Earlier this year Andrew Liu’s dorm supplies were stacking up against his bedroom wall in anticipation of his first year of college. He was accepted to SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. Andrew’s impressive accomplishments from high school secured his place in an eight-year program that puts him in medical school after successful completion of his undergraduate degree. “That was a big draw for me,” says Andrew, who would not have to take the traditional MCATS, Medical College Admission Test.
Then COVID-19 arrived. Andrew is still on a trajectory for college and medical school, but for now the actual path looks different. The most significant change is that Andrew started his school year at home. “I decided stay in Olympia,” says Andrew, who is dealing with the feelings of being let down. “There are heavy restrictions for college life.” The experience of college is more than attending classes. It’s a big step into adulthood that involves living away from parents and managing the adventures of life. Some students are still attending SUNY ESF in-person, but approximately 30% are attending remotely.
Andrew’s school life takes place on Eastern Standard Time which is three hours ahead of Olympia. That means that he is up before 5:00 a.m. for his 8:00 a.m. classes. There is one similarity between home and dorm life – Andrew’s parents are not part of his getting up process. At least his commute is short.
School got underway in August, and Andrew’s schedule of classes is full. There’s general biology, chemistry, global environment and calculus 2. Andrew credits Olympia High School teacher Mr. Rae for his progress in math. “I’m thankful for his patience and helping me to understand concepts,” he says. Andrew is in the Honors College, which includes a weekly seminar. His other seminar is for orientation where students in the same or similar environmental biology major gather to learn about college resources and have the chance to interact with each other. Rounding out his courses is an in-person lab class at Saint Martin’s University. The medical program has many requirements and meeting at the local university will satisfy one of them.
School is certainly full time, but Andrew includes his friends in his life. A number of his friends from high school have also opted to remain in Olympia and start their college year remotely. Most are hopeful that next spring they will be able to move out to live on campus. It’s not ideal, but it is workable.
Andrew is appreciating the extra time he has with his family and friends. With face to face contact limited, playing basketball has become a way to spend time together. His closest group sometimes attends a movie at the Skyline Drive-in. Andrew work outs and swims at The Valley Athletic Club, looking for times, such as late evenings, when there are fewer people inside. He was recently hired at Panera. Hopefully, there is a little time left over to sleep.
It’s not surprising to Linda Terry, Founder of STEP, that Andrew plans to be a physician. “Andrew is a soothing influence for all the STEP participants, regardless of age,” says Linda. “He would take the extra step, initiating it himself.” STEP is an organization that connects elders and teens in conversations. At first Andrew attended to gain his required volunteer hours, but after being involved he stayed on because it became meaningful. With relatives living overseas there hasn’t been the opportunities of have grandparents nearby. He sees the role of a doctor as helping people feel well physically and spiritually. “It’s about spreading kindness and healing,” suggests Andrew. Linda thinks he is well on his way.
“We are now living in a time when people disconnect from others for many reasons,” notes Andrew, who has seen people’s screen time increase dramatically. He wants people to find healthy ways to navigate these computer-centric times. I am grateful that bright students like Andrew are paving the way for our future.
Students that graduated from high school last spring are still coming to terms with the limitations and changes brought about by the corona virus. So are college students whose schooling has been interrupted or changed. More time at home and less time with in-person friends can be stressful and frustrating. There are also opportunities to make new friends, learn, grow, simplify life and appreciate the now. There is support in our community.
The Crisis Clinic of Thurston and Mason Counties has a number for specifically for youth. Call 360-586-2777 to talk to a life person.
The National Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day in both English and Spanish. The number is 800-273-8255.