? (Include any official policy set by university?
Students and faculty are scattered around the world for the term. However, it seems like most people are wearing masks while in public. Drexel's current policy is everyone must "wear a face mask inside all campus buildings, and outdoors within 6 feet of any other person." People visiting campus must also complete a symptom questionnaire in the Drexel Health Checker app1-2 hours before coming on campus and show a green check (basically, no symptoms) before entering any building.
Are students and faculty social distancing?
I think everyone is doing the best they can. Everyone travels within their own group. However, the sidewalks and buildings aren't always conducive to true social distancing. The only thing Drexel can do is advise social distancing where possible.
Have there been events off-campus where masks and social distancing aren't being used and implemented?
At the beginning of the term, an Instagram post was made by an underground party group at Drexel advertising a "mask-free" and "social-distancing-free" party for back-to-school. The post was reported on Instagram and to campus authorities, so the event was busted before it even started. I haven't seen anything from a Drexel group since, but have heard rumors that there are people at the University of Pennsylvania (which is within walking distance) who are still hosting parties and social gatherings.
What do other students have to say about COVID-19 and being back on campus?
MB (Pre-Junior): "I think we should not go back anytime soon. Like it's mentally killing me seeing no one but my parents ever, but I also don't want to die of COVID or act as a vector inadvertently, which would be way easier to do if on campus"
DB (Junior): "Drexel isn't like other campuses where their students are isolated with each other. I know Villanova and Valley Forge are in person and they can get away with that with frequent testing, but not Drexel since we're mixed into Philly."
ZK (Junior): "[The] Pandemic has been poorly handled by government officials at all levels, worst of all at the state level. The local level was also handled poorly, just look at how New York fared. There's no problem with returning to apartments around campus, but dorms need to remain closed and classes need to remain online."
TB (Senior): "I would say the new name of the game is adapting not shut down and fear. This pandemic in a lot of ways is a wake-up call as everyone is actually washing their hands and caring about being clean. Just opening up would be reckless, while not helping the students would be negligent. My plan would be to open and bring everyone back into campus but have the first 2 or 3 weeks be virtual and with quarantine. After that, open things on a limited, hybrid, and safe basis. That means frequent health checks and contact tracing. People need a plan, not more fear. People need a plan, not recklessness, in the face of a pandemic. People need a plan, not negligence from universities that are receiving a lot of money from students. People need a plan because we need to function still as a society. That does not mean we need to be dumb about it though."
How has your educational experience been since starting back?
I have usually taken at least 1 online course per term at Drexel, but being online full time has been difficult. Teachers range from doing their best (using an overhead to do example problems, open office hours, sharing their personal phone numbers) to not caring at all (posting a recorded lecture once a week despite having a synchronous lecture, not grading assignments, relying on TAs to run Zoom meetings). I'm taking midterms right now, but feel like I haven't learned anything. Thankfully, I only have 1 class with a true final exam. The rest aren't having a final or have final projects instead. I also have not been able to connect with anyone in my classes. I'm a senior and feel like a freshman again, not knowing who is in my classes or if there's anyone I can study with. Since I'm an engineering major, I am also supposed to complete a senior design project on a team. Luckily, my team has a project that didn't need a physical prototype. However, it was announced that the senior design course sequence will be virtual for the rest of the year and no prototyping can be done in-person without a safety plan submitted to the school. I have no idea how the people on more traditional engineering design teams are going to complete their projects.
Do you think your university will shut down again, or make it through the semester?
Drexel is determined to finish the term online. However, the next term is still up in the air. Students with priority registration would normally register next week, but the Winter term schedule has yet to be finalized. A similar thing happened before the Fall term, so I expect some sort of schedule will be published the day before registration and will remain up in the air until the term actually starts. I've heard from faculty to expect another online term, maybe even an entire online year. I felt bad for the class of 2020, but I feel like I might get an even worse senior experience.