As a second-year student, Jonathan Ouellette is one of the many students at UMPI who has been dealing with changes in his education since the pandemic hit. A student in the Physical Therapist Assistant program, he has been adjusting to changes in the classroom. Jonathan is from Caribou and is a former employee for UMPI. While balancing adjustments in his everyday life, he is continuing his education and staying optimistic about the future.
The PTA program on campus is usually completed in two years, so time is of the essence for students. The majority of the students spend a summer taking PTA classes, which was no different this year. PTA students like Jonathan completed their summer classes completely online this year. This was a struggle for the program, which is very hands-on, so PTA students are currently allowed to be on campus for the remainder of the fall semester, which allows them to complete their training.
“Because of where we’re at in the PTA program and the nature of the profession, we are being allowed to remain on campus after Thanksgiving to continue this extremely hands-on program,” he said.
Jonathan said he noticed changes around campus and in classrooms immediately once the fall semester began. He did everything he could to ensure safety for his classmates and everyone on campus by following campus guidelines, and noticed COVID-19-related protocols in every building including Gentile Hall and the Campus Center.
“Never before have class sizes been limited to the degree they have or social distancing measures been implemented. These measures have also changed life on campus, both in terms of our academic experience and socially,” Jonathan said. “Going to the gym has changed, going to class has changed, going to the cafeteria has changed, the work environment for faculty and staff has changed; add all of that up, and you have a campus atmosphere and a literal vibe that is completely different than what we’re all used to.”
Due to his PTA summer classes being completely online, Jonathan had to adapt to remote learning. He prefers in-person classes on campus, especially as a student in the PTA program. He said he learns best with face-to-face exposure and interaction and that being able to learn inside a classroom or an educational environment benefits him the most.
Students in the PTA program at UMPI are preparing for a very interactive career in physical therapy. The program is extremely hands-on and the students depend on that environment to excel in their classes. Although they are in-person this semester, students still have restrictions in the classroom. They are not able to use the pool to practice aquatic therapy due to the restrictions. They have socially distanced seating arrangements and cleaning protocols throughout class.
“The nature of the PTA program essentially requires us to be hands-on and in-person. You cannot learn how to be a good PTA through Zoom or online presentations and screencasts,” Jonathan said. “Those things are great supplemental learning tools, but there is an element of practical application that is simply impossible to achieve through a computer.”
This year’s struggles have brought to light a greater appreciation for UMPI’s faculty and staff. Jonathan has been very appreciative of members in the UMPI family. He recognizes the incredible role that faculty members have played during the university’s transition with COVID. Faculty and staff members have often prioritized students’ needs, rather than their own. They spent time implementing new protocols for the university during the summer months, and are constantly informing students about updates within the University of Maine System.
“Putting our experience and safety as students at the top of their priority list has been nice to see, although I am not surprised at all by it. We have top notch faculty and staff at this University so I can’t say that I’m shocked by their ability to lead us through the fog that is COVID-19,” he said.
Jonathan has been staying positive by focusing on the things that he can control in his life. While he can’t control the virus or how others view it, he said he can control how hard he works, how he treats others, and his professional goals moving forward. He is learning and growing during this pandemic. Jonathan is excited about the future because he is only getting stronger as it goes on.
Despite the global pandemic, Jonathan is continuing his education and doing it with a positive mindset. He is a prime example of how UMPI students are persevering through difficult times.
“This may be the most divisive time in our country’s history, both politically and socially. I think it’s an opportunity to learn, evaluate and reflect,” Jonathan said. “2020 has been an educational year in a lot of different ways, so that’s all I’m hoping for myself is to continue learning and questioning everything. There’s a lot more good than bad out there; it just depends on where you look.”