A year of pandemic life has left many students and professionals spiraling into exhaustion as they struggle to manage the demands of life, school, and work in a remote world of uncertainty.
A little over a year ago, Pitt made the switch from in-person classes to remote learning. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many of us to alter our daily routines as we spent more time at home, more time on the computer, and more time worrying about the unknowns of the virus and, ultimately, our future.
Working from home has caused a massive spike in screen time as we now spend our days shifting from Zoom classes to Zoom meetings in our new “virtual” reality. A long day spent “zooming” often leads to a long night back in front of the computer to complete our tasks and assignments on time. Many students — like myself — are simultaneously holding down a job, attending school, and working on applications for internships and volunteer opportunities, which can quickly become overwhelming.
The end of yet another grueling semester has many in the Pitt community looking forward to a well-deserved break. Pitt and other universities decided to eliminate scheduled breaks during the pandemic to prevent traveling, leaving many feeling overworked and exhausted.
“It feels like we’re being given more work with less breaks,” said a sophomore at Pitt. “Spring break was taken away and labeling a random Tuesday as ‘Self-Care Day’ leaves little time for students to practice self-care when we’re bogged down with assignments in the days leading up to it.”
It seems that many of us are experiencing feelings of burnout as our anxieties climb and relaxation falls to the wayside.
But what exactly is burnout?
“Burnout is a metaphor for energy drain,” says Nisha Nair, a clinical assistant professor at the Katz Graduate School of Business. “Experts who research burnout have found that it typically manifests in three different kinds of states.”
The first state of burnout is emotional exhaustion or energy depletion. This is followed by a second stage where exhaustion leads to withdrawal or disengagement from work. These feelings culminate into a third state, which is marked by increased feelings of doubt in a person’s belief that they can perform well.
In some cases, burnout can manifest as a combination of all three, which could then lead to feelings of depression, severe anxiety, nervous breakdowns, or an overall decline in mental health. Many are suffering from physical symptoms as well with the most frequent grievances involving neck and back pain, headaches or migraines, aching or twitching eyes, and of course, a sore rear-end from sitting in front of the computer all day.
Daily checks for COVID-19 symptoms have become routine but checking for symptoms of burnout occurs more sporadically — if at all. “It can be difficult for a person to realize they are experiencing burnout,” Nair said.
Preparing for battle with burnout has always been challenging — especially when you don’t even know you’ve entered the fight. The COVID-19 pandemic ignited a colossal amount of uncertainty that has intensified feelings of burnout in students and professionals across the globe.
Battling burnout amid a global pandemic is something that none of us have experienced before, yet we feel pressured by an implicit expectation to adapt and overcome any struggles. Symptoms of burnout have been normalized in the pandemic as most of us have come to believe that heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and isolation are common and must be endured for the unforeseeable future.
So, what can we do about it?
“Work life and personal life are all mixed up in a way that feels like they’re all on all the time,” says Chancellor Patrick Gallagher in the University Times. “It’s really important to make sure that we don’t encroach in the limited personal life that’s there — by putting some boundaries around work and making sure that people don’t have an expectation to answer email and be on that electronic tether 24/7. Those are some small things we can do to try to restore some very much needed boundaries in our life when the technology makes it so easy to take them all away.”
Finding balance before you burnout can seem damn-near impossible when you’re swamped with work and watching COVID-19 case counts surge as the country moves into the fourth wave of the pandemic. But balance is a crucial key to restoring mental and physical well-being.
Activities that make you feel engaged, important, and appreciated can help to prevent burnout and raise your self-esteem. Small acts of kindness — such as waving to a stranger, opening a door for someone, or donating your old clothes to charity — can steer your mind away from your problems and reduce stress. Helping someone with a small task can transform any negative feelings about yourself into positive ones.
Taking breaks throughout the day can refresh your mind and body like hitting the refresh button on your web browser. A short break from the computer allows you to stand up and stretch your legs or your aching back. A bit of movement can loosen up those stiff muscles. Try playing with pets during breaks to bring joy to you and your furry companion. Get up and dance to your favorite upbeat songs for ten minutes or so to boost your mood.
Now that spring is finally here, get outside and go for a short walk, hike, or jog. Any form of exercise can help to clear your mind of worry or give you time to exhale — you may even come up with a bright idea for that project you’ve been working on. A bit of exercise during the day can help you sleep better at night. Getting enough sleep is essential to combatting burnout and experts recommend seven to nine hours of sleep per night to reboot your system.
Most importantly, remember that you are not in this alone. Reach out to someone if you’re drained or losing hope. Schedule a therapy session if possible or call a family member or friend who is a good listener.
Talkspace aims to provide affordable options for therapy, offering 24/7 access to online therapy with licensed professionals. Completing a brief assessment of your insurance on their website will help determine if you’re eligible to proceed. And don’t forget to explore their student discounts.
For more tips and tricks on how to find balance before — or after — you burnout, check out the University’s Work-Life Balance website.
In case you haven’t heard this in awhile, you’re doing a good job! Smile knowing that people in your life are proud of you and appreciate you more than you know.
We often hear about the ways food affects our bodies, but mainly in relation to our physical health. Various food companies tout health-related benefits to their products, such as increased energy, lowered cholesterol, and fat loss. Lots of advice existson how to keep our bodies in top shape.
