C/O Kevin Patrick Robbins

MSU clubs that had to improvise during online school reflect on their first year back in person as they look forward to fall 2022 

Last September, many McMaster Students Union clubs restarted in-person meetings after a school year spent online. During the pandemic, some MSU clubs found it difficult to maintain their numbers and had unique challenges to work around because of the nature of online connections. 

With online school, Mac Improv did their best to continue the spirit of improvisation over Zoom calls and shows. Vice President of outreach and soon to be Co-President of Mac Improv, Dabeer Abdul-Azeez, spoke about how online meetings may have hindered improv, but also allowed the team to try new things using technology.  

“[We] held online practices still. They were held over Zoom, so it was very awkward because a lot of improv has to do with being onstage and body language. [It’s] very awkward when you're just sitting [and] the camera can only see so much of your person. But we tried, nonetheless, and still held practices,” said Abdul-Azeez. 

Despite the added challenges, Mac Improv still put on a few virtual shows during the year using new types of online games they wouldn’t usually get to use to improvise with such as Among Us. 

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A post shared by McMaster Improv Team (@macimprovteam)

“There were some digital games that we tried that we normally wouldn't have done in person. [We used] technology to help provide suggestions for the scenes or things like that,” said Abdul-Azeez.  

This year, Mac Improv was almost back to pre-COVID practices, with exceptions for McMaster’s COVID safety rules. After meeting together twice a week this school year, Mac Improv is working on putting together an in-person show on April 14 at the Westdale Theatre. 

Absolute Pitch, McMaster’s official show choir, also felt a hit to their club during online school. Unfortunately, their 2020 annual show was scheduled just one week after McMaster closed. Club President Haleigh Wallace expressed that having a year’s worth of work not end up on stage was frustrating, but that the club was able to adapt using individual recordings and mixing them together virtually. 

“Our vocal directors ended up getting really good at audio mixing and we all would sit alone in our rooms and record our own vocal lines and then they would all get mixed together so that we sounded like one in person choir,” said Wallace. 

Wallace also mentioned that there were fewer new faces during the online year, but is hopeful that with in-person meetings coming back, first-years will be excited to join new clubs. Their show this year, Retro Rewind, took place on April 3 in person live at Kenneth Taylor Hall. 

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A post shared by Absolute Pitch (@absolutepitches)

“I think the two main things we're really excited about are hopefully an in-person clubs fest or some sort of similar event where we can recruit a lot more new members because our cast is very small this year,” said Wallace. 

The McMaster Musical Theatre opted to keep their show online this year. Carly Black, Vice President External of McMaster Musical Theatre, spoke about keeping members during their year online.  

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A post shared by McMaster Musical Theatre (@mcmastermusical)

“Our plan and our hope was to be back in person . . . We got to go back into a few rehearsals in-person, but by that time, we lost so much rehearsal time already because of McMaster pushing back its opening day to February. It was just going to be so difficult to pull together the show when we lost so much time,” said Black. 

The Musical Theatre also saw a drop in students auditioning during the online school year similar to Mac Improv and Absolute Pitch. 

“I definitely think there were less people that auditioned when it was online. Just because, you know, lots of people want to do an in-person show. It's just very different online . . . [For] a lot of people, things changed in their lives during the pandemic. So, a lot of people just didn't do as many things [or] join as many clubs, which is completely understandable,” said Black. 

A consensus across clubs was that recruitment dropped significantly throughout the pandemic, as it was difficult to predict whether we would be online or in person or what the clubs would look like.  

However, with McMaster soon to drop mask mandates campus-wide, MSU clubs may look very different come this upcoming fall. Hopefully, more in-person engagement and connections are to come.  

C/O Anna Katherine Verdillo, taken at PNB formal 2019

Student societies, clubs and services are looking forward to in-person events

Soon after the start of the semester, McMaster released a statement regarding in-person classes in the winter 2022 semester with very limited exceptions. In the same update, students were promised pre-pandemic capacity for on-campus student life activities, such as services, resources, events, study spaces and social spaces. In light of this announcement, program councils and McMaster Students Union services have begun considering larger in-person events for winter.

For instance, the Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour Society is in its early stages of planning for its traditional winter formal. Dianne Cardwell, one of the Vice Presidents of Social of PNB Society, hopes in-person events can help students forge new connections within the psychology, neuroscience and behaviour program.

“We’ve definitely found this year there seems to be a separation between the second-years and other members of the program just because they’ve been isolated and not in the McMaster community. We are really hoping to make those second-years feel accepted into the Mac community and PNB community as a whole,”

Dianne Cardwell

Similarly, the Bachelor of Health Sciences Society typically organizes a formal event in January along with a club night. Two years ago, they also collaborated with societies from kinesiology, engineering and PNB to host a pub night. Currently, it has been difficult for BHSS to plan much ahead, with changing restrictions and guidelines from the government and the school. 

“For now, we are trying to see if we can plan based on what we know right now . . . But that’s all going to be dependent on restrictions at that time,” said Michal Moshkovich, one of the Social Coordinators of BHSS. 

