Taylor Schaefer’s Student Experience During the Pandemic

Taylor Schaefer is a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Animal Sciences and Life Sciences Communication with a certificate in Digital Studies. She hopes to use her experiences and those of farmers who provide our world with food, fiber, and fuel, to help connect with consumers removed from the agriculture industry.

UW-Madison’s spring 2020 term was unlike any other, and was shaped by forces out of the control of higher education leaders, staff, and students. The COVID-19 pandemic caused colleges across the country to quickly pivot to online instruction as most students returned home in March, while information regarding safety measures and campus policies continued to roll out over the next few months.

From the time we were sent home, I was hopeful that we would return to campus for a normal fall semester (as were most students), but that unfortunately was not the case. The fall semester subsequently brought on a multitude of challenges for students and staff including a shift to online instruction, limited contact with other students outside of our residence, and a growing list of canceled events like formals, conferences, and even regular student organization events and meetings.

I began this semester excited to return to some piece of normalcy by attending classes and returning back to Madison, but soon came face to face with the severity of the pandemic within a week of my return. At the time, Dane County COVID-19 cases began to rise as students returned to campus, and I unfortunately tested positive along with four of my roommates in early September despite our best efforts to protect ourselves. Our symptoms were thankfully all fairly mild, but still hindered our ability to complete course work for a few days, and ultimately gave us a new perspective of the pandemic and how it is affecting others across the world.

Like many students, my course schedule this fall was centered around online only instruction including asynchronous lectures and weekly Zoom calls, which opened the door for me to continue working on campus and in my hometown while still remaining connected to my professors and class work. We also had a unique opportunity to connect with alumni and other industry leaders through Zoom calls and other online ​avenues​, which was rarely used before this fall.

On a normal day, I would start my morning off working at Bucky’s Varsity Meats where I primarily assist with curbside orders and processing / packaging of products on our store shelves. I would then return home to the Association of Women in Agriculture where I would spend the remainder of my day catching up on lectures, working on homework, and spending time with my roommates. Although monotonous, we still found ways to get out of the house by taking daily walks to the Capitol building, going for drives, and grabbing coffee a few too many times.

This spring will look much of the same for many students including myself, where a hybrid model of instruction will continue and systematic testing will be implemented for students living both on and off campus. All who utilize campus facilities or attend classes are required to be tested twice each week throughout the semester, which includes all faculty, staff, and student employees.

Students, however, still remain hopeful that we will return to a more normal looking semester in the Fall of 2021 after the COVID-19 vaccine is more widely used. Until then, online classes will remain as students continue to work towards their degrees in what is sure to be a year that makes history at UW-Madison.

Although the Madison streets we have come to love were much quieter this year, I am thankful to have such amazing people in my life that supported me through these changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including my family, friends, and coworkers. Although we have to connect from a distance for now, I am looking forward to returning to Badger Football Saturday’s, in-person instruction, and attending industry events as soon as time will allow.

2020 was certainly not the year I had expected or hoped for, but made me realize and value the smaller things in my life a whole lot more, and for that I am grateful.