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The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.

Campus squirrels, Diag preachers and Blue Buses — nearly every University of Michigan student knows these to be a quintessential part of the Michigan experience. Some, like LSA sophomore Olivia Murphy, told The Michigan Daily they dreamt of experiencing these classic Michigan moments after a year of online instruction.

“I was expecting the Michigan atmosphere, the game days, the big party school and the constant social activity,” Murphy said. “With all of these extracurriculars that I can now actually go to, I expected to be very, very busy.”

As Welcome Week approached, LSA freshman Varun Ganesan said he felt excited but was not sure what the fall semester would ultimately look like with the delta variant still looming. Though COVID-19 cases on campus rose at the beginning of the semester, they eventually lowered and have been stable since.

“Coming in, I didn’t have any expectations because I really didn’t know what was going to be happening,” Ganesan said. “We were still stepping away from a pandemic, so I wasn’t sure if we would have in-person classes or if there’d be a spike in COVID cases and have everything shut down.”

As soon as he arrived on campus, however, Ganesan said he immediately began checking off items from his U-M bucket list, hoping to make the most of being on campus and in person.

“There was just one thing after another,” Ganesan said. “Right away, I went back to school, experienced game day a week later and then went through recruitment for clubs. I wasn’t sitting around all the time.”

Similarly, LSA freshman Allen Shen said he enjoys the University’s fast-paced environment, especially after experiencing school remotely for over a year.

“At college, there is always something to do since you can join clubs, hang out with friends in your dorm or even just do homework,” Shen said. “It’s a good thing that I’m never bored.”

While the virtual year left students struggling with mental health and Zoom fatigue, many have wasted no time exploring everything the University has to offer this semester. After living on campus but attending classes virtually last year, LSA sophomore Helena Grobel said she wants to take full advantage of being in person this year.

“I didn’t really join anything last year because everything was going to be on Zoom, and I just didn’t see any value in that,” Grobel said. “This semester, I was trying to catch up and join some organizations, so I’m pledging a professional frat, doing a few different clubs and taking 18 credits.”

For Murphy, September’s game days in particular brought a sense of normalcy on campus that welcomed her to the University. She said she had hoped to experience this the year before.

“The Maize Out game was one of the most amazing things that I’ve seen at Michigan,” Murphy said. “It was just so awesome to feel that school spirit, especially since I didn’t get the true Michigan experience last year.”

Alongside the feelings of excitement being on campus came concerns about returning to the classroom after two and a half semesters of Zoom instruction. Since Grobel said she had never taken an in-person college course before this, she anticipated some struggles transitioning to a more traditional semester of college.

“I was expecting that (this fall) would definitely be a difficult transition just because I’ve never had to walk to college classes before,” Grobel said. “I figured I’d be pretty overwhelmed with stuff, which ended up being the case.”

Despite some apprehension, many students, including Ganesan, were relieved to finally escape the discomfort of breakout rooms and the monotony of Zoom calls. 

“I like having in-person classes a lot because it gives me the chance to interact with professors and get to know my classmates more,” Ganesan said. “On a Zoom class, I could know someone through a breakout room, but there’s always awkwardness over Zoom, whereas it feels so much more fluid talking in person.”

With in-person classes, Grobel said she is grateful for the day-to-day interactions with classmates, an aspect of learning she longed for during Zoom instruction last year.

“I’ve been making friends in my classes, which is weird because since senior year of high school, I haven’t been able to turn to the person sitting next to me and talk or see the same people every day,” Grobel said. “It’s exciting to be able to meet people in classes again.”

Though some instructors offer asynchronous alternatives to in-person lectures, Shen said he still chooses to attend class in person because he finds it much easier to pay attention.

“I never went into school last year besides the last day of school, so I’ve been trying to go to every single class, even if I have the option to do it online,” Shen said. “It’s a lot easier to focus and more interactive.”

For Murphy, alternative options to synchronous, in-person classes help prioritize well-being. 

“If I have a day where I’m not feeling well, or if I just really can’t do it, there is the option to be online or to watch a lecture later,” Murphy said. “It’s okay to do that, and you don’t have to always be present to get the most out of your education.”

Instructors’ willingness to accommodate students the semester proved especially helpful for Shen, who fell sick with pneumonia during midterm season.

“I had pneumonia during the week I had three midterms that were back to back to back,” Shen said. “My professor said that I could just opt out of (the midterm), and the next two exams would be weighted more.”

What Murphy finds most valuable about in-person classes is the structure these classes bring, adding variety to her week.

“I’m super busy between having to go to classes in person and then also having to be involved in a club where socials are now in person and not just online,” Murphy said. “It’s definitely kept me on schedule, and I feel like I have more structure to my life now than I did last semester or last year.”

Now that the semester is halfway through, Ganesan said he plans to set himself up for success in hopes of gaining what all students ultimately come to Ann Arbor to attain: the Michigan experience.

“I hope to just get through this semester and start figuring out my plans for what I want to do in the future, like what I want to major in, so I can start taking classes in a certain direction and become acclimated to Michigan,” Ganesan said.

Daily Staff Reporter Evan DeLorenzo can be reached at evandelo@umich.edu.