11 undergraduate students of 11 different majors at the college.
11 undergraduate students of 11 different majors at the college.

Major changes: A year of pandemic learning

March 18, 2021

Of Emerson’s 3,490 currently enrolled undergraduate students, no two have the same learning experience. Some visual and media arts students handle cameras and go out on the field, others spend their time in editing bays. Some writing, literature, and publishing students pore over the pages of classics, others build fictional worlds themselves. The diversity of academic experiences is why many students say they chose to enroll at Emerson—but it’s also why adjusting classrooms to the pandemic has been anything but straightforward.  

The Beacon interviewed 11 undergraduate students enrolled in Emerson’s most popular majors about how their learning experience has changed since last March. Some have picked up new passions in light of pandemic-era restrictions; others have lost all faith in their area of study. In order of the major’s enrollment, in their own words (edited for brevity and clarity), these are their stories. 

Allison+Duggan

Photo: Courtesy of Allison Duggan

Allison Duggan

Visual and Media Arts: Allison Duggan, Sophomore

The pandemic hit right when I was supposed to start gaining experience with production … and it basically skewed my understanding of how production works. All the experience I’ve had [making films], has been through the pandemic and onwards—nothing before it really.

Because I didn’t [get that experience], I really noticed that during these projects, I didn’t really know how to do anything with the equipment—how to put any of it away, know what to grab, what to plug in, stuff like that—because there was no way of knowing that. 

Last semester, I took Introduction to Film Production, and I noticed a definite difference from the class my professor would have taught before the pandemic—he kept saying that, too. The Bolex [16 mm film camera] is a piece of equipment no one from this time period really knows how to use, unless you’ve been taught. Learning that is hard enough as it is, but [our professor] had less time to demonstrate how to shoot with it. He tried to show us over Zoom, because that was most practical for the schedule. Imagine him demonstrating this 1920s film camera from your own room—you can’t really learn without doing it hands on. 

Courtney+Donohue

Photo: Courtesy of Courtney Donohue

Courtney Donohue

Journalism: Courtney Donohue, Sophomore

I definitely was more interested pre-COVID in [broadcast] journalism, but since COVID, I have added two new minors: marketing and photography. Now I’m more interested in photojournalism and the photo and writing side of it. 

I liked finding random people and talking to them, and now it’s a lot more virtual. But I picked up this passion for photography over the pandemic, and incorporating it in that way and doing more detailed stories and less breaking news-style stuff. I’ve always had a liking for photography but never thought of it in connection to journalism, and then I got into it during quarantine. Usually when you go out, you go talk to people on the street—by photographing them, I found that I was able to still tell a story without that face-to-face contact. 

You came to Emerson, you were shown these big studios and all of these networking opportunities, and to that extent, it’s very hard to take advantage of all those opportunities and all those tools that they have during times of the pandemic. 

Allyson+Aronsky

Photo: Courtesy of Allyson Aronsky

Allyson Aronsky

Marketing Communications: Allyson Aronsky, Senior

During the fall semester is when I noticed the biggest difference, because I definitely noticed a lack of effort on some professors’ parts. One of my professor’s never showed up to class. He had a TA teach our in-person class, which Emerson usually says they don’t allow. It was a 400-level marketing class, so it should have been taught by a professor. We weren’t getting our money’s worth for that class. The quality of education was so much weaker than it was in the past. 

When we first went online, it was definitely not a seamless transition. The projects were impossible to do because everyone was at home and in different time zones. But now in my capstone class, we’ve had no issues being online and the professor has been really accommodating. 

Brianne+Guanaga

Photo: Courtesy of Brianne Guanaga

Brianne Guanaga

Business of Creative Enterprises: Brianne Guanaga, Junior

Business, being in a creative enterprise, really appealed to me because I want to do music business and management. I definitely found my place within the BCE community. A lot of the BCE seniors have helped me get internships, too, so it’s us really looking out for each other, which I really appreciate. We all need a little bit of community right now especially, because things are so isolating.

I’m currently in a collaboration seminar, so because everything is over Zoom, it’s a little harder, but the beauty of BCE is that business is everywhere. You don’t necessarily have to be in-person. Working virtually is not that big of a difference for us, especially because it gives us a real taste of what it would be like to collaborate with people in other countries. The thing I’m missing the most is going to meet-and-greets and seminars and stuff. But I think we’re one of the only majors that can be evolving with the times. Whoever coordinates [virtual events] has some of the coolest people ever to come and talk to the BCE students—Bobbi Brown was one, a couple weeks ago, which was really cool.

Because I do have an internship [with Sony Music], and I work closely with BCE, that fills those gaps of me missing out on what would be normal, like concerts and tours. Everyone is talking about what’s going to happen after the pandemic, which really sucks because it’s like, ‘Oh, so I can’t go to a concert and review,’ or ‘I can’t go backstage and talk with the artists.’

