College Park Hall a safe haven for some students during pandemic

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Shortly after the College announced in mid-March that it would shift classes online for the spring term due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sokhouen Noeut ’23 made plans to return home to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

When he arrived at Logan Airport, however, he learned his late-night flight was canceled. Cambodia had just instituted an emergency travel ban on visitors from the U.S. and other countries to curb the spread of coronavirus.

After crashing for a week at a fellow student’s house in Boston, Noeut returned to Schenectady.

Noeut is among 56 students, who, as the campus emptied and students packed up and left to navigate the pandemic with their families, stayed behind.

Most are international students unable to get home. Others have extenuating circumstances. All are living in single rooms with private bathrooms spread across the seven floors of College Park Hall.

It has been a learning experience.

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Patrick Longton, campus executive chef, serves Carolina Missura Salem ’22 during the Oaxacan Street taco popup Thursday. Union College Hospitality has hosted several special events for students at College Park Hall.

“It’s hard for them. They’ve been in one building for months and haven’t left,” said Amanda Iverson, director of Residence Life. “The campus is closed, and they can’t even use the gym.”

Iverson and her staff have scheduled a variety of activities for the group to balance their online classes. They distributed Lego kits, hosted a puzzle competition and offered an exercise class via Zoom. This week, each student also received a goody bag filled with snacks and other items, along with a personalized note.

Three resident assistants among the group check on the students frequently and respond to issues. Facilities Services staff sanitizes the common areas daily, and students are given cleaning supplies for their room. Each room comes equipped with a microwave, so Res Life distributed microwave cookbooks to the group and planned a special cooking class.

“We want to make sure we offer ways to occupy their time and break up the monotony,” Iverson said.

With Uber and Lyft practically idled and the campus shuttle sidelined, Res Life arranged a special pickup of supplies students ordered online at a nearby Walmart.

Staff from Schaffer Library baked goods for the group this week.

“Everyone is trying to help out as best they can,” said Iverson.

Paidamoyo Ewing ’20, a biomedical engineering major from Zimbabwe, is one of 23 seniors hunkered down at CPH. While disappointed her final term at Union cannot include the usual senior activities, she maintains a positive outlook.

When not taking online classes or studying, she hangs out with friends also at CPH. They watch movies together and go for walks. She also fills out job applications. If there is a positive aspect to the forced location, it has given her an opportunity to catch up on books, TV shows and sleep.

“We are all finding ways to occupy ourselves and staying as busy as we can,” she said.

During the pandemic, Union College Hospitality shifted its operations to CPH. It offers breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week for the students. This includes an extensive grab and go program featuring salads, sandwiches, yogurt parfaits and reheatable entrees.

Wearing masks and practicing social distancing guidelines, students pick up their meals at a kiosk on the first floor and typically return to their rooms.

“Our goal from the beginning, understanding that we have very limited space for service, was to rotate in some of the student favorites from the other operations on campus,” said Jim Meagher, director of Hospitality. “This includes chicken parm from Upper Class, the pickled brined crispy chicken sandwich from the Rathskeller and the Garlic Nott pizza from Reamer.”

The arrival of warmer weather has also allowed for special dining events, including an outdoor barbeque and an Oaxacan Street taco popup.

Noeut started his first year at Union in Fox House before relocating to CPH this term. He spends his free time watching motivational videos, exercising and reading.

Planning to double major in mathematics and economics, Noeut is hopeful the College can resume on-campus courses next term.

“It’s so strange to see the campus so quiet,” he said. “I’m looking forward to things returning to normal soon.”