Ever since Heller moved to remote classes in spring 2020, I’ve been looking forward to the semester when we return to in-person classes. At first, we hoped to return in the fall, then spring, but as the gravity of the pandemic situation became clearer Heller students settled into the rhythms of online learning, growing used to unexpected benefits like being able to engage in class discussions (or digressions) using Zoom chats, and sleeping until 8:45 for a 9 AM class.
Still, many Heller students, myself included, continued to hope for a return to in-person classes prior to our own graduations. In my case, I’m happy to be able to spend my final semester at Heller back on campus. I type this blog post sitting at the admissions front desk, a spot where I spent many hours during my first months at Heller, but had not revisited for over a year until just a few weeks ago. As today is a holiday, the building is largely empty, but on class days I enjoy striking up impromptu conversations with students and staff passing by the desk, and stepping outside to say hello to friends and take a welcome break from mask-wearing. Lunch time events, such as activity fairs and community-building sessions, have begun to take place again, and though we have not yet returned to the days when event organizers enticed students to attend events by providing free pizza and other snacks, Heller has hosted a couple “coffee with the Dean” hours complete with free Dunkin Donuts.
Being back in a classroom feels very different. There are aspects of the Zoom experience that I miss, but overall I find that conversations flow more easily, time passes more quickly, and it is easier to meet classmates in person, even with our faces obscured by masks, than as tiles on a screen. As a course assistant for an MBA class, I assist the professor in managing dual-mode instruction (in which some students join an in-person class over Zoom). It has been an interesting and fun challenge to troubleshoot classroom technology, and I’ve felt privileged to be included in meetings about dual instruction and to contribute feedback on successes and challenges. I have found that graduate school includes many unexpected learning experiences in addition to those indicated on course syllabi – experiencing the ins and outs of hybrid pedagogy firsthand is one such lesson.
Is being back on campus perfect? Does Heller feel the same? I don’t think it possibly could. The world, and all of us, have changed as well. But I feel grateful to be at Heller, a community that has stuck together and made the best of things throughout the pandemic period. Although some days I grumble to myself a bit that I have to get up around 7 AM and navigate traffic before 9 AM classes, as soon as I see a familiar, half-covered face on campus, or have an impromptu chat with a new acquaintance, I’m reminded how great it is to be back!