Jasmine+Hawkins

Photo: Jasmine Hawkins/Courtesy

Theatre and performance major Jasmine Hawkins ’23

Theater and Performance: Jasmine Hawkins, Sophomore

Being that our choice of profession is based off of people, it’s changed tremendously. We’re trying to find ways to make connections with each other and with the work, and being that acting can be really physical, we’re trying to find ways to do that safely and speak to the moment. We have to depend a lot more on physicality, versus before, we could solely use our voices and facial features and the way we look, but now half our face is blocked, so it’s become a lot more animated. Our major is really based off of public response, and the presence of people. So it’s been really hard not having that. 

I have Movement in the Paramount Theatre, and we had to read a sonnet to an empty audience. We had to imagine that someone we loved was sitting in that audience, and they were listening to the love sonnet that we were essentially saying to them. It made me realize how much I … really appreciate being an actor and being in the theater in general. It made me miss looking an audience member in the eye and changing their experience just by looking at them, and meaning what I’m saying to them, or about them, or for them, or with them. I miss having that connection with them. I miss it dearly. It’s sad when you go into these empty theaters. 

The good thing about this school is that you can gauge what classes you want to take. I’m taking classes that I feel are beneficial to me as an actor, as a Black woman, as a theater practitioner. I feel like it’s beneficial; I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. People are creating works that express exactly what we’re going through right now. Some people are writing works that are supposed to take place over Zoom. We’re doing what we’re supposed to as artists. 

Gabi+Jonikas

Photo: Courtesy of Gabi Jonikas

Gabi Jonikas

Writing, Literature and Publishing: Gabi Jonikas, Sophomore

Right now, I’m in Introduction to Electronic Publishing and it’s supposed to be very interactive and discussion-based, but now we do all the video and audio recordings [for podcasts and video assignments] over Zoom. That’s definitely very different and prevents us from making high-quality projects. All the discussion-based classes have become isolated and a lot more lecture based because of the distance between us. 

My copyediting course [is] … one class where the traditional classroom setting really would have benefitted us. [The] format is difficult to do on Zoom because there’s no whiteboard, so the teacher can’t write down a sentence then draw the copy edit marks on. Instead, it’s just pulling up a PDF and drawing on it on the Zoom whiteboard, which is kind of hard to read sometimes. 

I think the quality [of my education] has declined. I took a literature class every semester except for this one because of my experience last semester. The flex learning plan was just not good. Before, I found myself engaged in my literature classes, and I’m not a big fan of literature. I really enjoyed talking to my peers and the teacher and having meaningful discussions, but now all of that is gone. When we’re on Zoom, no one has their camera on, and the teacher just lectures for two hours and we leave. I found myself not wanting to do the readings anymore and that was when I knew I needed to take a step back from literature classes. 

Ellen+Brandon

Photo: Courtesy of Ellen Brandon

Ellen Brandon

Communication Studies: Ellen Brandon, Sophomore

The thing I feel like is disappointing would just be in my classes’ professors talk so much about the importance of connections and building relationships, professionals, but I feel I haven’t really made connections with people, I haven’t really seen people. Hopefully when COVID is done I can actually be able to go meet people, talk to them, pick their brain, and form those connections they tell us are so important because it’s so hard to do through an email or on a Zoom call. I did pick up a sports communication minor because I really do love sports, so being able to go to sports events will be very exciting. 

I’m taking Argument and Advocacy, which is basically debating each other, and I feel like doing that on Zoom is a recipe for disaster. We haven’t had to do it yet, but as the semester goes on we’re going to have to for our final project, and I just don’t see how that’s going to work on Zoom. 

But you can’t change what’s going on. I like going in person because I feel the normalcy, but I’m also like, ‘Ugh, I have to get up and go to class.’ So it’s kind of like I’m never satisfied, it might just be me.

Sam+Gutkin

Photo: Courtesy of Sam Gutkin

Sam Gutkin

Individually Designed Interdisciplinary Program (Television and Sports Production): Sam Gutkin, Sophomore

Probably the main thing, I would say, in terms of IDIP’s effect with COVID is that [the college] gears their offerings towards the traditional majors, which makes sense that they would do because that’s what the vast majority of students do. I’m only taking one major class this semester because the other ones were filled.

If there are limited class offerings again [in the fall] I could run into the same problem I did this year, except with less wiggle room to take liberal arts classes. But [I’ll] cross that bridge when [I] come to it. 

Mackenzie+Thomas

Photo: Courtesy of Mackenzie Thomas

Mackenzie Thomas

Comedic Arts: Mackenzie Thomas, Senior

My distaste for my major has become more clear since the pandemic hit. Maybe because I have had more time to dwell on it and think about things, but oh my god, it’s been so weird and crazy. I love comedy, but this comedic terrain that’s going on right now with Zoom and everything, is not the comedy that I know, not the comedy that I love. 