Typically when something is physically wrong with our bodies, we often look to our diets to figure out if what we’re eating is harmful. Yet, the same concerns do not occur to us when something seems wrong with our brains.
When we deal with memory loss, in particular, our diets don’t enter our minds. Turns out, foods also have a strong effect on how our brains function — certain foods can cause memory loss while others may result in memory boosts.
We have long suspected that the nutrients in our food have a significant effect on our cognitive processes and emotions, but the knowledge we have on this subject has only recently been expanded upon. Up until now, the rest of our bodies’ ailments have been given more focus.
Food affects our brains through our guts, the same way it affects our other organs. When we ingest food, our gut hormones enter the brain and influence our cognitive ability. Our diets have been affecting our brain capacity and evolution over thousands of years.
People tend to only think of calories in terms of weight loss and weight gain, but the number of calories you take in not only affects your body, but it affects your brain as well. If you regularly eat too few calories, your level of awareness will be impaired. Likewise, if you consistently eat too many calories, it can lead to cellular damage in the brain. The foods those calories come from also matter. The foods that benefit the rest of our bodies, like fruits and vegetable, also benefit our brains. It is no surprise that foods high in calories but low in other nutrients, like fast food, can impair brain function.
Several studies have found evidence of food’s impact on the brain. A study of 52 people found that unhealthy diets caused lower levels of sugar metabolism in the brain, and a subsequent decrease in healthy brain tissue. Another study of about 18,000 people found that unhealthy diets are associated with lower scores on learning and memory tests. These factors put people at an increased risk for Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other brain-related illnesses. These illnesses are related to unhealthy diets, and lead to t memory degradation.
What are these “unhealthy” brain foods aside from the frequently admonished fast food? Some of these foods include refined carbohydrates that are both processed and full of sugar. Foods high in sugar can cause frequent inflammation in the brain, which leads to an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia. The inflammation happens in the hippocampus(the part of the brain involved with memory), and it can have detrimental effects on our brain-related health. Inflammation is your body’s reaction to injury. Cells in the hippocampus become inflamed when overcome with ingredients like fat and sugar as a response to the harmful environment.
Even one meal with a high glycemic index can impair someone’s memory because the body digests refined carbs quickly and so its blood-sugar levels spike. Whole grains are therefore recommended by nutritionists over refined carbs for brain health because they are rich in B vitamins that work to reduce inflammation of the brain, thus improving memory.
Another source of brain inflammation are foods that include industrially produced trans fats. Naturally occurring trans fats, like those found in foods like butter and olive oil, are not as much of a concern. Our brain primarily takes issue with the manufactured trans fats in foods like shortening, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and margarine. In fact, olive oil is an ideal fat for brain health!
Processed meats are another source of brain cell degradation. Such meats include sausage, bacon, and even deli meats. It’s recommended for us to eat unprocessed meats like chicken, beef, and pork. But red meat needs to be eaten in moderation. Too much of it can contribute to inflammation.
How about foods that are good for your brain? One good brain food is fatty fish like salmon, cod, and tuna. They are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids that benefit the brain. Dark chocolate is also a good option, but sugar is not beneficial, so it is recommended to eat chocolate that is on the bitter end, with at least 72% cocoa.
Spices and herbs are also beneficial for the brain: think turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon. These spices are filled with antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the brain. Coffee, as well as black and green teas have been shown to increase memory and decrease chances of dementia.
Red wine is another beneficial beverage because it contains resveratrol, which is a nutrient found in the skin of red grapes. However, alcohol does contribute to brain inflammation, so wine should be ingested in moderation to avoid those negative effects. Fruits and vegetables are, of course, on the good-for-brain foods list. When eaten daily, they are helpful to both memory retention and general brain function.
The next time you find yourself forgetting simple things and wondering where your mind has gone, think about what you’ve eaten and how that may have affect your brain. You might not be a forgetful person after all! It could just be your diet. Remember: your memory loss might not be permanent, after all. There are things you can eat to reverse the damage to your brain, and feed its functions with the foods it needs.
I have been a fan of Paramore for as long as I can remember. Their catchy riffs and lyrics paired with lead vocalist Hayley Williams’s powerhouse of a voice make for a long list of emotional head-bangers that have stayed with me throughout most of my life. Part of me feels as if I grew up with Paramore. Each album’s differences seem to have changed along with me as I grew up; a shared feeling amongst Paramore fans.
Back in 2019, Paramore announced they would be taking a break from releasing music so they could step back for a little while and just be friends. However, excitement spiked whenWilliams recently announced that another Paramore album is to be expected in the future.
In celebration of the band’s hiatus coming to an end, now is a perfect time to remember Paramore’s roots with a close look at their discography.
Where It All Started: All We Know Is Falling
Hayley Williams, Zac Farro, Josh Farro, and Jeremy Davis all met at school in Franklin, Tennessee in 2002. The group bonded over a shared interest in music and two years later in 2004 later were signed by Fueled by Ramen. Hayley was only 14 years old at the time, which is another testament to her immense talent as a vocalist.
Fast forward to 2005. Davis has left the band for unknown reasons, which devastates Paramore, as they were excited to begin working on their first studio album.
The heartbreak of losing Davis inspires Paramore’s first album, All We Know Is Falling that they released in July that same year. John Hembree replaces Jeremy on bass before the band goes on tour with Warped Tour in 2005. With their first single titled “Pressure” and their second single titled “Emergency,” Paramore’s sound is officially established in the alternative scene.
