In a typical year, Mississippi State University students can be caught looking forward to summers spent at camp or gaining job experience through an internship by January or February. Unfortunately, the majority of these plans were changed or cancelled once COVID-19 hit the U.S. Many MSU students were forced to make other arrangements at the last minute.
One of the most popular ways college students spend their summer is by working at a summer camp; however, the pandemic closed many of these camps. Gracie Bell, junior wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture major, had to be flexible with how she spent her summer vacation.
"My original plans were to work at a kid's summer camp, but COVID-19 cancelled every camp that I applied for," Bell said.
Parents rely on these camps to provide childcare, and with the majority of camps revoking operations, many hired college students to keep an eye on their kids. Many would-be camp counselors turned to babysitting or nannying to earn extra cash.
After Bell's camp dreams were crushed by the virus, she, too, resorted to babysitting as an alternative.
Some students had a different semester in mind, leaving MSU in January to participate in the Disney College Program at Walt Disney World. This highly-competitive program allows students to continue in their academics while working in various roles around the Disney Parks. The program was supposed to last through July, but the pandemic ended the program early when Disney closed in mid-March.
A large number of students who do not take up residency in Starkville were forced to move back home for the summer.
Eryn Sanders, senior kinesiology major, had summer plans similar to Bell's. Like Bell's hers also ending up falling through due to COVID-19.
"I had originally planned to be a counselor at a camp in Wisconsin, called Forest Springs. I’ve worked there the past two summers, once in the kitchen and once as a counselor. They had to readjust their schedule for the summer due to COVID-19, but are still planning on having family camps and day camps. Because of this change, they had to cut their summer staff down," Sanders said.
She and several of her siblings were told they no longer had jobs.
Although she was disappointed by this news, Sanders began to look forward to spending time with her family.
"Although I was very sad and upset to not be at camp, I was looking forward to continue my time at home with my family. I started to look for work, and eventually found two part-time jobs," Sanders said.
Although it was not the summer she had planned, Sanders does not count it as a summer wasted by any means.
"I learned so much from both of my bosses and am so thankful that the many weeks of job searching brought such rewarding jobs. I was also overwhelmed by the kindness many extended to me as I searched for a job and their eagerness to help me. It was not the summer I had planned, but it was the summer God had planned for me" Sanders said.
After MSU decreased summer tuition prices, many students were also encouraged to take advantage of their time at home to get ahead in their studies through online classes.
Various MSU students originally planned to spend their summers immersed in new cultures. Since the pandemic severely limited international travel, MSU suspended all study abroad operations for summer 2020.
Sophie Jones, sophomore biomedical engineering major, had hopes to explore Europe with MSU's study abroad program.
"I was supposed to leave for Toulouse, France, on May 26, which is where we were planning on doing most of our studying. The major cities we were planning to visit include Paris, London and Barcelona," Jones said.
With the start of each new school year, students come back to Starkville with new experiences and altered outlooks gained from summers spent away from campus. Although strange and unexpected, perhaps this summer stands out more than any other as a transformative experience in the lives of so many MSU students.