Online school has become the new norm in 2020, and the University of New Mexico is no exception. Students coming into the fall semester at UNM are preparing to maintain their education virtually amidst the scare and unpredictability of a pandemic.

As drastic changes from the realities of COVID-19 arose during the spring semester, professors and students scattered to adapt to new adjustments. Many students were already familiar with online classes, but others were forced to adapt to a surplus of unexpected changes.

Business major Stephanie Gonzales graduated from the Anderson School of Management last semester under anomalous circumstances.



“The in-person classes I took were never meant to be online, which made adjusting to those last few weeks difficult,” Gonzales said. “It was a trying time for professors and students alike. I felt that I was cheated out of my last semester at UNM as I had to adjust to such a trying period. I lost out on valuable in-person time with my professors and peers.”

Rebecca Hobart, a UNM student studying environmental science, was living in Casas del Rio at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. Hobart was forced to move back to her hometown in North Carolina and finish classes in a completely different time zone.

“It was bizarre to teach myself,” Hobart said. “The environmental science faculty, however, have done an exceptional job of incorporating software — such as ArcGIS — into our program, which definitely helped the transition to remote learning in the spring.”

One of the classes Hobart took during the spring was an environmental science lab with Professors Paula Watt and Grant Meyers. Hobart said her instructors incorporated the use of CalTopo, an online mapping program, in place of tangible labs that had originally focused on mineral identification.

“I really appreciated that Professors Watt and Meyers found a way to continue strengthening our education in environmental science,” Hobart said.

Hobart will continue working with ArcGIS software in another environmental lab with Professor Gary Weismann this fall.

“Though it’s a super complex program, Professor Weismann is already taking initiatives for us to be successful this upcoming term with established office hours and connections to our TA Sebastian Los,” Hobart said.

Other students, such as liberal arts major Anna Perez, acknowledged the benefits of the communication medium that online classes provide.

“I find that online classes are a better way to communicate since technology is used for everything now,” Perez said. “Classmates have video calls and send messages with each other if we need help. Online is just a better way to communicate with everyone.”

The College of Fine Arts is another department that had a particularly difficult transition into an online environment due to the hands-on nature of its various disciplines. Theater Professor Erik Ehn was teaching several playwriting classes last spring when everything erupted.

“We all jumped into a cold lake together last semester,” Ehn said. “The strangeness made for both confusion and focus, eagerness and resistance.”

Ehn said online classes are doable — but certainly not preferable.

“I feel about online school a little like I feel about online food: You can look at it and remember eating, but it’s different from eating. Theater is all about the convivium,” Ehn said. “This is more of an emotional response than a reality.”

Ehn said deep learning and a sense of community can occur online, and he will most likely try to sustain and develop online systems after the pandemic is over. However, he misses the live interaction and yearns for an in-person reunion.

Ehn provided words of encouragement for himself and everyone that is trying their best to embrace the new norm.

“So much has migrated to digitality: shopping, socializing, co-thinking ... Muscles have developed,” Ehn said. “The waves of complaints I had against Zoom have subsided — thank goodness that we have this miraculous means of staying connected. At this point, I’m really looking forward to it.”

Rosanna Samudio is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RosiePollie3