By Melanee Terry
Medical Laboratory Technology program students Bryiana Mooers and Liz Ward are making the best of this pandemic in the laboratory and in their lives. Both women are navigating their current reality despite changes in the classroom, in the dorms, and in daily life. Bryiana and Liz are both completing a Bachelor’s degree in Biology at UMPI and also working toward their Associate’s degree in MLT–Bryiana and Liz are in their second years in the MLT program.
Both students are residents on campus and have been adjusting to the new atmosphere around the halls. With many areas at UMPI closed or restricted, campus is much quieter than normal. Bryiana and Liz are not able to frequent their normal spots on campus because of barriers and restrictions. Some study areas in the CIL and in Folsom or Pullen are not allowing students. These changes mean students are spending more time in their dorm rooms. UMPI students have also been asked not to meet up in-person with tutors or professors on a regular basis. This can play an impact on the connections students make with others.
The atmosphere in the residence halls mimics the rest of campus since they are so quiet. Liz is a Residence Assistant in Merriman Hall and has even more responsibilities in the dorms with her position. Students are no longer leaving their doors open to invite people in because no more than four people can be in the same room. Although people are very tired of the COVID-19 regulations, Liz is doing her best to keep everyone following the guidelines.
“It is very odd having to wear a mask down the hallway to use the bathroom or to walk to the shower,” Bryiana said. “The atmosphere in the dorms is unusual since a lot of people don’t keep their doors open anymore, and we are able to invite no more than 2-3 people to our rooms at a time.”
With changes around campus, that extends to classrooms. Every classroom has sanitizing wipes available and most of the desks are spread out. The hallways and stairwells have guided one-way traffic. With these restrictions, it is difficult to have an interactive class when you are not close to classmates and the professor.
“The whole campus has had COVID-19 changes. You can’t go to a door without seeing a sign about if you can use it or not because of COVID, and what way you can walk around the campus because of COVID,” Liz said. “There’s also a lot more hand sanitizing stations in the buildings, which is good.”
As students in the MLT program, Bryiana and Liz would agree that it is very hands-on. The program requires a lot of handheld use of laboratory equipment. When students are there to physically see things in-person, it can be much easier to learn. Students enjoy being able to ask questions and have professors be there face-to-face to explain something. They agree that switching on a computer and looking at your professor through a screen is not as personal as in-person classes.
“The MLT program is very hands-on. Learning about lab procedures can be confusing until you’re actually in the lab performing the testing,” Liz said. “Personally, a lot of the concepts we talk about in lecture start to click with me once we actually start doing testing in the lab setting. It helps to ground some of the more abstract concepts into reality when you can have hands-on training.”
Students in the MLT program are required to wear more Personal Protective Equipment than they used to, but wearing lots of heavy clothing while using a mask can become difficult in a learning environment.
“We already use PPE in the MLT lab so the addition of another piece wasn’t too bad, but it is frustrating at times. Trying to look into a microscope and identify cells can be challenging when your mask is riding up your face,” Liz said. “Sometimes the smells that come from specimens, particularly microbiology ones, get caught in your mask, which is not pleasant, but I honestly forget most of the time that I’m even wearing it.”
Although there have been a lot of struggles this semester, the women are staying positive. They feel very lucky to be physically on campus and taking classes in-person. The two students visit friends, create time for self-care, and do anything that they can to help them stay positive. A lot of their friends and former classmates from back home did not get the chance to go back to their universities and stay in the dorms. Many larger universities are only having online classes.
“I keep telling myself that as long as I wear a mask and sanitize my hands, and everyone around me is doing the same, this pandemic will eventually end and things will go back to normal,” Bryiana said.
Through these tough times, students at UMPI and especially in the MLT program are taking time to appreciate what they have. Bryiana and Liz said it is important to slow down and make memories with the people in your life. They are grateful that they are still able to live on campus, walk to classes, and study in the library. They are doing their best to live in the moment and be appreciative for lives as college students at UMPI.
“I think one of my biggest takeaways has been to not take the small things for granted,” Liz said. “The time we have with each other is important, and what makes college memorable isn’t the campus itself but the people you meet and the experiences you have with them while you’re there.”