- Dorothy Akpovwa is a 19-year-old sophomore studying computer science at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.
- In mid-August, she flew to New York from her home in Georgia to enter a two-week quarantine to be able to attend the start of in-person classes on September 2.
- While being in quarantine was an adjustment, Akpovwa says she’s happy with how NYU handled the transition into the fall semester. She said she feels safe being on campus thanks to the school’s safety regulations and testing policies.
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As the fall semester begins for colleges around the US amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some university campuses are remaining closed while others are fully reopening. Dorothy Akpovwa, a sophomore at New York University studying computer science, is taking advantage of her school’s hybrid option.
All classes at NYU are available virtually and only some are being held in person, so students can choose to be fully remote or to attend their in-person classes, Akpovwa says.
“NYU gave us the option: If you want to come back you can come back, if you don’t want to, then you can just stay at home,” Akpovwa told Business Insider. “Most of my friends are coming back, we’re excited to be back on campus again.”
She decided she wanted to be on campus this fall, and so she moved into her dorm room on August 19 in order to quarantine for two weeks before the start of classes on September 2.
For Akpovwa, being on campus in New York is important, and one of the main reasons why she chose the school.
Akpovwa is originally from Nigeria, where she attended boarding school beginning at the age of 11. She later moved to boarding school in Austell, Georgia, at 16 to finish high school before applying to NYU.
“Part of the reason why I’ve come back is because, personally, I need that clear separation between home and school. When the pandemic began in the spring, it felt weird going back to doing school from home. I just wasn’t used to that. So I decided that since NYU gives the option to come back to New York, I wanted to do that,” Akpovwa said.
Akpovwa says NYU was communicative with students via email throughout the summer about what would be happening in the fall, including that students coming back to campus would have to quarantine for two weeks before the start of classes.
“I think they have done a good job handling everything, and making sure that people are social distancing. When I came to school, all the staff had their masks and face shields on, and everyone was keeping their distance,” Akpovwa said.
NYU’s quarantine rules are strict for incoming students.
Akpovwa’s quarantine suite is the same room she’ll be in all year. She currently does not have a roommate. She says it was hard to tell how full the dorms were with quarantining students in late August, because everyone kept to their rooms.
During the two-week quarantine, students were expectd to stay in their individual rooms. They were not allowed to walk around or go outside.
“Quarantine means not leaving your suite, except for testing. So for food and all that, they have runners that bring up food to the front of your door, three meals a day. If you have packages, they bring up your packages to your room, too,” Akpovwa said.
Students also had to submit two negative COVID-19 tests before being cleared to attend in-person classes and being allowed to enter any NYU building. “The day you arrive, you have to get tested. Then seven to nine days afterwards, you get tested again,” Akpovwa explained. “I was tested the first day I arrived, and then again a week later.”
The testing centre is set up outdoors in front of one of the school’s buildings, Akpovwa said, in pop-up tents staffed by healthcare workers.
At the time she spoke with Business Insider, Akpovwa had just gotten her second negative test result, and was ready to start classes the following week.
At first, Akpovwa says she was anxious about having to spend two weeks by herself in quarantine.
“I didn’t know how I was going to handle it. But honestly, because of technology, I’m able to fill up my time. I’m planning ahead for the semester, editing videos for my YouTube channel where I post college and lifestyle-related content, and staying in touch with friends.”
NYU’s quarantine meals became infamous in August as students posted photos and videos online of the meals they were receiving, which were very sparse or not following their dietary restrictions.
“I must admit, in the beginning, it was a rocky start,” Akpovwa said. “When the media kind of exploded on NYU, they realised it was bad, and tried to compensate for it by giving us a $US100 gift card for Grubhub. A day or two after that, they emailed us saying that they would give us a $US30 gift card each day for the rest of our quarantine.”
Akpovwa said she really appreciated the new option to order a hot meal, as it helped break up the monotony of being stuck in her room all day. Other small improvements also went a long way, including being given large cartons of water bottles instead of a few bottles per meal, and making meal delivery times more consistent.
When reached for comment about the quarantine meals, NYU told Business Insider that it acknowledged “some missteps with delivering meals to the students, for which we took responsibility, apologised, and set about remedying the problem.
During quarantine, Akpovwa says it helped to develop a consistent daily routine.
She says she would wake up around 9 a.m. to get ready for the day and wait for breakfast to be delivered, before spending the morning working on videos for her YouTube channel. By midday, Akpovwa would take a break to do some exercise in her room, usually jumping rope since she wasn’t able to go outside for a run.
In the afternoon, she would receive her lunch delivery and spend some time reading syllabi and preparing for her fall classes. In the evening, she’d order dinner off of GrubHub, watch TV or video chat with friends, and edit her videos before heading to bed around midnight.
In-person classes have additional restrictions aimed to keep students safe.
NYU told Business Insider that decisions were made on a case-by-case basis in terms of which classes would be held virtually and which would meet on site, adding that “pretty much all large classes – those of 40 or 50 or more students – are currently being delivered through remote instruction.” The in-person classes also have strict social-distancing measures and face coverings requirements.
“You have to wear your mask at all times,” Akpovwa said. “Also, you’re supposed to pick a seat on the first day of class and then you have to stick to that seat for the semester.”
Akpovwa takes the school shuttle to her in-person classes on the Brooklyn campus.
As some of her classes are being held at Tandon’s main campus in Brooklyn, Akpovwa says she does have to travel back and forth between Manhattan and Brooklyn. NYU offers a free campus shuttle that drives back and forth between the two boroughs, which Akpovwa says she prefers to use over taking the public subway.
She says NYU was proactive in creating virtual events for students in quarantine.
The student activities board has also been coordinating virtual events via Zoom so students can stay in touch and interact with each other, Akpovwa says. They held a virtual cabaret show, where students could perform, and had other fall welcome events featuring celebrities like NBA player Kevin Durant and singer John Legend.
When she first moved in, Akpovwa also says a mental health counselor reached out to see if she wanted to talk to anyone, and offered counseling services through email or over the phone.
As dining halls reopen, the college has taken additional safety measures to ensure food and health safety.
Students must wear face coverings at all times when not eating. Self-serve stations were removed. Even so, the dining hall food options are a step above the quarantine meals.
NYU told Business Insider that currently dining halls are operating exclusively in “grab and go” mode.
The school added that this “to-go” rule may be adjusted later in the semester as restrictions around indoor dining evolve.
Student clubs have also adapted to an online format this fall.
Akpovwa is the alumni relations chair for Tandon’s National Society of Black Engineers, which she has been a part of since freshman year. During summer before the semester began, she and fellow members planned out fall programming through virtual meetings. They are still holding their regular meetings over Zoom to accommodate members who aren’t back on campus.
Overall, Akpovwa is happy with how NYU has handled reopening during the pandemic.
Akpovwa says the way NYU managed the move-in and quarantine process, as well as the start of classes, helped calm her reservations about returning to campus.
“Knowing that NYU is requiring people to test negative twice before they can enter an NYU building gives me a sense of reassurance. It makes me feel a bit safer knowing that people in this building have taken the test and have tested negative,” she said.