First-year students use social media, Zoom breakout rooms, student orgs to find community

The class of 2024 is utilizing several virtual tools to create a community during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Grace Smith

Freshman Tara Kielkopf poses on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway on Oct. 22, 2020. Kielkopf, like many other freshmen, has not had a typical start to college due to COVID-19. Freshmen are utilizing student organizations, social media, and many virtual methods to find a sense of a community during the pandemic.

Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

When Ashlyn Pearson envisioned her first year of college, she never imagined she would be living in a different state than her school. 

She said she canceled her housing contract less than a month after moving to the University of Iowa campus, making it more difficult to build connections and integrate into the community.  

The international relations and Spanish student said she came to campus in August, expecting her experience to be different and distanced because of COVID-19, but those hopes unraveled quickly.

“My roommate decided she wanted to move out and I didn’t want to stay on campus without a roommate,” Pearson said. “Then we found out we possibly could’ve been exposed [to COVID-19] and I was frustrated with the whole situation and how the school was handling testing. I got tested separately and ended up going home because I didn’t want to put my friends or family at risk. We’ve already lost most of our college experience, why keep going?”

Since moving back to Illinois last month, Pearson said she has leaned on social media by following or adding people from the UI.

For the short time she was on campus, she lived in the Political Matters Living Learning Community in Catlett Residence Hall, and she said she now uses platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram to communicate with the students she used to share a floor with. 

“I’ve never had to rely on social media to make friends because I usually had group projects in class and such, but I don’t have in-person classes,” she said. “I couldn’t meet people. A lot of my friendships have come from social media. Even when I was on campus, I relied on it the most to find friends.” 

UI first-year Sam Eliasen also deferred his contract in August and moved back to Le Claire, Iowa, just an hour away from campus.

He said he’s focusing on developing relationships by joining student organizations that suit his interests. Within a month of starting classes, Eliasen has joined the Medicus Pre-Medical Society, French Club, and the editorial board of Ink Literary Magazine. 

Joining organizations and connecting with other students through them makes a difference between if my freshman year is in a vacuum or not,” he said. “It has allowed me to have the full college experience, even when I’m not on campus.”

Eliasen said he cannot wait to meet his new friends from his student organizations and his classes in-person when he moves back to campus for the upcoming spring semester.

While Pearson and Eliasen are navigating building a virtual community while living off campus, UI first-year Tara Kielkopf said she opted to remain on campus and build connections face-to-face and six feet apart. 

Kielkopf, a business major, said she has relied on living in the residence halls and being outgoing in classes to develop a community that will keep her at the university for the years to come. 

“I’ve met a lot of friends in my dorm, especially on my floor,” she said. “Meeting people in class has been more of making a lot of contacts for future years, but I haven’t really formed a lot of relationships yet because I haven’t met people face-to-face.”

Whether other first-year students are living in Iowa City or not, she said making friends is what keeps her excited about her future years as a Hawkeye. 

Making connections has made losing certain parts of her first year on campus because of COVID-19 a little easier, she said, and she hopes other students in the class of 2024 are doing the same and remaining optimistic.

“Going to Zoom classes and participating in break-out rooms is really helpful, especially when you can’t meet people in person like you might’ve in the past,” Kielkopf said. “It’s helpful to reach out to anyone you think you might be able to make a friendship with. It’ll keep us all engaged with campus for years to come.”