For CEE students, COVID-19 is only a 'detour'
In a semester like no other, students of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering find themselves rising to the challenges of learning in a pandemic.
Check out the first in our two-part series featuring our outstanding CEE students in the below Q&A. Stay tuned to get a glimpse of the daily life of our hardworking CEE faculty.
Mingu Kang, doctoral student
Q: How are you adjusting to learning in the midst of a pandemic?
A: “In a normal situation, it was not easy to fit my schedule, take courses, discuss group projects at the campus and to do experiments at ATREL (the Advanced Transportation Research and Engineering Laboratory),” he said. “However, in this pandemic situation, I can deal with those multiple tasks because most of the classes are online.”
“Of course, it’s a tough time to deal with,” Kang added, “but at the same time, this situation created a new, efficient way of working or studying through an online environment.”
Q: What has this experience taught you?
A: “What I realized during this pandemic situation is that even the most stressful situation can be an opportunity,” he said. “I am now more confident in coping with difficulties from unexpected situations.”
Q: What’s your advice for fellow students?
A: “I believe the best way to go through this stressful time is just to focus on what we can do at the current moment,” Kang said. “In addition, I would suggest that (you) do not spend all the time at home. Go to the park or lake to inhale fresh air with (a) face covering and social distancing.”
Javier García Mainieri, doctoral student
Q: In spite of COVID-19, how have you been readjusting and getting creative with your research so far this semester?
A: “Research is pretty much the same for me with two exceptions,” García Mainieri said. “I have to limit as much as possible my time in the lab.” “Detailed planning of my time is of paramount importance,” he added.”
“(And) it is easier now to pack our schedule with meetings,” García Mainieri added. “I forget that I need to have lunch, bathroom breaks and time to prepare for the next meeting. I have not figured out how to avoid this, but I’m juggling so far.”
Q: What have you learned so far?
A: “It has taught me to be open to change in order to be resilient and remain enthusiastic,” he said. “Humans’ most unique capacity is adapting. It’s time to put this capability to use!”
Q: What’s your advice for others?
A: “Have patience and empathy. We are all in it together,” García Mainieri said. “Lecturing is different. Communicating is different. Our priorities are different. And expect that from others, too! Don’t hesitate to reach out for help or ask for feedback.”
Jesus J. Osorio, doctoral student
Q: What’s been the biggest change for you this semester?
A: “Most of my work before COVID-19 happened at the university,” Osorio said. “I used to ride the bus from and to the university to calm my thoughts. Once I would go home, that was the queue to my brain that a working day was finished.”
“In quarantine, all that transition was lost,” he added. “I have definitely had to work on my discipline regarding when to stop which type of work or even when to stop work at all.”
“I have actually started using time management apps more intentionally to even(ly) schedule my breaks,” Osorio added. “I try to take time between my activities, and it keeps me healthy and motivated.”
Q: What’s your takeaway from this moment?
A: “(Knowing) the value of relationships with other people,” Osorio said. “In a regular work setting, you just take for granted that you will meet your professor or colleagues in class or even in the hallway.”
“After COVID-19, unless you are intentional about your relationships, professional or not, it can really feel isolating,” he added. “Unless you really go out of your way to write an extra email or actually ask extra questions during a class or message colleagues to check how they are doing, it (is) easy to simply lose touch with them.”
“I think COVID-19 has for sure made me aware of how important relationships are in my life and how intentional I need to be to maintain such relationships,” Osorio said.
Q: What’s your advice in getting through this semester?
A: “Find balance,” Osorio said. “Extremes are simply not good for people. It may seem like working all the time is what you should be doing to be productive, but work is just one element of your life.”
“I would encourage everyone to schedule a daily or even weekly time for exercise. Take time off screens, schedule time for their hobbies and overall don’t allow work to consume you,” he added.”
Jordan Oullet, doctoral student
Q: How has the pandemic challenged you?
A: “As engineers, we are problem solvers,” Oullet said. “The recent pandemic has offered additional challenges I was not used to solv(ing).”
“However, it is an opportunity to develop new skills and really see the big picture,” he added. “It is by thinking out(side) of the box that I really get creative and better (at) solv(ing) problems.”
Q: How has this experience helped you grow?
A: “I try to see the pandemic as a detour route,” Oullet said. “We were all cruising on the highway and are now re-routed on a bumpy country road.”
“Clearly, we can complain about the potholes and delays; however, if we are sensitive to the journey and not only the destination, we can realize the exceptional scenery,” he added.
“With the pandemic, I found that discoveries, experience and enjoyment of a detour route can outweigh the delay on your destination,” Oullet said. “When life gives you a bumpy road, make a trip out of it.”
Q: What’s your recommendation for getting through times like these?
A: “You probably heard before ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” Oullet said. “During normal times, people are generally refractory to change or new ideas. (But) the disruptions by the pandemic can give good opportunities to implement fundamental change.”
“Our society is in solution mode and every idea is welcome,” he added. “Be creative. Small, key changes can help revolutionize.”