For new students who are living on campus of Georgian College Orillia, this past Saturday was official move-in day prior to the start of the winter semester.
Students were assigned specific time slots to complete their move in as a way to adhere to physical distancing guidelines meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Everything went smoothly,” said Georgian College's dean of students, Brian Muscat.
This semester, 104 students will be living in the residences in Orillia, which is down from the typical 192.
“The majority of our programs and classes are being delivered remotely,” Muscat explains of the lower-than-usual number.
“However, there are still a number of classes that require students to be on campus because of hands-on components.”
Georgian College is doing everything possible to keep students safe on campus and in residence, said Muscat, noting COVID protocols are strict, and staff has a firm plan in place for even the worst of situations.
“We’ve kept a few suites on hold as designated unoccupied spaces. If someone should develop COVID symptoms, we can have them isolate from other people,” Muscat explained.
Luckily, the Orillia campus has yet to utilize those designated spaces, and they have yet to have any COVID-related issues with students.
“People understand this is a unique time and no one wants to follow all the protocols, but our students do understand our clear guidelines, and they have done a good job following them,” Muscat said.
While life on campus can be described as being dull compared to the normal college experience, Muscat says staff are doing all they can to make students feel included and engaged.
“Certainly, the residence staff and our student association are still running events, which are, of course, virtual now,” he explained.
“Everyone is doing the best that they can to make sure that students are engaged and have the opportunity to get to know their fellow students.”
Muscat says school spirit is relatively high all things considered, and students are giving Georgian staff mostly positive feedback.
“Students and staff are showing a lot of positivity, and everyone is working hard to support one another,” he said.
Georgian College is offering additional mental health supports to students during the pandemic.
“We have a student guarantee for students who come for the first semester. If they feel the remote environment is not working for them, they can submit a withdrawal and we move their funds to come back for another semester,” Muscat explained.
“Students won’t be penalized if this isn’t the environment they can learn under.”
Elaine Gilpin, a Georgian College student at the Orillia campus who taking a post-graduate program in addiction treatment and prevention, says the school experience this year is much different from her first two years on campus.
“The life on campus was amazing before - the energy, the people you see, the events and activities. It’s all so different now with it all being moved online,” Gilpin says.
While Gilpin appreciates the online activities put on by the college, she says they can also be a mentally draining experience.
“I am very social and I love talking to people, those sorts of things feel almost minimal with doing what we are doing from home,” she said.
“We still have some interactions, but only if we go online and go on our computer, which is sometimes really draining and exhausting, especially after completing hours of online classes," she noted.
Gilpin serves as the president of the student association and says she and her peers have been working to help students manage the stresses of being a student during the pandemic.
Gilpin says Georgian College and the student association have worked hard to provide students with as much support and guidance as possible.
“I truly believe the college experience is different right now, but still enjoyable. We have so much help available, so much access to information if we need it,” she said.
“When we were on campus you had to go find different (supports), now everything is just a click away.”