I did an improv class over Zoom for a requirement. It was half online and half in-person, and this class made me cry on several occasions. It was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had in an Emerson class. There would be ten-feet boxes taped on the ground and everyone had their own box and then our teacher would get wheeled around on a cart by her husband. If you’ve seen an improv show or you’ve done improv, you’ll know that it is impossible to do improv frozen in a ten-feet square. That was horrible. I’m not a wonderful improviser to begin with but that did not make it any easier.

I wish our teachers didn’t hold such a high expectation for us to be ‘on’ and funny. There’s people dying and you want me to do improv? Everyone’s lives are shifting so rapidly all the time because this pandemic is this unseen variable that happened to all of us. The expectation needs to be lowered a lot. I’m sorry that I don’t want to do improv games like Zip, Zap, Zop when there’s a pandemic happening and people are dying. The last year has not been built for our major and I think the major exists under a very specific pretense at Emerson. 

Will+Dean

Photo: Courtesy of Will Dean

Will Dean

Sports Communication: Will Dean, Junior

A lot of the off-campus opportunities that are so supplementary to a sports communication education—opportunities to go to the Garden to report or to do a sports PR project on, for example, all of those are suddenly unavailable. The experiential learning component would be the biggest change for me.

When you are totally online the emphasis is on finding creative ways to use technology, and the emphasis is on the truly academic part—because you don’t have the experiential part of it. [Professors] can’t say ‘Okay, your assignment now is to go to this game and notice five things about the marketing you see around the stadium,’ now it has become all that much more academic. 

I’ve been quite lucky that the pandemic struck the second semester of my sophomore year, it’s been strange because I feel like I’ve been on pause for about a year, a year and a half. I’m skipping basically from second semester sophomore to first semester senior. I’m really, really hoping that things return to normal so that I can get some of those experiences; taking sports management, a class I’ve been looking forward to taking for a long time …  so many of the components of why I came to Emerson and to Boston in general. I do really hope and pray that next semester things return to normal so that I can at least get one last semester of everything I hoped and dreamed of coming here. 

Victoria+Sci

Photo: Courtesy of Victoria Sci

Victoria Sci

Communication Disorders: Victoria Sci, Junior

I wasn’t too sure what to expect coming back in the fall; we didn’t have any experience with CSD classes doing the hybrid model yet. Things were actually better than I personally was expecting. I took Survey of Speech Disorders, and normally in that course, you get to go into the Robbins Center over in the Union Bank building and observe clients getting treated. But unfortunately, because of COVID, they are primarily doing teletherapy. All of our video observations we had to do through this website, Master Clinician, where speech therapists across the country upload videos of them doing therapy. That was definitely a letdown—especially because one of the really big benefits of Emerson is the fact that we have that on-campus clinic. 

I really learn a lot from watching other people do therapy—my goal down the line is to become a speech language pathologist. Watching these observations online, you’re still learning, you’re still getting experience, but it doesn’t compare at all to being in person. In the Robbins Center, you’re [doing observations] behind a two way mirror; it has a whole different atmosphere from sitting in your dorm room on a computer. I was really looking forward to those. They are probably one of my favorite things about the learning process.

Photo of Dana Gerber
Dana Gerber, News Editor

Dana Gerber is the News Editor at The Beacon. She writes and oversees coverage spanning all areas of interest on the Emerson Campus, including breaking news and long-form deep-dive articles. She hails from Rockville, Maryland, and is a contributing writer at Bethesda Magazine, a local publication. She has also written for Cosmopolitan Magazine, Mic.com, and Boston Magazine. When she is not busy burying herself in a Google Doc, Gerber can be found...

Photo of Ann E. Matica
Ann E. Matica, Deputy News Editor

Ann Matica is currently the Deputy Editor for The Beacon. She has lived in Massachusetts her whole life and transferred to Emerson College in the fall of 2019. She previously worked as a reporter for an online publication for Holyoke Community College called Apex.

Photo of Camilo Fonseca
Camilo Fonseca, Assistant News Editor

Camilo Fonseca serves as one of the Beacon's assistant news editors, focusing in enterprise. He has covered COVID-19's effect on dining services and campus-adjacent businesses, and contributed to the Beacon's coverage of the 2020 presidential election. Hailing from Tampa, Florida, Fonseca is currently a first-year journalism major, with the intention of pursuing minors in philosophy and political science.

Photo of Alec Klusza
Alec Klusza, Assistant News Editor

Alec Klusza is a junior film student originally from Swampscott, Mass but moved to Houston, Texas, before high school. He writes for the news section and takes photographs for The Beacon. Klusza is a Visual Media Arts major with a minor in Journalism and History. In his free time, he likes to read books and watch movies.

Photo of Frankie Rowley
Frankie Rowley, Assistant News Editor

Frankie Rowley is a sophomore journalism student from Liverpool, England. Rowley currently serves as one of three assistant news editors, alongside Camilo Fonseca and Alec Klusza.

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Major changes: A year of pandemic learning
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