Recently, on Nov. 25, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore shared that he expects COVID-19 cases to increase through the winter. As COVID-19 cases are predicted to rise as the cold weather settles in, both the PNB Society and BHSS are continuing to observe the situation closely and are considering planning in-person events for the end of the second semester. 

With lots of ongoing uncertainty and lack of clarity in communication with the university, MSU services like the Women and Gender Equity Network are preparing to do last-minute planning as well.

Typically, in the winter, WGEN has two big campaign weeks in the second semester: Bodies are Dope, which usually runs in February, and Making Waves, which usually runs in March. The service’s first campaign of the year, [Trans]forming Mac, ran completely online from Nov. 20 to Nov. 25.

“[Planning] has been a little difficult based on how much information we receive . . . For now, the plan is to hopefully do stuff in person. But it might have to be really last-minute planning because we don’t know what the rules are, so that makes it a little difficult to plan in advance which we would ideally like because we want to be able to make sure we book proper rooms for social distancing and things like that,” said Neha Shaw, Director of WGEN. 

It is also still unclear whether WGEN’s safe(r) spaces will operate in-person due to accessibility concerns. However, the service has received approval for in-person resource delivery, such as gender-affirming gear, and it is planned to open in the winter. 

In general, the PNB society, BHSS and WGEN are all looking forward to at least some opportunities for in-person gatherings and events. They recognize online events feel intimidating and more formal, discouraging participation, compared to dropping by physical, live spaces or events that feel more casual and natural.

“It’s really hard to get people to come out to these online events and not feel intimidated versus in-person events . . . So far, we’ve hosted second-year welcome day and bonfires and the turnout was great because people are just excited to be back on campus and back in social environments where they can interact with people, even if it means following very, very rigid protocols for COVID,” said Moshkovich.

As much as all the societies and services miss the experiences of in-person gatherings, they also recognize the benefits of virtual events. 

“With virtual events, there’s higher accessibility. You get things like captioning and people can engage to a level they are comfortable with. I know it can be more awkward to attend Zoom events than it can be in-person events, but at the same time, you can log onto an event and not turn your camera on, you can put your [fake] name [for anonymity] . . . you can type in the chat if that’s easier for you,” said Shaw.

At the end of the day, the main goal of student societies, services and clubs is to connect people together and foster community. Whether it continues to be facilitated virtually or back in person, they will all continue to work towards community building and enhancing the student life at McMaster University. 

C/O Travis Nguyen

Financial, distance and mental barriers exist in our return to in-person university

By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor

University life before COVID-19 feels like a distant dream. Never before have we associated campus life with daily MacChecks, proof of vaccination, social distancing and the infamous mute button on Zoom. Although there are aspects of in-person learning that both students and professors are yearning to get back to, there are also some that could be challenging and necessitate some changes in how higher learning operates. 

For one, being on campus poses issues in terms of both accommodation and commute. Given that most leases start in the spring, when the winter semester is ending, many students did not have a chance to find accommodation well before McMaster University announced intentions for in-person learning for the fall 2021 and winter 2022 semesters. 

Not only was this logistically difficult, but many students could also struggle in being able to fund full-year lease agreements. This is especially true given that the pandemic could shift at any time, rendering such accommodations as simply another setting for online learning. Although the university was cautious in waiting to announce what type of learning we could expect for this school year, it did not bode well for many considering the competitive and expensive nature of student housing. 

Although the university was cautious in waiting to announce what type of learning we could expect for this school year, it did not bode well for many considering the competitive and expensive nature of student housing. 

Ardena Bašić, Contributor

In terms of a commute, classes occurring in person means that it will likely be longer than the time and distance from one’s bed to their desk. Although some students are located in Hamilton, they will still have to keep track of the bussing system or find a parking space on or near campus. Again, while both these options are generally feasible, they may pose challenges in terms of time-management and funding for many. 

Another difficulty that could arise involves the coping mechanisms students have developed to ease anxiety during these unprecedented times. Although many services are once again being offered on campus — such as athletic facilities and clubs that focus on well-being — some are still being left online or are hard to come by. The Pulse, for example, requires bookings and minimizes the time one can spend in a single visit. 

Struggling to book a space during high demand means that some people who have relied on exercise for their mental health may be left out. Of course, there are online options, but many students are tired of such an approach and are eager for in-person activities again. These barriers make it daunting for students to be optimistic about a normal, on-campus life like the one many had before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

These barriers make it daunting for students to be optimistic about a normal, on-campus life like the one many had before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ardena Bašić, Contributor

One more thing to consider is the stimulus shock that many students felt when coming back to campus for the first-time post pandemic. The sheer number of real-life people seemed intimidating after only seeing virtual faces for so long. Although students will likely acclimate to this after a period of time, it will only be exacerbated by the limited supply of coping mechanisms currently available. Although schools have to move gradually for everyone’s safety, it still comes with its caveats for students and anyone working on campus. 