All We Know Is Falling only consists of ten action-packed tracks with punk influences. The first track, “All We Know,” is a great opener for the album and has a soft rock vibe. The rest of the album continues this vibe with mild versatility. Songs like “Brighter” and “My Heart” are soft rock ballads, while songs like “Woah” and “Emergency” are harder rock. Although this band has the potential to write a variety of different kinds of music, mild versatility is to be expected for any band’s first album. Overall, this album leaves a great first impression of the band and gets a six out of ten from me.
Paramore’s sophomore album, Riot!, was not released until June of 2007. Unfortunately, Davis has been officially expelled from the band, but Taylor York joins the band on guitar. York knew the band members from school, so he fit in perfectly. Paramore’s success starts to pick up speed shortly after Riot!’s release. Their fan base increases and the popular magazine Alternative Press names them the best band of 2007.
Riot!’s first track, “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic,” automatically shows how Paramore has transitioned from rock to pop-punk with their harder-hitting lyrics and instrumentals. The teenage angst in this album is palpable, so Riot! is where the head-banging begins.
Songs like “That’s What You Get,” “Misery Business,” and “CrushCrushCrush” become hits and are standout tracks from Paramore’s discography. Riot! is also when Paramore’s versatility begins to increase. “Born For This” and “Misery Business” are the most aggressive sounding songs on the album, while “We Are Broken” and “When It Rains” are the softest songs Paramore has released at the time.
Track three, “Hallelujah,” gives Hayley a chance to show off her vocal range and capabilities with high notes and belts in the chorus and low notes in the verses. The song “Fences” introduces a new sound for Paramore with its fun rhythm and is the most underrated song on the album. This album is absolutely full of bangers and is my favorite album from the band to this day. Ten out of ten.
Brand New Eyes
With a much larger fan base and established sound, Paramore releases their third album, Brand New Eyes, in September of 2009. Jeremy suspiciously rejoins Paramore, jam-packing the band with five official members. However, Zac and Josh Farro make the decision to leave the band in 2010, making this their last album with Paramore. While fans are disappointed to hear of the brothers’ departure, the success of Brand New Eyes allows them to leave their mark on Paramore’s legacy. This can be seen with the album’s first single titled “Ignorance.”
Brand New Eyes has the same pop-punk sound as Riot!, which is noticeable with the hard, emo sound both albums possess. Paramore’s die-hard fans soon recognize this distinct sound as a classic one. The band’s third album is filled to the brim with hits like “Careful,” “Ignorance,” and “Brick by Boring Brick.” The versatility remains the same as the previous album with the massive hit, “The Only Exception.” This song is a ballad, which makes it stand out on the album. Additionally, “All I Wanted” is the best song Paramore has released for Hayley to demonstrate just how talented she is. The chorus shows off her killer range and ability to belt. This album is wonderful and receives a nine out of ten from me.
The band takes four years before they release their self-titled album in April of 2013. Davis leaves the band for the last time, which results in a legal battle between him and the band over royalties. Around the same time, Williams comes forward about her struggle with depression. With all of the chaos surrounding Paramore, it’s easy to guess that their self-titled album will be interesting.
Paramore’s fourth album is a dramatic change from the last three, which I think is due in part to the members entering adulthood. The band leaves their pop-punk sound behind and enters the world of alternative rock with heavy pop influences.
This album has 17 tracks, making it their longest album. Songs “Still Into You” and “Ain’t It Fun” become massive hits and are also the most pop-inspired tracks on the album. Moreover, this album is the most versatile album they have released. The two aforementioned pop songs help the band become more mainstream, expanding their fan base.
On the flip side, “Now” and “Part II” remind long-time listeners that Paramore is still a rock band with their loud and steady percussion and stronger vocals. The self-titled album is also the first album that contains interludes. “I’m Not Angry Anymore” and “Moving On” are acoustic, being played on ukuleles with only Williams’ vocals. The subjects discussed in these songs seem to apply directly to Williams’ life, which is also noticeable on tracks “Proof” and “Grow Up.” Both songs reference emotional breakthroughs related to serious relationships and transitioning into adulthood. This album is a great representation of the band’s evolution as musicians and as people. Seven out of ten stars.
Paramore’s most recent album, After Laughter, was released in May of 2017. Josh Farro returned to Paramore as the band’s drummer, which was great for Williams and York after the fiasco with Davis. The first single “Hard Times” solidifies the album’s fun and eccentric vibe.
This album follows in their self-titled album’s footsteps as it illustrates Paramore’s continuous evolution. It’s alt-rock with pop vibes and no sign of punk. Its colorful 80’s alternative rock vibe delicately placed over tracks with real lyrics makes this album stand out from the rest. After Laughter is an album with a message, and it seems as though Williams is sick of everything bad in the world and just wants to scream.
The poppy, attention-grabbing instrumentals help listeners pay more attention to the lyrics. Tracks on the album tackle topics like depression, relationships, and dealing with fame. “Hard Times,” “Rose-Colored Boy,” and “Fake Happy” are all extremely catchy songs that express what it’s like to be a famous young woman in music from Williams’ perspective. “Idle Worship” in particular illustrates how Williams doesn’t want to be famous or put on a pedestal because she is just like everybody else. The versatility of this album is not great, but I don’t think that’s the point. Paramore is already an established band with a large discography, so this album gives them a chance to focus on the message in their music. I love this album and it gets an eight out of ten.
