When zoology senior Alaina Maniscalco arrived at Michigan State University as a freshman, she was shy and reserved. But, just as she started adapting to the new environment, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the university to switch to online classes.
Maniscalco said returning home was like a “big push into a whole other world.” However, being home allowed Maniscalco to reflect on herself and the college she had experienced so far. When she returned to campus, Maniscalco felt she had grown and was able to be less of a “shut-in.”
One of the catalysts for her growth was joining Zeta Theta Omega, a professional zoology fraternity. Maniscalco said being in the group allowed her to develop her interests.
“Meeting a group of like-minded people that really encouraged me to put myself out there (was useful),” Maniscalco said. “I think it impacted me a lot because it opened up opportunities to meet people in my career path, and allowed me to nerd out about things that they were also nerding out about.”
English senior Rebecca Hallman said meeting people in her field played a crucial role in her professional growth. She said the teaching cohorts she joined taught her to be a better teacher.
“I feel like I can enter the classroom and not only know who I am as a person and the kind of educator I want to be, but also the kind of person that I am and the kind of person I want to be with when I interact with my students,” Hallman said.
Hallman said much of this development came from being academically challenged. She said it also allowed her to become more independent and strong.
However, like Maniscalco and all other seniors graduating this spring, Hallman had her college experience marked by the pandemic.
Hallman was enrolled in the Disney College Program when the pandemic hit, so she was sent home. Missing out on that, as well as not being able to spend the end of sophomore year with her friends, was heartbreaking for her. Going into junior year, Hallman experienced a “really rough” semester spent learning virtually.
Kinesiology senior Natalie Aziz also struggled during the pandemic because isolation took a toll on her mental health. Though she attended class virtually and FaceTimed with friends, it wasn’t the same to her. But that time also allowed her to put in more work on mental wellness. Since then, she has continued to center mental health in her life.
Aziz said she used to be very closed off and quiet, so coming to campus allowed her to branch out and meet new people. She joined the MSU Leader Dog Club, an organization aimed at educating people about guide dogs for people who are visually impaired or blind. This community allowed her to meet a new group of diverse people.
“I think MSU itself just being such a welcoming community has helped me to be able to communicate with more people and experience all different types of cultures and it's very diverse,” Aziz said. “I think that’s been good, doing social skills that way through the community.”
Maniscalco, Hallman and Aziz will graduate this May. After graduation, Maniscalco will work in the MSU Horticulture Gardens before applying for jobs in rehabilitation and conservation. She said her time at MSU gave her the confidence to pursue these goals.
Aziz plans on taking a gap year while applying to physical therapy schools. She believes the hard work she put in while at MSU has helped her in many facets of her life.
“I would (tell my freshman self) I'm proud of them for what they’ve overcome,” Aziz said. “I'm proud that I figured out who I am, who I want to be and proud that I am so passionate about physical therapy and helping other people. I'm just very proud of myself and how much I’ve grown.”