Freshman Class Adapts to Online Format

Despite challenges, the Frosh are still forming connections

By Alice Cheng | Published 09/28/2020

When the Coronavirus first brought the world to a standstill, most did not imagine that it would last six months and counting. Over the course of the pandemic, administration and Techers both have made the most of the situation through various online platforms.

Despite learning that prefrosh weekend, an opportunity to meet fellow Techers and experience the magic of Caltech in real life, and later the entire fall semester, had been moved to a remote experience, incoming freshmen still made the most of the situation.

Platforms such as Facebook groups and Instagram allowed students to connect, but ultimately Discord was the primary means of communication for many. Several early admits started to use Discord starting in December 2019 to bond with each other. With the fall quarter approaching, Discord has remained the primary source of communication for many.

Set up like a virtual Caltech campus, there are both text and voice channels, or chat rooms, for topics ranging from general Institute announcements to technology/engineering to pets/animals. Voice chats are used by members to interact with each other more personally or to host game and movie nights. In addition to the prefrosh, some upperclassmen have also joined the Discord group in order to provide guidance and advice to incoming first-years and transfers about courses and majors, student life, and much more.

Despite the versatility of Discord, it is far from a replacement for an in-person college experience. Many students have organized local meet-ups to spend time with peers close by in person. Others have decided to rent an apartment with friends for the fall semester. Students like Alice Kutsyy (‘24) found it an “insanely hard time focusing last spring” as she calls herself “the type of person to go to a cafe with [a] friend to study.”

While she initially thought she would stay at her home in Northern California for the fall quarter due to the ability to meet with friends in her hometown and have access to racing her cars on weekends, ultimately she decided that the costs outweigh the benefits. In August, Kutsyy and a group of prefrosh began looking into renting a house through AirBNB, including locations in Arizona, Colorado and Lake Arrowhead.

For Kutsyy, she believed that “if we were gonna be stuck somewhere, it might as well be pretty.” However, they struggled to find a house in a remote location that could offer stable WiFi, so ultimately they found a spacious house near Caltech that was under their budget. Kutsyy, who is a member of the Caltech women’s volleyball team, will be able to have practices with 5 to 6 other teammates who are also living nearby.

On the administrative side, faculty members are working to support the prefrosh as best they can. All prefrosh will be assigned to an advisor group which consists of 8 freshmen, 2 upperclassmen (Frosh Camp Counselors), and a faculty advisor. These groups will meet for the first time before orientation and will continue to meet throughout the year, giving freshmen an opportunity to meet upperclassmen and bond with a faculty advisor which provides both academic and social support.

For freshman Nathan Ng, these pods hold promise as he thinks they are “similar in function to the study/friendship groups we would’ve inevitably created” on campus. While one major challenge remote learning poses is the ability to collaborate with and meet students online, many students including Ng and Kutsyy believe these pods will facilitate this process by creating a smaller and more intimate environment.

With just under a week until the start of fall term, the prefrosh have been introduced to a variety of support services and groups to ensure they experience a smooth transition to college, albeit remote. As we continue monitoring the coronavirus situation in the United States, Techers are hopeful to return to campus at some point this year, but for the time being they’re making the most of the virtual experience.

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