Hayley’s Solo Work
Williams released two solo albums, Pedals for Armor in January of 2020 and Flowers for Vases / Descansos in February of 2021. She is known for her loyalty to Paramore and only made the decision to release solo work because York and Zac Farro encouraged her. At this point in her life, Hayley has become a successful musician and has gone through a ten-year relationship that ended with a divorce in 2017. Her solo album gave her a chance to release the intense emotion she had been keeping in for years.
With it being her first time on her own, both of Hayley’s solo albums are adult contemporary that transparently reflect just her. Pedals for Armor has a certain spice to it that gives it a very interesting and complex vibe. The songs have a slightly produced sound, but many of them incorporate acoustic instruments. This helps the instrumentals match the tone Hayley establishes with her personal lyrics. Songs like “Simmer” have a dark and almost scary vibe, while songs like “Cinnamon” and “Dead Horse” have a more upbeat mood. However, the whole album is consistent when it comes to the aforementioned subject matter. The Flowers for Vases / Descansos album is on a completely different wavelength with it being acoustic and Latin inspired throughout the whole album. Overall, both albums seem like a necessary release for Hayley to enter another chapter in her life. Five out of ten stars.
Hope for the Future
Paramore’s discography is a wild ride full of ups and downs from the members’ lives. Although this could have been predicted from the fact that they started as young teenagers, the drama that unfolded over the years was overwhelming at times. Luckily, Paramore can still release amazing music that many fans love. Their next album is rumored to be punk-inspired, harkening back to Paramore’s classic sound. A release date has not been mentioned, so be patient! I’m sure their next album will be as well-received as their others.
Globally, colleges have been using the online learning format for over a year now. This means students don’t need to leave their homes to receive their education. Using video conference tools like Zoom and learning management systems like Canvas, professors conduct classes remotely and interact with their students virtually. While online education is the best way to prevent the spread of disease, is it the optimal way to receive a college education?
I wanted to investigate this topic here in Oakland at the University of Pittsburgh. I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. George Bandik, Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Advising and Student Services here at Pitt.
Dr. Bandik is an award-winning professor from the chemistry department with 40 years of teaching experience. During his time at Pitt, he has been awarded the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1993, the Carnegie Science Center Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1998, and the Bellet Teaching Award in 2001. In other words, Dr. Bandik is an acclaimed and experienced educator, so I was fascinated to hear about his strategies for adapting to the online environment.
“This is uncharted territory for all of us,” he told me.
When Dr. Bandik first faced the reality of switching to virtual learning in March of 2020, his confidence dropped.
“I was petrified,” he said. “I will honestly tell you I was really scared because I am such a people person, and I get so much out of being in the classroom and being able to look at people’s faces and all that. I thought this is going to be a disaster. I mean, I really, really expected it not to go well.”
In the implementation of virtual learning, Dr. Bandik expressed that the biggest challenge he faced was not easily defined.
“It’s not easy to put a label on or put words to,” he said. “When a student is in class, and I’m teaching, I can literally look out and tell by just looking at students’ faces if they’re confused or not. I can kinda get a sense of whether a topic is a little too difficult or I didn’t explain it well.”
This face-to-face connection Dr. Bandik makes with his students proved to be more difficult in an online Zoom class.
Classroom culture has changed drastically in the era of virtual learning. Students have the option to mute themselves and not show their faces on camera. As a result, some professors teach to a sea of invisible, inaudible, non-participatory students. Dr. Bandik was determined to make his online classes as immersive and engaging as his in-person classes.
“When I had to go in and begin this term, I really spent a lot of time thinking about what I can do to make this work and to make it successful.”
His solution? Go back to basics; human connection, a rarity in the era of COVID-19.
“I don’t buy this idea that 250 people in a room are just a bunch of numbers. I think that doesn’t have to be,” he said. “That was always one of my goals from the time I started teaching here, I was going to get to know the people in that classroom, and that has followed through even having to go online.”
Although the circumstances had changed, Dr. Bandik was determined to get to know his students.
“I went to all of the Zoom classes about ten minutes early, and as soon as I logged in if there was somebody with their camera on, I started talking to that person immediately. Just things like, ‘How was your day?’ And you’d be amazed; I would say that in my Organic Chemistry I class last term, around 75% of the students had their cameras on.”
Seventy-five percent of a 250-person online lecture having their cameras on is quite the feat. Some of his students told him stories of virtual classmates introducing themselves to each other on campus because they recognized each other from his class.
“I think students also appreciated being able to see other people,” he told me.
One of the students from his fall 2020 Organic Chemistry I class was junior Shaina Gatton, a Pre-Veterinary Neuroscience major. I spoke to Gatton about her time in Dr. George Bandik’s virtual class and what his approach to online teaching meant to her.
“George’s Organic Chemistry class was my most challenging class last semester, but it turned into my favorite class very early on,” she said. “George understood how difficult life has been for students during the pandemic and that the online environment isn’t necessarily the easiest to facilitate learning.”
Organic Chemistry sounds daunting to most, but removing the in-person aspect was especially intimidating to Gatton.