Given these logistical issues, educational institutions may have to work toward a revised version of on-campus learning rather than exactly what we had before. For example, giving students who rely on commuting or are struggling to find or pay for accommodations first choice during class scheduling. This will allow them to find the classes that work around their schedule and would be enhanced even further if classes continued to offer online completion options. Reductions in tuition for students who choose the latter should also be considered, since they would not be making as much of a use of campus facilities as those on campus. 

Moreover, as it is safe to do so, schools should continue to expand their offerings and attempt to regain close to, if not exactly, as many programs as they had previously. Catering to the diverse range of student interests will ensure that there is something for everyone to relieve the stresses that come with being a student. In lieu of choosing whether programs should be fully online or fully in-person, live-streaming and recordings offer an alternative that would maximize accessibility

In lieu of choosing whether programs should be fully online or fully in-person, live-streaming and recordings offer an alternative that would maximize accessibility.

Ardena Bašić, Contributor

Social acclimation will no doubt be the hardest step, as most of us have spent well over a year being limited in our contacts. However, as we increasingly get back to a new normal, we will be able to practice our flexibility and resiliency as humans to find comfort and appreciation in our environment again. Although the world around us is filled with uncertainty, the pandemic has taught us that we can definitely rely on our adaptability and constant yearning to change our surroundings for the better. 

What exactly does an in-person experience mean after months of remote education?

In March of 2020, students at McMaster University watched their academics get shifted to a virtual landscape. Now, after almost a year and a half, virtual learning appears to be coming to an end. On Oct. 21, Susan Tighe, Provost and Vice-President (Academic), announced that McMaster is currently planning for an in-person winter semester in 2022.

“As I announced at our Back to Mac town halls in June, McMaster is currently planning to resume in-person classes in the winter term with very limited exceptions. Teams across campus are also planning to ramp up on-campus student life activities so they are closer to, if not meeting, pre-pandemic capacities. This includes services and resources, events and student study and social space,” said Tighe.

On Nov. 18, Tighe will complete a State of the Academy address, a virtual event where students will have the opportunity to learn about the current state of McMaster University regarding academics and other matters.

Talking about how the decision of an in-person winter semester came to be, Tighe shared that the process had begun in February of 2021. Moreover, she explained how, as January neared, the McMaster community was on its way to be fully vaccinated. 

“We were fairly confident that by the winter semester we’d be able to have vaccinations in place. We were recognizing they were on the rise and that we’d be able to return to an in-person [semester]. I really want to reinforce it was a collaboration with many people across campus and external to the institution to really help us with the planning,” said Tighe.

Tighe further explained that the mandates that McMaster had put in place were crucial to getting back to an in-person climate. This included the mandated use of MacCheck by students, faculty and staff. This digital tool enabled the McMaster community to log the presence or absence of COVID-19 symptoms in addition to their vaccination status. As of now, most areas on campus require clearance via MacCheck’s COVID-19 symptoms questionnaire. 

“Health and safety have been the priority from the beginning. So I think that, what was a real differentiator for McMaster, we didn’t want to bring people back on campus if we weren’t confident that our structures and procedures and policies really promoted a very safe environment,” said Tighe.

While speaking about the way in which planning for an in-person winter semester panned out, Tighe explained how she heard from many students that they’d missed campus and in-person social interactions. 

Although returning back to in-person classes may have its benefits, it can also pose barriers for students, especially international students who are currently not in Canada. Acknowledging how hard it’s been for these students to adjust, Tighe explained how the university is trying to support international students amidst the announcement.

“In order for us to get in front of this, the International Student Services and School of Graduate Studies have been working individually with our international students to assess when they are coming to Canada, how they plan to arrive and if they need to quarantine . . . So what we’ve actually encouraged, and suggested, is that all of our international undergraduate students are required to sign up for the iCent, to make sure they have the proper information to support them for their unique circumstances,” explained Tighe. 

She explained further the ways in which McMaster has prepared to accommodate these students with services such as the vaccine clinic and quarantine spaces within residences. She also emphasized that McMaster ISS personalized support for immigration so that students can settle in better. 

If a student is truly unable to come to campus, Tighe explained that professors are encouraged  to use programs like Echo360 for lectures and to allow for virtual completion of courses. Moreover, she urged students that are facing barriers relating to the in-person switch for Winter 2022 to contact their academic advisors to get the support they need. 

Jane Lee, a fifth-year commerce student and the Social Media Coordinator for the Silhouette, spoke about her own experiences with this transition. Lee currently has almost entirely remote courses, with one in-person lecture for one of them. She explained that when school does become in-person, it will take her over 40 minutes to commute to school. Lee was quick to admit that for her such a transition isn’t that much of a hassle, but for her peers, it could really be stressful.

“I really don’t know how [international students] are going to prepare on such short-term notice. Especially because I have a friend even down in Toronto, which is not even a whole country away and she is scrambling to try and find a house for winter term. You see the housing groups. There are so many posts with people . . . It’s not a good market to be in right now,” said Lee. 

As a fifth-year student, Lee’s classes aren’t as frequent so she only has to go on campus once a week for three hours with 30-40 students. Lee explained that she was pretty shocked at how few regulations, including the use of MacCheck, were thoroughly enforced while she was there. 

