A Year Like No Other

As we look forward to Fall 2021 with a return to more pre-pandemic normalcy, it is worth taking a moment to look back and look forward.

“Sheep Management” student Tatiana Ferebee, holding one of ewe Lucy’s newborn lambs, looks to Campus Farm Manager Crystal Caldwell for guidance during a physical exam.

Image Credit: Stephanie S. Cordle

June 30, 2021 Jonathan Stephanoff

Somehow, in-between countless zoom classes and meeting, virtual assignments, constant calendar reminders and seemingly endless emails to respond to, more than a year has passed since the University System shut down and transitioned to remote learning on March 13, 2020. It has been a year of challenges and innovation. While quarantine separated and isolated us, it also brought us closer together with family. It has created significant change while feeling like one very long day. Between the global pandemic, urgent calls for social justice, the 2020 election and a myriad of personal experiences, there is little doubt that 2020 – 2021 will be a period long remembered as a year like no other.

Within the academic environment of ANSC, many steps were taken to protect essential in-person staff and teaching, and in transitioning to remote learning. New course materials were created and new ways of delivering educational content were developed. 

As we look forward to Fall 2021 with a return to more pre-pandemic normalcy, it is worth taking a look back and asking ourselves what has worked well over the past year, what has not, what we want to continue and what are we looking forward to now. The following are a few responses from across the department:

Cole Shapiro

Rising Senior, ANSC Peer Mentor

1. What was your experience over the past year?

My classes were all online for the duration of the pandemic. The only time I was on campus was for my Teaching Assistant position and for my current job on campus.

2. What do you think worked well over the past year?

I think that given the circumstances, UMD did the best that they could ... I think that academically, classes did they best they could given their material but when it came to UMD's policies I think that they were fair. 

3. What would you  like to see continue?

I personally do really well with the lectures that get recorded so that I can review them later. I see the flaw with this strategy because there are students that will use this as an excuse not to come to class but I think that COVID forced teachers to provide more resources and examples since they didn't have time in class. I also think that despite all classes being online, it actually humanized professors more. We all had tech struggles. We all had to find new ways to stay engaged. It was a common thing to not know what the best method was. 

4. What were some challenges?

I personally struggled the most in my chemistry labs ... the concepts were difficult enough for me in person when I relied heavily on GSS and office hours so having those all moved online made the transition all that more difficult for me ... I know plenty of my peers that really struggled to stay motivated and engaged with the material.

5. What are you looking forward to in the fall? 

What I look forward to most is developing the bonds that I enjoyed so much in classes. I feel like what I value most in life is having good people to share experiences with, so although I have been able to do that with my family and apartment mates over the course of quarantine, I look forward to expanding that to people I have yet to meet. I also really look forward to going to sports and other events on campus again!

Dr. Monica VanKlompenberg 


1. What was your teaching experience over the past year?

 This past year, I have taught all of my courses completely online.

2. What do you think worked well over the past year?

In the switch to online learning this year, I made a number of changes to help accommodate student learning. Some of these included organizational and course structure/design elements and using both synchronous and asynchronous course delivery which varied depending on the needs of the course. I created engaging activities that could be used via live class sessions on Zoom including Escape Rooms, Kahoot Trivia Games, and Google Drawing activities. I also was able to implement different online simulators in a few of my classes to enhance learning and created a video tour of CMREC Dairy in place of an in-person field trip. Additionally, I had the opportunity to have a number of guest speakers from across the country give guest talks and participate in our Career Seminars.

3. What would you  like to see continue?

As we move back to in-person classes, I am looking forward to still keeping engagements in place with external guest speakers and the active learning activities as part of the flipped-classroom approach to teaching. I will also be keeping my course design and structure changes in place as these helped increase communication between myself and students and helped students stay organized and on top of the material. 

4. What were some challenges?

Teaching a laboratory class online was challenging to provide the same experience as what we had in person. There was less chance for informal interactions with students which I tried to account for with online Zoom office hours and reflection assignments but this is still not quite the same. Group projects were also more challenging since students had different schedules and ways of approaching online courses.

5. What are you looking forward to in the fall? 

I'm most looking forward to the informal interactions that exist in an academic environment which were hard to recreate in our virtual environment. Having students stop by my office or stop me in the hallways to chat about classes and life is always a highlight. It will also be great to have in-person social activities such as Cookoff, Fall Welcome and Ag Day! Lastly, I'm excited to have more interaction with students in the classroom during small group activities and group projects.

Crystal Caldwell 

Campus Farm Manager

1. What was the campus farm experience over the past year?

Overall, caring for the animals stayed relatively the same. However, I wasn’t allowed to have my usual student Farm Volunteers for the first 6.5 months of pandemic restrictions, so I had to hire more Farm Crew. Even with those couple extra people (making 10 of us, including staff), not being permitted to have visitors on the farm ... means that it has been much quieter than normal here.

2. What do you think worked well on the farm over the past year?

As for the student experience (which is largely through classes) for Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 the instructors did a really excellent job designing safety plans, ensuring everyone was properly masked, and ensuring that they stayed socially distant whenever possible. I felt we were able to offer nearly all of the same educational experiences as normal, though to slightly fewer students than usual.

3. What would you  like to see continue?

I would like to see people wear masks when they are ill with a respiratory ailment, presuming they cannot stay home. It would be nice if that became part of our national or regional culture.

4. What were some challenges on the farm?

Let me tell you that wearing a mask, especially an N95 mask, in a 900F+ hay loft while you and a few other people move and stack 400+ bales of hay and straw is not a good time and definitely a challenge!  On a more serious note: there was the constant worry that someone would come down sick and, not only, not be able to make it to their next feeding shift, but potentially be away for 10 days or more, or worse ... People behaved responsibly and we were largely lucky in that regard. 

5. What are you looking forward to in the fall? 

It’s going to be really nice having visitors here enjoying the farm. Being able to hold tours again, which are often attended by groups of children, will be a joyful “homecoming.”