“Organic Chemistry is already difficult enough, and I dreaded trying to take it on during this time, but if one person could teach you complex chemical reactions during a global pandemic, that person was George,” she said.
Dr. Bandik is the type of professor to forgo the formality of titles like “Doctor” or “Professor” with his students, yet another testament to his dedication to connecting with his students.
Gatton explained how Dr. Bandik’s online class stood out from others.
“Some of my classmates and I joined our Zoom meetings ten minutes early to sit around and chat before class started. It was the closest thing we all had to having an in-person class and socializing with classmates and our professor before the lecture.”
Gatton appreciated the sense of normalcy this provided and the opportunity to get to know her professor. She attributes these conversations to the classroom environment that Dr. Bandik fostered.
“In every other class, I just felt like a name on a screen, but in George’s class, so many of us had our cameras turned on and were willing to participate when he called on us. Even on bad days, we had the opportunity to turn our cameras off and observe, and George would take that as a sign that we did not want to be called on to answer questions that day,” she said.
Like most of her classmates, Gatton chose to keep her camera on during Dr. Bandik’s virtual lectures.
“Keeping my camera on during class helped me stay engaged because I knew I could get called on at any point, but it was never anxiety-inducing because George would allow you to say, ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘I need help with this one.’ ” she said. “Even if you were completely wrong, George encouraged us to stay engaged and learn the correct answer. During this pandemic—which is likely the most stressful time of all of our lives—being allowed to be wrong or to say ‘I don’t know’ was so relieving. It took away the pressure of always having to be right or not say anything at all. This was something I had rarely experienced in college before.”
From hearing Dr. Bandik’s approach to connecting with his students in the new virtual setting to hearing what it meant to one of his students, it is apparent he has overcome many of the challenges set forth by the online format.
“It was so much better than I ever thought it could have been,” Dr. Bandik told me about his experience teaching virtually.
There are even some perks of online classes that he plans on implementing once classes are held in person again.
“The best thing is that the classes are now recorded,” he said. “I like that so much that I’m trying to figure out how to continue to record my lectures.”
This is a significant change in Dr. Bandik’s teaching style. Before the pandemic, he actively chose to limit students’ online resources.
“I had never before used any type of online management tool…I really wanted students to come to class. I didn’t want them to have the luxury of having everything online in case they decided not to come. I made people come to class even to get handouts; nothing was posted online, but I do think that I will continue to use some kind of online learning management tool.”
While all professors had to adapt to virtual teaching, the challenges posed in a science class can be different from those in an English class. To get a perspective from a different department, I spoke with Beth Marcello.
Beth Marcello has been a part-time instructor in the English Department at Pitt for 18 years and has worked at PNC Bank for 15 years as the Director of Women’s Business Development. Using her real-world experience in the industry, Professor Marcello teaches students about professional writing. I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her experience adapting to and teaching in a virtual environment.
“As an instructor, it was a heavy lift to get ready,” she said.
Diving into an entire semester of online learning in the fall of 2020 was an unprecedented challenge, but Professor Marcello was up for the task. She told me that the English Department encouraged all of their professors to be kind to themselves and their students. They were encouraged to be mindful of Zoom fatigue: the exhaustion caused by sitting in long Zoom meetings all day. To combat this, Professor Marcello focused on adapting her courses to serve her students in the online format best.
This included eliminating one or two assignments from the syllabus that she would typically include in an in-person setting. She also focused on finding the best way to deliver the material in a meaningful and successful way in the new environment. She told me that she tried “chunking up the material to make it more digestible.”
Because the University of Pittsburgh has introduced the Flex@Pitt model, online classes have to be available to those attending synchronously and asynchronously. Professor Marcello focused on making sure that her classes could be just as informative to those attending the Zoom meeting synchronously and those watching the recording back asynchronously by “chunking [the material] up in a way that someone who chose not to come to class at all could still learn and feel like they were getting the same relevant experience.”
While Professor Marcello admits that planning for this historical semester was challenging, she was shocked by the result.
“When I got into the semester, I felt like I was pleasantly surprised at how well I thought it worked.”
She attributes part of her class’s functionality to being able to see and interact with her students.
“We were able to come together,” she said. “I was pleased that most students would turn on their camera, so we did have that visual connection.”
Another opportunity presented by the virtual format was the ability to incorporate more guest speakers into class. In the past, Professor Marcello typically invited guest speakers to her in-person courses, but the flexibility provided by online school made it possible for her to give her students different perspectives from more guest speakers.
“I think that my ability to provide more insight from guest speakers was the best thing,” she said. “I was able to interview them virtually and then share that either in class or as an interview you could watch and comment on.”
Learning management systems like Canvas have been a part of education for a while now, but they became integral to virtual learning at the onset of the pandemic. Professor Marcello shared that she too preferred students to hand in physical copies of their work before COVID-19, but has taken a liking to Canvas saying, with a chuckle, “Reading the assignments online and being able to make comments and edits, I found that I was able to do that effectively and I think it’s easier for the students than to print it out, hand it to me, and then struggle to read my handwriting.”
The discussion board was also a feature of the learning management system that was new to Professor Marcello; however, she felt that it supplemented the material well after using it.
“Instead of having longer written assignments, I was able to create discussion board posts that were short writing sprints,” she said. “I could assess and comment on people’s writing, but also assess whether or not the videos that you would watch outside of class were hitting their mark.”