“Even though I’ve had one in-person class this fall, it’s very interesting to see the different attitudes people have towards safety regulations . . . I go to class and there’ll be people [with their] mask on with their nose sticking out or people eating food in class,” explained Lee.

No matter what safety regulation McMaster implements, it is the responsibility of students to follow guidelines thoroughly. 

As McMaster begins to prepare for an almost entirely in-person winter 2022 semester, the community is adjusting as well. Not all students may be able to return to campus with ease, but campus support services are available for those who require assistance. 

By adhering to all necessary health and safety precautions, the university is hopeful that the community will do their part to return student activities to pre-pandemic capacities. 

C/O Travis Nguyen

A closer look at the elected first-year representatives for the MES and their hopes for the future

By: Kirsten Espe, Contributor

On Sept. 27, 2021, the results for the 2021-2022 McMaster Engineering Society elections were announced. After a year and a half of online learning, all candidates, especially the first-year representatives, were excited and optimistic about an in-person university experience.

Following a week-long campaign, six first-year Engineering students were elected by their peers to represent the biotechnology, computer science, engineering 1 and integrated biomedical engineering and health sciences programs.

Halima Banuso, one of the three level one engineering representatives, spoke about her early interest in becoming involved at McMaster. 

“[The] MES were basically the ones who ran the Red Suits for Welcome Week . . . I just really loved all the activities and the Red Suits are super cool. I remember me and my friend asked ‘Oh, how do you become a Red Suit because I wanna do that [in my] second year too’,” said Banuso. 

Aside from the excitement of returning to a somewhat in-person experience, Banuso was also enthusiastic to get back to doing something that she loved.

“I was that person who just really liked going to every event and planning every event and I was on my high school student council . . . Obviously school’s important, but that’s not necessarily what you’re going to remember and in a few years you’re going to remember the memories, the friends you made, the cool events you got to go to, so I really like being a part of that stuff,” said Banuso.

The first-year integrated biomedical engineering and health sciences representative, Dhanya Koshti, said that one of his main motivators in applying to the position was his desire for community. 

“Everyone knows what they’re doing but they are way more for working towards collaboration over competition,” said Koshti. 

Koshti made an astute connection between the distinctiveness of his program and the McMaster “Fireball Family” by comparing the bridge of engineering and health sciences. 

“We’re sort of that hybrid in-between . . . We have this really unique relationship dynamic with each other and I really wanted to build on that connection,” explained Koshti.

Hetanshu Pandya, the first-year computer science representative, also spoke about the importance of his position in relation to the community at McMaster.

“[Students] can share their thoughts, their experiences, their opinions, whether it be negative or positive . . . and you can share it [with] me and I can communicate that with the council,” said Pandya.

“[Students] can share their thoughts, their experiences, their opinions, whether it be negative or positive . . . and you can share it [with] me and I can communicate that with the council.”

Hetanshu Pandya, first-year computer science representative

Pandya said his main goal is to represent first-year computer science students fairly and effectively, with hopes of exceeding both his and his fellow peers’ expectations for the year. 

Due to the partial online environment currently established at McMaster University, candidates found themselves honing their technological skills to campaign, particularly through social media. 

Matthew Arias, the biotechnology first-year representative, commented on his campaign that was done on Instagram. 

“[The] first thing I did was make an Instagram account because everybody’s on Instagram and it’s kind of the easiest way to reach out. I’d make Instagram posts on another website with graphic designing and I posted on there,” explained Arias.

Arias also highlighted that some of his fellow students would repost his posts without him ever asking, further driving home the sense of community the other representatives spoke about. 

All four engineering representatives echoed similar sentiments to their fellow first-year students of the MES prior to the start of their official term. 

“To the same extent that you all supported me, I really want to be there to help you guys. That is what this position, really, is all about,” said Koshti. 

“To the same extent that you all supported me, I really want to be there to help you guys. That is what this position, really, is all about.”

Dhanya Koshti, FIRST-YEAR INTEGRATED BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING AND HEALTH SCieNCES REPRESENTATIVE

“Whether things are virtual, or in-person, someone’s on-residence, or off-residence, [I hope that] we can all come together and really feel a part of the McMaster engineering community,” said Banuso. 

“Whether things are virtual, or in-person, someone’s on-residence, or off-residence, [I hope that] we can all come together and really feel a part of the McMaster engineering community.”

Halima Banuso, first-year engineering 1 reps

Despite the different circumstances students may be in due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these four representatives look forward to building a strong community for first-year engineering students.

C/O Ainsley Thurgood

McMaster’s potentially surprising welcome to the return of in-person learning this winter

By: Bianca Perreault, Contributor

Despite the excitement of a movement back to in-person functions, the return to pre-pandemic life could be a hindrance for many people. We’ve just been through over 15 months of change, with people developing new habits and experiencing a time of instability. At McMaster University, the school is looking forward to a Back-to-Mac plan for the upcoming semester. Through scares, stress and excitement, what should we expect for January 2022? Will it be welcomed? A disaster or a debate? McMaster might have to prepare for a variety of perspectives on the return of in-person learning this winter.

