Back to school
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson August 31, 2021
UD students express joy and excitement for new academic year
As a general rule, college kids do not care for early rising. That University of Delaware seminar for first-year students that began at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 31? You would be forgiven for imagining a classroom full of bleary-eyed, just-out-of-bed Blue Hens. But at least one attendee, public policy major Sophia Harris, awoke just after sunrise. And she sat on the steps of Sharp Hall — ready and waiting, caramel iced coffee in hand — by 9:01 a.m.
Sure, back-to-school jitters played a role: “I wanted to make sure I could find the building,” Harris said with a laugh. But this was not the only factor in her extreme punctuality. The law school hopeful also cited the great anticipation she feels for the academic adventure ahead.
“The thought of learning from the expert faculty on campus is incredibly exciting,” she said. “I am so thrilled to be here.”
Such bubbling-over was common on the first day of the 2021-2022 academic year. As students locked their bikes to a rack near Main Street, chatted in Adirondack chairs on the Green or smoothed wrinkles from their first-day-of-school outfits in the reflection of the Morris Library glass, the enthusiasm for a new semester seemed even more heightened than usual.
“This year is special because it’s almost like we get two for the price of one,” said Kelli Kerbawy, assistant dean in the College of Earth, Ocean and Environment who keeps a stash of Japanese maple-flavored chocolate in her office for visitors. “You have the excitement of all the freshmen students coming to campus for the first time, and also the enthusiasm of upperclassmen who missed out on in-person classes last year due to the pandemic. This is my 14th or 15th year in higher education, welcoming students back to campus, and it is still so much fun.”
Her best advice for the new year, Kerbawy added, is to relax, take it all in and — above all — ask for help when you need it, because there is “always someone around to answer questions.”
Or, in some instances, three someones. This was the case at a blue-and-gold folding table set up on The Green, where a group of upperclassmen welcome ambassadors volunteered their time to direct befuddled newcomers on campus — and supply them with free swag, including maps, healthy snacks and sanitation bags complete with COVID-19 masks.
“These volunteers really helped me when I was a new commuter student on campus,” said ambassador Suzan Zien, a molecular biology major from Bear, Delaware. “So it is important for me to give back.”
Tucker Smith, a junior studying biomedical engineering, echoed this sentiment, citing the fulfillment he feels living out the Blue Hen value of service. And, since he did not technically have to be on campus to attend class until later, this work also afforded him an opportunity to be immersed in the vibrant, lively mood of a first-day morning, which he described as “awesome… I feel like a freshman again.”
The vibe was so cheery that criminal justice major Emma Mather appeared giddy outside of Memorial Hall even as she discussed her rather mundane plan for the afternoon: laundry. Or, rather, Facetiming her mother for advice on how to work her residence hall washing machine. Her happiness stemmed partly, she said, from a successful first class earlier in the day, where a “very nice” professor had handed out Oreos and Fig Newtons. In this seminar, Mather was even able to make a new friend, fellow first-year student Dana Vilardi, who is equally excited about one of the many study abroad opportunities offered at UD.
“We just met, started talking and here we are,” Vilardi said. “We have already made plans to go to the gym later.”
For sophomore nursing students walking out of their first pathological foundations course, the upcoming year promises more hands-on learning and in-person meetings of the Student Nurses Organization. This is just one of the involvement opportunities that drew Hannah Weaver, the daughter of two Blue Hen alumni, to campus.
“UD is the only school I applied to,” she said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
Neither did Mevil Crasta, a first-year graduate student in UD’s robotics program. A native of Ottawa, Canada, he now lives in Baltimore, Maryland, meaning he commuted 90 minutes for his first day. The drive is worth it, he said, for the opportunities this education will afford him: “UD’s program is up on all the trends — it is cutting edge. It will give me exactly the background I need to get into industry quickly.”
Of course, Crasta added, he still experiences those pesky first-day butterflies, no matter how glad he is to be a Blue Hen. It is a nervous energy felt by all of the students and even members of faculty UDaily spoke with on campus throughout the first day.
All except for one.
“I’ve been teaching for nearly 30 years, so I don’t get butterflies anymore,” said Susan McKenna, associate professor of Spanish, after a morning class she described as “wonderful.”
Her advice to others for getting past the nerves and making the most of one’s time on campus — or, really, anywhere — is perhaps the most important lesson a Blue Hen can take home on the first day of school.
“Be present and enjoy the moment.” she said. “Just be yourself.”