But there were drawbacks to the virtual setting. Namely, workshops.
Typically, in an in-person class, Professor Marcello would put students into groups where they would have the opportunity to discuss their writing and assist their peers in the drafting process. These workshops are a vital part of the writing process, but it’s a bit more complicated over Zoom. Zoom has the capability to put students into breakout rooms, but once they enter the room, they are no longer visible or audible to the instructor.
“I don’t think that it was as effective online as it was in person,” Professor Marcello said about the workshopping. “The breakout room does always require someone to step up as a leader—someone is going to get the conversation going and make a suggestion for what is going to be our process for reviewing each other’s work and I think that’s just a little bit harder to do online.”
For Professor Marcello, a meaningful workshop is difficult to duplicate virtually.
Looking to the future, there are some aspects of virtual learning that Professor Marcello wants to incorporate into her in-person classes.
“As I think about going back to the classroom in the fall, what I’m hoping that we’ll strike is something maybe even a bit hybrid.”
She is interested in continuing her virtual interviews with guest speakers and even potentially hold virtual classes.
“I would still do those interviews, put them on Canvas, and have students listen or watch those in lieu of a class, or maybe we still incorporate a virtual class or two into a semester when we’re still in person,” she said.
Through speaking with both students and educators about the struggles and triumphs of online learning, we can see the hard work and dedication that goes into the pursuit of education. While these are unprecedented times, extraordinary commitment from educators and students alike has made the past year of higher education possible. Here at the University of Pittsburgh, we can look forward to the fall 2021 semester, which was recently announced to be in person.
As I begin to shift back into regular life, I will not forget educators like Dr. George Bandik and Beth Marcello, who worked tirelessly to provide their students with a meaningful online experience. Their willingness to adapt and grow from the past year exemplifies their passion for helping students like Shaina Gatton thrive in this strange online format.
By observing the challenges of online learning, the solutions to those challenges, and the takeaways as we inch closer to in-person classes again, we can begin to understand the profound effect the past year has had on the future of higher education.
The British royal family has long captivated the world with the air of class, mystery, and power. In recent decades, journalists have released numerous first-hand accounts that expose a darker side of this powerful legacy.
It’s 2021, and the England that Queen Elizabeth II now reins over is starkly different from the one she knew when she was crowned at 25. Despite the Queen’s reported sincerity and generally favorable image, she is faced with the burden of representing centuries of British imperialism and a fairly outdated institution — a constitutional monarchy.
The Queen of England, and much of her extended family, have a royal title. With the title comes influence, fame, and wealth: three things dangerous to undeserving people. There is no denying that the royal family has had its fair share of personal scandals over the past centuries. Following the departure of two senior royal family members, Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, the royal family has received massive public backlash.
The couple announced their decision to step back from their high-profile roles in January of 2020, less than two years after their wedding. Meghan faced severe public scrutiny and was constantly attacked by the British media during that time. This treatment, paired with the family’s unwillingness to intervene, led the couple to step back from their official royal roles.
Fame was not new to Markle as she was already a successful actress, but after the news of her and Prince Harry’s relationship broke, paparazzi began to follow the couple’s every move. Her sudden rise to prominence coupled with the world’s obsession with the royal family, left her open to an onslaught of negative attention. The stress, she later revealed, had caused her to develop serious medical issues and suicidal thoughts while she was pregnant with her first child, Archie.
The press’ treatment of Meghan Markle is inexcusable. There are well-documented accounts of Markle being bashed for doing things that her sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, got praised for, like holding her pregnant stomach or eating avocado.
Celebrity culture dictates that these famous women expect to be followed by paparazzi, but it seems that the tabloids worshipped Middleton and enjoyed picking apart Markle, the first woman of color to marry into the historically white family. Markle is also a divorced American, another trait that did not fit well with British royal tradition and further fueled the media’s scrutiny.
The contrast in press coverage reflects an attempt by the media to pit these women against each other. And for what reason? They are sisters-in-law. They were required to attend the same functions and events, and both Markle and Middleton always did so with a smile. In the highly anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey, released in March 2021, Markle stated that she has no issues with Kate, but that the media had a big hand in creating the negative controversy surrounding their relationship.
One recurring story really upset Markle. The tabloids claimed she made her sister-in-law cry days before her wedding to Prince Harry. Meghan asserts that the opposite happened. The details of the argument remain unclear. Some sources say it was over flower-girl dresses, and others state that Meghan wanted to use bouquets with flowers that Kate’s daughter is allergic to.
Either way, an issue came to be, and Meghan said that Kate’s words and handling of the situation upset her to the point of tears. When news broke claiming that Meghan was the one at fault, she was rightfully upset. She knew that Kate herself could not comment on the story, due to her lack of agency inside the institution as well.
The main issue for Markle was that “everyone in the institution knew it wasn’t true”, and yet, no one attempted to straighten the story. In fact, the institution had only commented on the media’s harassment once in a statement made by the Communications Secretary to Prince Harry where they denounced the public “wave of abuse and harassment” and the “racial undertones to comment pieces” that his then-girlfriend had to face.
The media attention was one thing to deal with, but as Markle revealed, her and her Harry’s reason for stepping back was because they felt trapped inside a family that was eager to control them. Markle admitted lacking agency, a voice, and the ability to do as she pleased while a part of the royal “system.” No one taught her royal customs or how to properly compose herself as a duchess. She confessed that she had no one aside from her very busy husband to confide in.