There’s such a diverse set of perspectives and those determine how the movement back to in-person classes will be received. Let’s look at the parents as an example, for whom it is essential that their students get a high-quality education. Many parents believe in-personal learning is highly valuable, the method by which the majority of the post-secondary studies have been delivered before March 2019. 

But what about teachers? Since the pandemic affected our academics, we must always consider the opposite party and their perspectives. It would be a lie to say that I have never heard a teacher saying that they would rather work from home for their safety. Post-secondary education hasn't stopped through this global experience, so people like professors have learned to work with it throughout eLearning and found comfort in this way of teaching. For teachers who may not want the vaccine, made mandatory at McMaster, would either have to work from home or not at all. 

We must also consider the perspective of students who feel that they work better and learn more efficiently in-person. Prior to the pandemic, very few educational institutions were offering online or hybrid options. However, online learning was always there through programs such as Cégep à distance and even online programs through McMaster Continuing Education. Countless people may have assumed that online learning would be straightforward as they would have less effort to do "physically." However, it has proven to be challenging for so many others mentally. Despite considerable rise in student enrolment in entirely online courses over the last two years, given the circumstances of the pandemic, most students have still said they would prefer continuing with in-person classes if they had the option.

Despite considerable rise in student enrolment in entirely online courses over the last two years, given the circumstances of the pandemic, most students have still said they would prefer continuing with in-person classes if they had the option.

As an out-of-province student coming from Quebec, it was less trouble for me to move to Hamilton, take a COVID-19 test and show my proof of vaccination while living in the same country where McMaster is located. However, numerous online students, including one of my roommates, haven’t been able to arrive in time for the start of the school year due to the rules and restrictions for international students. How are these students handling the challenge of being in a completely different country while only wishing to be in Hamilton? Is it naive of us to assume such restrictions won’t hinder the success of international students before the winter semester? 

With all these questions and perspectives in mind, it’s difficult to fully understand the impact that the move to in-person learning may have. 

PHOTO C/O Govind Krishnan, Unsplash 

Midnight exams, sky high airfare and unpredictable COVID regulations now a reality for many of Mac’s international students. 

Starting on Jan. 29, 2021, alongside the Canadian government requiring all international travelers to Canada submit proofs of negative COVID-19 tests administered at time of landing, new quarantine restrictions for travelers were introduced amidst rising concerns for more infectious variants of COVID-19. The differing and often conflicting COVID-19 travel restrictions administered by governments globally only exacerbated pre-existing difficulties and delays travelers outside Canada experience, and, as a result, transformed international traveling into a grim, confusing undertaking for even the most experienced of travelers. The impact of ever-changing travel policies imposed in early 2021 hit the new and returning international students of McMaster hard, where reaching campus for many has become a source of difficulty. While all of McMaster operated from home in the 2020-2021 academic year, the hybrid 2021-2022 academic year poses interesting challenges for the upcoming plans of international students.

Vaibhav Arora, a second year health sciences student from Kolkata, India who, after a year of online school, has finally moved to Hamilton, and has faced many barriers due to COVID-19

“COVID had an immense impact on my travel plans and I think the same can be said for pretty much any student coming from India . . .  We all had to take long indirect routes to come to Canada, and when landing in other countries, we had to submit negative COVID tests. As a result, obviously air fares were much higher. So, getting to Hamilton in and of itself was a huge challenge,” explained Arora.

“COVID had an immense impact on my travel plans and I think the same can be said for pretty much any student coming from India . . . We all had to take long indirect routes to come to Canada, and when landing in other countries, we had to submit negative COVID tests. As a result, obviously air fares were much higher. So, getting to Hamilton in and of itself was a huge challenge.”

Vaibhav Arora, Second-Year Health Sciences Student

Kimia Tahaei, a second year arts and science student who completed her first year online from Tehran, Iran, and is choosing to stay in Iran for the Fall 2021 semester also faced a similar situation.

“It’s really hard to get a visa from Iran to Canada normally and even more so now that there is COVID, and Iran's vaccination and travel policies are very different from Canada’s. Since I would have to make such a huge move despite the uncertainty of the Winter semester being in person or not, on top of the cost of airfare, it financially made more sense for me to resume school from home for now,” explained Tahaei.

While travelling has become increasingly difficult and inaccessible, many international students are frustrated about the trend of rising tuition this academic year, especially for programs that tend to receive more international students, like engineering. Unlike domestic students who have access to financial aid bursaries and provincial benefits such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program, international students do not have any such services in place for them, and hence are subject to significantly higher tuition.

Tahaei maintains that the online accessibility of all her classes and the accommodations made for her two in person classes following her academic experiences last year has greatly impacted her decision to stay in Iran for the Fall semester.

“Online school wasn’t the most pleasant experience, especially the seven and a half hour time difference. The time zone was really hurting me because I had a really difficult time figuring out when to sleep or do class. My classes ran from 10 p.m.-4:30 a.m., which really messed up my sleep schedule since I would sleep [until] 2 p.m. and consequently I would only have a few hours before classes to get all of my work done. Now everything is posted so that I don’t have to do that as often,” explained Tahaei.

