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Students Launch College Career on Their Own Terms

Emma Geer and Grace Teeters didn't let the pandemic stand in the way of a great semester.

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Emma Geer and Grace Teeters

Tackling academic challenges, making new friends, and embracing the opportunities college offers are just some of the many transitions college first-years face. As with everything else this year, the 2020 version of these experiences look different. Meet two of American University’s (AU) class of 2024 navigating their new normal.

Emma Geer and Grace Teeters first connected with each other via Facebook. Just as many new students do, they joined an AU Class of 2024 Group in search of new friends and potential roommates. After hitting it off online, they decided to room together on campus. When AU announced a hybrid learning plan, they were thrilled to be able to secure adjacent rooms in the same dorm of their number one college choice.

They pivoted once again after learning that all their classes would be held virtually. “We both wanted to move out (of our parents’ houses),” Teeter explained. “So, we started looking at apartments everywhere and in several different states. Then in a matter of a day, we were suddenly moving to South Carolina without having ever met each other, might I add.” Geer’s grandparents would be out of town visiting relatives, and had offered the students their home in John’s Island, SC. Grace and Emma jumped at the opportunity to begin their college career on their own and in a new locale. Fortunately, Geer, an aspiring filmmaker from Westchester, NY, and Teeters, who hails from St. Paul, MN and has her eye on a career in law, are making a strong go of it in their newly adopted home. In addition to a full load of classes, both are working at different coffee shops in nearby Charleston.

They also manage to carve out time to enjoy the area’s beautiful beaches and have finessed the native art of alligator spotting on their walks around town. Making sure to take advantage of their region’s charm, they’ve tried sweet tea and have found thrifting to be a lot of fun. Geer is convinced that part of their success is how similar she and Teeters are. They share a love of the arts and nature, and in many ways, Geer said, “aside from our majors and our different backgrounds, we are very much the same.”

Their similarities have only intensified after spending so much time together -- one example being Geer’s interest in sustainability and Teeter’s love of décor. “Instead of getting the notorious dorm fish,” Geer said, “because I think it’s a little unethical, I recently bought moss balls for us to have. They are like plant balls that live in water.”

They also try to be very respectful of their individual workspaces and make sure to provide breathing room and space to each other.

Of course, frustrations are real in a virtual college world with classes, homework and extracurricular meetings all online. Geer said, “It can be tiresome when you have class all day and then from 6 to 8 p.m. you have club meetings.” What they both really miss this semester is the larger social experience. “It’s really hard to foster connections,” Teeter said “when nothing seems tangible. We really want to have social interactions and all of that, but it’s just so difficult because everything requires looking at your phone or the computer even more.”

Despite these challenges, both students are pleased they made the decision to stay the course and not take a gap year. Teeter said, “It’s really enriching to be in the classes that we are in and be pursuing a degree and attending the university of our choice and having that autonomy in that way.”

One of her favorite classes is Politics in the US which she credits to her professor, David Lublen. Teeter firmly believes “a professor makes or breaks a course.” She is also enjoying The Era of Bad Feelings taught by Richard Semiaton. “It’s a Core 105 class,” she said, “and is focused on the 1960s to the present and the era of bad feelings we’ve been living with. There’s been a lot of social unrest and distrust of the government and discussing why that happens – what are the implications today. It is really intriguing and very relevant.”

Geer is “really loving my Comm class taught by Scott Talan.” Another favorite is her visual literacy class. “It’s all based on film and the grammar involved with film and photography,” she said. “Kylos Brannon is a great pro and I’m really loving the way he’s teaching the class. It’s unlike any other class I’ve taken before.”

With friends from high school experiencing college freshmen year differently around the country, the students appreciate the many challenges out there – from living at home and taking virtual classes to living elsewhere with some or all in-person classes.

While this new beginning wasn’t what they had originally planned, the semester has evolved nicely. “It’s definitely such a strange experience,” Geer explained. “But of our options, this is the best one. And I’m so thankful for this opportunity that we have and that we are getting along so well and have each other.”

Teeter said “It’s also been really liberating in a different sense than going to college would have been. While that would have been great, here we are supporting ourselves. We have jobs. We grocery shop because we don’t have a dining hall we can rely on for food. We have to make our food and really hold ourselves accountable. Also, we don’t have family in this state. If something goes awry – this has been a test of self. And that is a really good thing. I feel like we are learning a lot, and we’re going to be all the more prepared for college when we get there. I think we got on the right footing for this new chapter of our lives, honestly.”

While some memories may fade, these friends have made sure that the start to their college journey has been permanently ingrained with matching alligator tattoos that symbolize their friendship and their semester in South Carolina. And their hope is that soon they can meet their new professors and classmates in person and begin making new memories.