The harassment Meghan has had to endure is painfully similar to that of the late Princess Diana. The “People’s Princess,” as she is affectionally known, was married to Elizabeth II’s son, Charles, Prince of Wales. She died in 1997 in a car accident brought on by a mob of paparazzi. The international news media followed the young woman before, during, and after her stint as a part of the royal family. She had genuinely good intentions and spawned no real controversy, yet the press made a fortune off the creation of their own narratives.
Given that experience, it makes sense for Prince Harry to view the press as a threat to his family. Diana lived through the rise of tabloid magazines and sleaze journalism, and while alive, was one of the most famous individuals in the world. In Meghan’s case, the press is still there, but she is living at the height of social media and online news. This coupled with “the outright sexism and racism” that underlie many of the web articles and comments written about Meghan, it seemed easiest to the pair to take a step back from their family.
For both women, speaking out against the royal institution and international press was a hard-fought battle — this family is far more complicated to distance oneself from than others are — but they wanted to prove that they could no longer be controlled. They also showed that even the most powerful of women can be silenced and unhappy. Meghan and Harry saw what happened to Diana and took necessary steps to ensure the safety of their own family.
As an outsider, it’s hard to see what a royal family member could be unhappy about. The family is wealthy, incredibly influential, and an integral part of British history and society. They are untouchable — members of the one percent whose grandchildren will inherit more money than any average family ever will. However, the pomp and frills can only blind us non-royals for so long. It’s troublesome knowing that one of the most powerful families in history, despite everything they have been through — wars, economic depressions, internal struggles, and media harassment, to name just a few, is and will forever be more interested in furthering their own agenda than they are in ensuring their family members’ happiness.
The quarantine life changed Pitt’s sense of community, but with a little help, you can still feel your Panther Pride.
January 2020: spring semester begins at Pitt. First-year students are settling into campus life. They are getting a feel for Oakland and what it has to offer, finding clubs and organizations that are a good fit and generally finding their place in the Pitt community. Returning students are back in their comfort zone. They are starting clubs and running organizations and setting the tone for the Pitt community overall.
Then the pandemic. Everything changes and the community shuts down.
While Pitt was quick to address immediate concerns like public health and safety and ensuring the quality of education, they seemed to neglect Pitt’s sense of community. Has it been lost in the aftermath of the coronavirus or can it still be found among the Zoom calls and Panopto lectures?
I joined Pitt, back in March, as a transfer student just before the pandemic struck. I spent about eight weeks on campus before we were all quarantined, and I have still not been back to Oakland since. Eight weeks is not very much time to get a feel for what the Pitt community has to offer, but there are things that I miss.
My wife works for the medical school and I miss riding the bus with her in the morning. I miss working out at the “Pete” (Peterson Events Center) and I miss learning in a classroom with other students. But, most of all, I miss Oakland. It is a vibrant and interesting place full of charming characters and novel experiences. I will graduate in December 2021 and I may never set foot on campus again.
I feel disconnected from Pitt during these unusual times, and I am not alone. One student I asked about this sense of separation said, “It’s difficult to feel like you’re part of a community when you’re so far away; I chose Pitt because I love the campus and the atmosphere, and I’m missing all of that, which makes me feel as though I’m missing out on the parts of Pitt that I love the most.” Another added, “Overall the pandemic has brought this sense of detachment, and although I don’t mind being left alone, I feel for those who are used to a bustling environment and are able to make friends by meeting in person.” In total, 60 percent of the students I surveyed reported feeling like they were not a part of the Pitt community.
So, what steps can we take to stay connected and what options do Pitt and its student organizations offer to get that social fix that helps us all feel a part of something greater?
On July 29, 2020, Dean Kenyon Bonner announced that a group of student leaders had drafted the Pitt Community Compact, a list of guidelines meant to ensure health, safety and accountability for everyone in the Pitt community. These guidelines guaranteed that masks and social distancing would be the norm for the foreseeable future. They also provide the framework within which clubs and organizations must operate going forward.
The Pitt Community Compact is part of a hub (coronavirus.pitt.edu) that Pitt has created as an easy reference for all things coronavirus at Pitt. This includes a Socially Engaged, Physically Distant page. There you will find a solid list featuring a variety of activities that are socially responsible, and quarantine approved. While they may not be the typical activities that college students are used to, there are more than a few ways to spend some time with a group of friends on their page.
Check out the Student Organization Resource Center for even more activities. The SORC keeps up a database of all 677 student organizations on campus with easy category searches to help you find the right group for you as well as posting activities that are open to all students.
The PittServe hub and its activities calendar is a great way to get involved in the greater Pittsburgh community as part of Pitt’s service outreach. Their commitment shows that you can still have a social conscience while being social distant. PittServe recommends that students who still want to give back should do so in the safest way possible. They ask that you do not host or attend events if you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or if you are uncomfortable attending an in-person event.
This March, the Pitt Program Council hosted a virtual Q&A with actor and screenwriter Dan Levy of “Schitt’s Creek” and “Happiest Season” fame and a virtual concert and Q&A with Grammy-nominated recording artist Noah Cyrus. The PPC website also has an events calendar with links to activities like axe throwing, group bike rides, macramé classes and self-care tutorials. All events are either virtual, socially distanced or in small groups to keep everyone safe. Of all of the resources available, this seems to offer something for most everyone.