Arora shares Tahaei’s mixed sentiments about online academics.

“Tests were all situated at midnight, which was really difficult, and it was hard coordinating group meetings with my classmates about different projects. But I think academically besides that, it wasn’t too bad. Most lectures were recorded, most assignments had 12- or 24-hour submission windows. Profs were really understanding if I had to submit assignments late for any reason,” explained Arora.

While campus and provincial policies such as MacCheck and vaccine passports respectively allow some reassurance to professors eager to resume in-person lectures, faculties across Mac have nonetheless been going above and beyond to make all academic work equally as accessible online. The willingness to accommodate the academic needs of international students who are still not on campus is an initiative students doing school from abroad have taken to.

“There is only so much professors can do for me. It will always be hard, but at Mac I would not even have to contact my academic advisors. I would just email the profs about my situation and they would be down to help. I was not expecting this much empathy, so it was extremely appreciated and is a really positive thing I’ve noticed at Mac,” explained Tahaei.

“There is only so much professors can do for me. It will always be hard, but at Mac I would not even have to contact my academic advisors. I would just email the profs about my situation and they would be down to help. I was not expecting this much empathy, so it was extremely appreciated and is a really positive thing I’ve noticed at Mac,”

Kimia Tahaei, second year arts and sciences student

Unfortunately, many international students, both abroad and who have recently moved to Hamilton, feel highly alienated from the McMaster community and campus life.  There are over 300 clubs under the McMaster Students Union, many of which are centered on identity, religion or culture. Despite this, many international students are unaware about these clubs, or unsure about how to join them. This has been detrimental to their ability to engage in campus life. 

“There were certainly issues in getting involved with clubs and extracurricular activities for Mac students from India as most of the club meetings would be held in Eastern Time. However, I wish Mac had done more to help second-year students new to the country for the first time adjust to university life. I know the university has many events that are offered virtually, but many international students are not even aware of what those resources are. There is no way to know anything if they are not actively following social media pages or receiving mandatory emails,” said Arora.

As of now, Mac will continue its hybrid learning approach, with plans to expand vaccination status monitoring on campus. There are currently no released plans for the Winter semester in the event provincial and health regulations impose lockdowns. McMaster has made no comments on the position of its international students.

How McMaster’s first-year students attended a welcome week amid a global pandemic

Welcome Week is a week dedicated to incoming freshmen, allowing them to participate in activities that encourage forming connections with their classmates. Though it is such a well known event amongst university students, only one year of students can attest to attending such an event in the midst of a global pandemic.

The freshman entering McMaster University in the year of 2021 have found themselves trying to adjust to university life in the midst of the pandemic. Despite the pandemic, they began their year with a welcome week with socially distancing guidelines. 

“Daily screening: all attendees must complete the COVID-19 provincial self-assessment within one hour of their intended arrival on campus. Participants will be asked about the completion of screening upon arrival at the event,” stated the Student Success Centre on their COVID-19 guidelines for on-campus events.

On the Welcome Week website, seven distinct guidelines were set out to align with the City of Hamilton guidelines. This included having only 100 people at each outdoor event, including those hosting the events. Alongside this, students were required to wear masks at events where social distancing was difficult to maintain.

During the week of Sept. 1 to 8, 2021, first-years gathered all over the McMaster campus to meet their peers. The week followed a hybrid format, mixed with online and in-person components. Students were able to schedule their ideal welcome week schedule with the McMaster Welcome Week website

“Coming out of a year of fully online school basically, Grade 12, it was just really nice to walk outside and see people, just interact with other people. Being in the center of this more social environment after so much isolation,” said Nazifa Tasnim, a first-year engineering student.

This hybrid approach was appreciated by students as it allowed them an opportunity to meet classmates. Tasnim was open to admitting that virtual aspects of the events were often a little harder when it came down to meeting new people.

“There were virtual events that I signed up for but more or less it was only fun sometimes because I would have my friends, who also lived in my residency building, in the room with me doing the games. In terms of meeting new people, the virtual events were really hard when it came down to knowing anyone. The physical interactions were better in terms of getting to know someone for the first time. At least that’s what I think a lot of people feel. Definitely how I feel,”  said Tasnim.

All of these events were run by upper-year undergraduate students. The large majority chose to volunteer their first weeks of university to help guide their younger classmates. To prepare these upper-year students for their roles, they had mandatory training and this year, training was marginally different as they had to factor in COVID-19.

“We had a COVD-19 awareness training that was done via Avenue to Learn. We also had an in-person training that also went over COVID guidelines and all the social distancing rules. I found that they were relatively efficient because during the event all the guidelines were enforced,” said Angelina Zhang, a second-year science representative

Despite being older than the first-years, many were second-years, students who had also been new to the physical campus. Zhang shared how her online experience impacted her role as a Sciclone.

“As a second-year representative, during Welcome Week 2021, while not having any in-person events for my first year I feel really rewarded doing this. Because I am helping the first years this year to have a better Welcome Week experience than I did last year,” said Zhang.

