In recent weeks WSU and the Voiland College, along with much of the rest of the country, have radically changed the way we conduct our work and lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In early March WSU announced that it would transition classes to online learning after Spring Break, starting on March 16. On March 23, Governor Inslee announced the state’s stay home, stay healthy order, mandating that only essential businesses will remain open.

Architecture model with a coffee mug and a computer screen in the background.
Model created by student Nicole Liu.

Over 10 days, the College transitioned 453 sections of teaching courses for about 6,000 students to an online format. More than 300 staff, faculty, and teaching assistants took part in online teaching training during Spring Break while they also moved out of their workplace offices. To support the students and maintain normalcy as much as possible, classes are held at their regular class time with recordings also made available. The university also decided to offer students a pass/fail grading option this semester.

The college developed informational websites for students as well as for faculty and staff. During the first two weeks of classes, our Student Success and Information Technology teams were available daily to answer students’ questions.

Researchers shut down most laboratories, and graduate students have transitioned to teleworking. Only essential staff are now on campus.

To assess how we’re doing, the college conducted two student surveys. In our first survey conducted before classes started, students were often concerned about how they and their faculty were going to make the transition to online courses. Those concerns have largely been alleviated, although many students, like all of us, still have a high level of anxiety around this life-altering COVID-19 pandemic. Students have largely expressed appreciation for our efforts.

The college leadership, faculty, and staff continue to closely follow and respond to the rapidly changing environment. It’s been a shocking change for everyone. This Cougar experience will be like no other. See below for a first-hand look at campus life under COVID-19.

Senior Jakob Thorington is a communications intern in the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.

Never could I have imagined telling my family I would not be walking during my upcoming commencement ceremony — at least until two weeks ago.

I will still graduate — just not in the way I was expecting.

In fact, that applies to just about everything for me and my fellow students because of COVID-19.

On one hand, it is nice to roll out of bed and “go to class” without leaving my room. I certainly don’t miss climbing the tedious hills of the WSU Pullman campus.

On the other hand, I get cabin fever at times watching all my classes every day on a 15-inch laptop screen.

Using services such as Panopto and Zoom to attend lectures has worked out well. Many professors post discussion questions and keep track of whether we’re logging into their Zoom meetings. The online lectures are really like sitting in a lecture room and taking notes — only now I can do it from the comfort of my room.

Labs are more difficult. Each lab is different and requires a lot of flexibility from both professors and students during these strange times.

My roommate said in his electrical circuits lab, he is like the lab partner that we all remember who doesn’t do any work. He watches his professor perform activities that the students would normally do themselves, writing his solutions for a grade. It’s not ideal, but we’re all doing the best we can.

Work has been interesting, too. I was already checking my email inbox pretty frequently as a student communications intern, but now I’m checking it compulsively. I do everything on Zoom, with phone calls, and on my laptop. I miss talking face-to-face, but I can still do my job.

As for campus socializing, that has also changed! Last weekend, I celebrated my friend’s birthday party in the newly released video game “Animal Crossing: New Horizons.” It’s an adorable simulation of living on a deserted island with talking animals. Since we couldn’t actually have a physical party for him, we all hopped online, entered a group voice chat and traveled to his island to hang out.

That easily tops the “things I never would have seen myself doing in college” list.

It’s funny, but now is not the worst time for us to live through COVID-19. We have gotten a lot help and have resources to transition our college experience online. Of course, I don’t speak for everyone. Some of my fellow students are working to overcome barriers, like not having internet access or a computer, that make online learning extremely difficult. Many of my fellow students do depend on our campus computer labs and resources. Thankfully, the university is stepping up to help.

We’re all working to overcome the challenges and continue on to graduation. We are going to get there in these next months, and when we do cross that stage or that virtual stage, what a story we will have to tell about our time at WSU.