N.W.T. students look back on a 'challenging' and 'isolating' year of university

We checked in with some of the university students we talked to last year about the challenges, benefits and lessons they will be taking away from their experience attending school during a pandemic.

Here are the benefits and lessons they'll be taking away

Yellowknifer Diana Rockwell is a voice student at the University of Alberta. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The year for Yellowknifer Diana Rockwell, a voice major at the University of Alberta, was tough, especially the first semester, she says.

"It was a lot of online learning which was very difficult especially for me who's in a music program and needs to be able to collaborate with other musicians," she said.

"Compiled with the fact that because everything's online and you're discouraged from going outside of your house and to public spaces and socializing with other people, I felt very isolated and alone."

Rockwell is among the N.W.T. students CBC spoke with last year about attending school during a pandemic.

Now, as many parts of the country see another surge in COVID-19 cases, CBC is checking in on some of the students to see how their year went.

For Rockwell, she did find a silver lining to everything being online.

"I knew exactly when everything was done, I knew exactly what I was doing every day, I was never behind on the things that I needed to get done," she said.

"It was very easy and very convenient and I found it kept me on track with my schooling more than I think last year."

What turned her year around was being able to do her voice lessons, choir and opera workshop classes in person during the second semester.

"In my repertoire lessons now, I have a live pianist to play for me so it's more of a music making experience where we can play off each other whereas I was basically signing classical karaoke last semester," said Rockwell.

In the summer, Rockwell will be working in Yellowknife before continuing school in the fall. Her university has plans to move to more in-person learning, which she's looking forward to.

"I plan on coming back and doing my third year university and just trying to get back to normal."

Jenna Orr chose to stay in Yellowknife for her second year of university. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

A new way to connect

Jenna Orr, made a different decision last fall to stay in Yellowknife and turn her parents' basement into her own personal office.

"In my experience my mental health staying home was better than last year. I think it's because [of] nature and I've just been in a good environment this year," she said.

One thing Orr was nervous about going into her second year was a loss of community among her peers, but one of her classmates made a chat server on Discord as a solution for this.

"We didn't have anything like that last year and I would say it strengthened our civil engineering community because we can chat on there," Orr said. "It's also good for finding help with homework if you need help."

With all her classes held over Zoom, that also meant the labs were online.

"I missed crushing concrete and stuff. That would have been really cool," said Orr.

"I was also taking a surveying class and there's a survey camp at the end of this semester and it's going to be online which is not the same because you don't actually get to use the instruments."

As part of her co-op engineering program at the University of Alberta, Orr will spend the next six months working at a Yellowknife engineering company and enjoying the outdoors.

"I just want to take advantage of being up here even more in the summer and I know my work will get me travelling to different communities," she said. "I'm excited to explore the territory."

Kleo Skavinski enjoys the sun on at the University of British Columbia. She said on of the challenging aspects of the past year was trying to create a line between school and free time. (Kleo Skavinski)

Not a challenge, but a lesson

Kleo Skavinski chose to attend her second year at the University of British Columbia on campus.

"Something I found super challenging this year was with everything being online, it felt like there was no down time outside of the classroom," Skavinski said.

"The emails constantly came in, notifications for classes and assignments were not limited to class time and it was just overwhelming at times because you couldn't ever get away from your school work."

She was living on campus and said while groups were trying their best to offer social opportunities, it just was not the same as last year.

"I found that a lot of places really tried to create online spaces to meet people, but unfortunately it was over Zoom," she said.

"It was often in the evening and after being on Zoom all day for your classes, it often was just exhausting to go meet people and be social on the same platform."

One thing she wants to see continue after the pandemic is recorded lectures.

Kelo Skavinski's desk in her dorm room at the University of British Columbia. She hopes online learning doesn't deter any students heading to university this year. 'It’s not that big of a challenge. It’s something to overcome and to use to your advantage and as a lesson.' (Kleo Skavinski)

"I'm excited to see how UBC is going to integrate online learning strategies into the classroom again because I really hope that they start making it a common occurrence to have record lectures even if it's in-person because having that resource really changed the game for me to be able to go back and review lessons as opposed to just my notes."

Skavinski said even though this year was challenging, she still learnt some valuable lessons like how to better communicate with her professors and teacher assistants.

"I do hope that online learning doesn't deter anyone from going to university," she said, adding she has seen friends who are graduating or graduating soon and are scared to enter into an online learning environment for university.

"But, I do hope that they know it's not that big of a challenge," she said. "It's something to overcome and to use to your advantage and as a lesson."


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