That said, much the same as before the pandemic, the Pitt community continues to engage in a great variety of programs and organizations. They are finding new and creative ways to engage with community members.
At the beginning of this article, I posed the question: can there still be a vibrant and active university community when we are all living the quarantined lifestyle? It looks like there can be, you just need to know where to look.
For more information on any of the groups listed here check out the links below:
As socializing has become forbidden during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are turning to online platforms for social interaction.
When Twitch user StarziiLive began streaming in October of 2020, her world flipped upside down.
“I was seeing growth and connection like I couldn’t have ever expected,” she told me. And she’s right. Starzii ballooned faster than most creators, gaining nearly 2,000 followers in the first six months of Twitch streaming, and she continues to grow with her daily streams.
“Most people don’t see progress on Twitch for years,” she said. “So to see so much growth in just a few months really shows how much people want to see new faces during quarantine.”
For those unfamiliar, Twitch is a live-streaming platform with over 15 million unique daily users and over 4 million unique streamers every month. There are hundreds of live-streaming categories, most focused on streaming video games in action, but Twitch also features streams focused on chatting, cooking, art, science and tech, and even autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR).
With Twitch being the largest platform in the world of its kind, it’s easy to see the influence it has on the internet. During the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent global lockdown during 2020 and continuing today, this platform grew wildly, showing how human connection is more important than ever —even over a screen.
Analytics-wise, 2020 was Twitch’s biggest year ever. Between March and April, when quarantine first began in the United States and other countries, the number of hours watched monthly by users on Twitch increased by 50 percent. As of January 2021, Twitch has over 1.65 billion hours of monthly watch time.
As someone who uses Twitch daily, both as a streamer and a viewer, not only have I seen these numbers change lives, but I have also seen countless close relationships form — all in a chat box on screen.
Personally, I contribute this progress to the pandemic. Not only do statistics show that more people than ever are joining Twitch to find online connections, but I myself can say that most of my friends that I have met on the platform got involved because they were stuck at home.
While I’m sure that many people would still find content that they enjoy on the platform outside of the desire to connect over interests online during the pandemic, I am inclined to believe that Twitch has helped people thrive during stay-at-home orders and lockdowns. The interest-based communities of Twitch combined with a strong desire for live, personal connection has driven many towards the platform, and the numbers clearly support this.
My first stream was on February 13th, 2021. In the last month since I began, I have been blown away by how quickly growth on Twitch can happen, as well as how quickly one can become drawn into the Twitch community. I reached Twitch’s Affiliate Status within a week of my first stream — “Affiliate” being a title where you’re able to make revenue off of Twitch, as well as being the first step towards becoming Partnered on Twitch, where the company personally sponsors your streams.
Here’s an image from one of my streams, where you can see that I had reached nearly 300 followers at that time. Now, just a few weeks later, I have nearly doubled my follower count.
Numbers aside, both Starzii and I have found that the largest aspect keeping us streaming is the number of connections we’ve both made in our short time on the platform. Using outside platforms like Twitter and Discord to connect with both fans and other content creators, we have found ourselves in a “bubble of content,” as Starzii put it.
“It’s like you break into the scene of streaming, and all of the sudden you have tons of followers, people reaching out wanting to be friends, it’s crazy,” she said.
This concept doesn’t just apply to streamers, though. More than anything, the viewers have been able to find huge communities of friends that hang out virtually more than most see people in person during the pandemic. One of my viewers, who goes by FishVapor online, said “It’s a weird place. I feel closer to people online now, almost, since I haven’t been able to go to school or hang out with friends. We always talk in voice calls and watch movies together, play games, or just talk about life. . . and they don’t even know my first name.” This absolutely holds true across the entirety of the Twitch community.
My favorite thing that has come from streaming during quarantine has been meeting people I would have never met before. I have made so many friends, to the point that when I host virtual movie nights over the Discord app, I have over 20 people joining the call just to feel that connection and be able to experience something together.
We even hosted a virtual prom in early February 2021 for our friends who were missing their high school proms due to the pandemic. The sense of community is tangible, and I have spent more time with these people on-screen than I have with people in person since COVID-19 restrictions began.
The ability to spend so much time online has given people an escape from the reality of the pandemic. For a while, as users watch their favorite streamer or hang out in a Discord call with their friends, they can forget that the world is shut down.
“I don’t know if when the world opens up that things will change,” Starzii told me. “I think that people are realizing now that they can make true, meaningful connections online. I know it was possible before, but quarantine really emphasized just how powerful the internet is. I think the only thing that will change for me is getting on a plane to visit my friends in person.”
Looking forward to what Twitch will look like after quarantine restrictions end and the world goes back to normal, I expect that Starzii will be correct. I think that quarantine pushed people into online spaces out of necessity for connection, and I think those people will remain in these spaces because now they know the possibilities that are out there for them.
The escape from reality that we see happening on Twitch isn’t something that people will forget about once the pandemic is over — people are always in need of a break from real life. I believe that people will stick with their online friends to watch a stream after a hard day at work or an exam that was just a bit too difficult. The community that Twitch gives people is incredibly kind and supportive, and always there to do something fun even when the world outside seems to be crumbling.