Different faculties had a wide variety of events. When speaking with an arts and science representative, they talked about how they adapted to Welcome Week amid COVID-19.

“In terms of the planning specifically, all the faculties got together once a week for two hours with other administrative people throughout the whole summer to go through training, plan the events and get the student input side of things. For us specifically, it was two to three hours every week and we worked together to bounce ideas off each other,” said Nicole Rob, co-planner for arts & science Welcome Week events.

Rob proceeded to explain how COVID-19 guidelines affected each faculty differently.

“Every faculty is different because we have different numbers of students. For example, Arts & Science, as well as [the] Indigenous Studies Program, are the two faculties that have the least amount of students. [The arts & sciences Program] has an incoming cohort this year of 68 students. Whereas there are faculties like Science that have 1,700 coming in this year. So what we can do and what type of events we did plan looks a little different for each faculty because of those numbers,” said Rob.

First-year students were allowed the opportunity to reside in the residence buildings found all over campus. This allowed for events that pertained to helping them meet and bond with their roommates.

“I live in [residence]. I do think it helped improve my Welcome Week experience mostly because there were a lot of [residence-specific] Welcome Week events. In those groupings, I got to meet people who also lived in my building or surrounding buildings, which meant that there were more people that I would get to see often, and would already know their names,” said Tasnim.

As one of the many planners of this week-long event, Rob shared what her favourite part of Welcome Week was.

“I think just seeing all of it come together was really cool. With COVID right now everything is fairly uncertain and it is hard to even envision an in-person event at this point because it has been so long since we’ve seen big gatherings of people. It was nice to be able to give the first-years that experience, as someone who had a fully online Welcome Week. As a second-year it was cool to see the first-years be able to enjoy a bit of the in-person experience,” she said.

Overall, Welcome Week was one that was truly historic. Despite the stresses and inconveniences brought about by COVID-19, Welcome Week this year was a huge success and an appreciated welcome for the incoming class. 

C/O Kyle Head

Clubs reflect on the previous year and prepare for a new year as students are welcomed back on campus

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and conditions rapidly change, students have also been doing their best to adapt their extracurricular activities. Starting Sept. 9, 2021, McMaster Students Union clubs are to follow a new set of guidelines tailored to in-person events. 

Although in-person events are permitted, events are limited to 100 people outdoors or 25 people indoors. Students must always adhere to any physical distancing or room capacity limits as well. 

Following the same format as the year before, MSU Clubsfest took place online. For the virtual Clubsfest, MSU Clubs features a variety of clubs from the five divisions—academic, cultural, recreational, religious and social issues — across their social media. 

With over 300 clubs under the MSU, many clubs do not require students to gather in person. On the other hand, there are also clubs that operate heavily with in-person events. 

Absolute Pitch, McMaster’s show choir, is one such club. As a show choir, the club involves singing and dancing for live performances. This year, Hayleigh Wallace, Absolute Pitch’s president, said that all auditions and rehearsals will be done in person. 

However, the club will still be following all protocols and thus, the cast may be smaller than usual in order to abide by the 25 person gathering limit. 

For performances where the club can’t have a live audience, such as their annual coffee house performance in November, those will be recorded beforehand. 

Looking back on how the previous year went for the club when everyone had to be done online, Wallace said the club learned a lot about being flexible. 

“I think we also just learned a lot about flexibility and we’re going to try not to enforce really hard deadlines this year, or like, we need to have this number perfected by this day. We understand that it’s okay to be flexible,” said Wallace. 

“I think we also just learned a lot about flexibility and we’re going to try not to enforce really hard deadlines this year, or like, we need to have this number perfected by this day. We understand that it’s okay to be flexible.”

Hayleigh Wallace, Absolute Pitch President

Auditions for Absolute Pitch are being held Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 for both the vocal and dance cast. The club is also currently recruiting band members. 

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A post shared by Absolute Pitch (@absolutepitches)

Similar to Absolute Pitch, the McMaster Musical Theatre is another club that bases its operations heavily on in-person gatherings. This year, the MMT will also be having their rehearsals in person and will be recording any performances that cannot have a live audience. 

Due to the fact that MMT’s cast and crew will likely be over the 25 person limit, Isabel Diavolitsis, MMT’s president, expressed that the club plans to split up the cast and crew for rehearsals in order to follow the protocols. 

Last year, with everything being done online, MMT asked club members to record individual videos of themselves reimagining and reenacting songs or scenes that they love. 

Although there were some challenges, Diavolitsis said the club was able to learn from the experience. 

“[There] definitely was a learning curve I'm sure like at the beginning of the year just sort of getting into it how are we going to do this and I’m sure lots of clubs had that sort of awakening. But then, after that, things started to run a bit more smoothly. I think folks have now learned that there are some things you can teach virtually which is kind of cool and maybe will reduce the amount of time we have to spend in person, especially if we want to keep limiting contact,” said Diavolitsis.

"I think folks have now learned that there are some things you can teach virtually which is kind of cool and maybe will reduce the amount of time we have to spend in person, especially if we want to keep limiting contact.”

Isabel Diavolitsis, Mcmaster Musical Theatre President

Mac One Act, a club that offers students the opportunity to participate in a variety of short plays, is also planning on incorporating in-person performances this year. 

Toluwalase Awonuga, president of Mac One Act, said that the club plans to do in-person plays, but will also have some virtual plays to allow those who can’t make it in person to join. 

Each play involves a group of typically no larger than six, so Awonuga believes the club should have no difficulty adhering to the COVID-19 protocols during rehearsals. 

The club is looking to include both virtual and in-person plays in their final showcase in the Winter semester. Awonuga expressed that their hope is to offer the showcase to a live audience, but also online as well. 

Currently, the club is reviewing scripts for their plays this year and auditions will begin at the end of October.

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A post shared by Mac One Act Theatre (@maconeact)

Aside from performance-based clubs, other clubs such as the Mac Soup Kitchen, also involve in-person activities. 

Mac Soup Kitchen is a club that advocates food security, fundraises for various food accessibility programs and helps organize volunteers for local food banks and soup kitchens. 

Vanessa Wong, one of MSK’s co-presidents, said that last year, the club shifted from volunteering and fundraising to more advocacy-related activities. This included online events such as a games night and coordinating a virtual food drive. 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Mac Soup Kitchen (@macsoupkitchen)

“Asking students to provide monetary donations is kind of [something] we didn't feel like was the right thing to do, knowing that everyone was you know going through hardship last year, so we wanted to just shift our focus to spreading awareness of food insecurity,” said Wong. 

“Asking students to provide monetary donations is kind of [something] we didn't feel like was the right thing to do, knowing that everyone was you know going through hardship last year, so we wanted to just shift our focus to spreading awareness of food insecurity.”

Vanessa Wong, Mac Soup Kitchen Co-President

Arushi Wadhwa, MSK’s other co-president, said that a positive from last year was being able to reach out to a wide range of people through social media. However, conducting synchronous online events posed a challenge at times as the club is used to advertising for events on campus through posters or drop-ins to classrooms. 

“[T]here were definitely some drawbacks, but given all of that we've definitely learned a lot [from] hosting like completely online events last year and we're really excited to implement new changes and see where MSK goes this year,” said Wadhwa. 

This year, due to the difficulty of contact tracing, Wong and Wadhwa said they plan to remain mostly online. 

“Keeping everyone safe is our number one priority, so we are going to remain mainly online, explained Wadhwa. 

However, the club will be facilitating some in-person volunteering at food banks and soup kitchens if any club members express interest in doing so. MSK will not be heavily involved in the entire volunteering process but will help inform volunteers of when food banks or soup kitchens need volunteers. 

By: Elizabeth DiEmanuele

The Student Success Centre is pleased to launch the Undergrad Peer Tutoring Network (UPTN), a new network for students to access affordable, quality student tutors, both in-person and online. The platform is powered by TutorOcean, a relatively new start-up company that was selected in partnership with the McMaster Engineering Society. Differing from other academic services available, this network is a chance to connect with another student who successfully completed the course; tutors must have received an A- to provide services.

“Through the Student Life Enhancement Fund, all McMaster undergraduate students who access the network receive a subsidy for the first seven sessions, meaning they only pay $9 per hour,” says Jenna Storey, Academic Skills Program Coordinator for the Student Success Centre. “Tutors are available from all Faculties and an important part of this service.”

Gina Robinson, Director of the Student Success Centre, adds, “Providing quality and affordable tutoring is an important objective of this initiative. Finding sustainable funding for subsidy will need to be part the plan moving forward.”

Understanding that there are a number of gatekeeping courses (mandatory courses for students to complete their degree), the Student Success Centre continues to work with Faculties to ensure that these courses are available on the network. The Student Success Centre has also incorporated measures to ensure that tutors are well-prepared, offering a number of different sessions for tutors to become “McMaster Certified.”

As Jenna shares, “Students are encouraged to find a tutor who has a ‘McMaster Certified’ badge on their profile, indicating they have completed the tutor training session in accordance with best practices. This training focuses on running an effective session, ethical standards, and communication skills.”

The Undergrad Writing Centre continues to be another support available for students, and can be used at any stage of the writing process. All Writing Tutors have undergone training through the Student Success Centre, which has been externally recognized by the College Reading and Learning Association (CLRA).

Students can book up to ten appointments per semester for free. This semester, new drop-in writing support is also available Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Undergrad Writing Centre is located in the Learning Commons on the second floor of Mills Library.

Jill McMillan, Academic Skills Program Coordinator of the Student Success Centre, shares, “Writing remains is a key academic and life skill requirement. We are thrilled to have received certification recognition that demonstrates the quality of this peer based service. Students are supported in meeting their writing potential.”

Students looking for quick study tips and other academic support can connect with Academic Coaches, located in the SSC Lounge as well as in the Learning Commons on the second floor of Mills Library every Monday-Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

 

Learn more about the Undergrad Peer Tutoring Network here.

Learn more about the Undergrad Writing Centre here.

 

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