A new year, a new term: Classes begin for Winter Term 2021

More than 5,500 undergraduate students began participating in more than 300 course sections on Wednesday, the vast majority of which are in-person or hybrid.

Elon University’s Winter Term got underway on Wednesday with students and faculty beginning a wide variety of courses.

During the three-week term, most students will take a single course, meeting daily with faculty and their classmates before the term concludes on Feb. 3. Winter Term typically includes both core courses as well as courses with more creative or unique topics.

Winter Term 2021 will see more students taking on-campus courses than during a typical Winter Term, with many study abroad and Study USA programs that typically take place during the term canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This Winter Term, more than 5,500 students are taking courses.

Students began arriving back on campus last weekend, and participating in required arrival COVID-19 testing before getting settled back in. First-year students participated in a range of activities earlier this week to promote engagement and connection as the new term prepared to get underway.

“It’s awesome to be back — I’ve always preferred in-person learning,” said Aidan Tierney ’23, who is majoring in engineering and is a member of the cross country and track and field teams. “I really feel like I can absorb a lot more of the class material that way. As long as we can do it safely, I think this benefits both students and student-athletes.”

A student in Associate Professor of Physics Kyle Altmann’s Circuit Analysis class works during the first day of Winter Term.

Similar to fall semester, the vast majority of courses during the term are in-person or hybrid, which combine both in-person and virtual elements, to help ensure a rich and engaging academic experience. Among the 310 sections being offered during Winter Term, 84 percent are in-person or hybrid.

Among them is a timely offering, the Mathematics of Disease taught by Professor of Mathematics Karen Yokley and Lecturer in Mathematics and Statistics Andi Metts. The pair first taught the course in 2018, when the Zika virus was grabbing headlines. Students in their course this year will have the opportunity to learn mathematical modeling for a pandemic in real time given what’s happening with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we taught this in 2018, most of the students had not even heard the term ‘flattening the curve,’” Metts said, referring to the concept of reducing the spread of disease by taking preventive measures. “Now, there is just such a different context, and students are more familiar with these concepts and think they know what these things mean.”

Lecturer in Arabic Shereen Elgamel teaching during the first day of Winter Term 2021.

Yokley said the public has become more familiar with the modeling they are seeing in media reports and from public health experts, but may not understand the concepts behind those graphs, curves and spikes. The Mathematics of Disease is designed to teach students how these concepts apply in real life and in different contexts.

“I think there are a lot of very educated people who don’t know where these curves come from,” Yokley said.

The course is designed to appeal to students with a range of academic backgrounds, both those steeped in mathematical concepts and those drawn to it through its application in medical, biological or public health fields.

During their first class session on Wednesday morning, students talked about what drew them to the course, which will focus on COVID-19 but also a wide range of infectious diseases. “The disease part caught my eye because after the pandemic began, I started researching virology and epidemiology, and I was really interested in the concepts of how viruses in particular spread through a population, and their anatomy,” said Rane Parr ’24. “I’m hoping this course brings some insight into those concepts.”

A student participates in discussion during a class session in Turner Theatre in the School of Communications on the first day of classes.

During class, students broke off into small groups to first get to know each other and then to begin work on a presentation about an infectious disease of their choosing. They were tasked with exploring how their chosen disease was primarily spread and other aspects such as what groups are at the highest risk, how the disease can impact global health and the prevalence of the disease among populations.

Later in the course, they’ll be looking not just at how diseases spread, but how vaccination efforts can impact the prevalence of a disease in society, and concepts such as “herd immunity” that are targets for vaccination efforts.

For Meredith Mackenzie ’23, the course offers an opportunity to learn firsthand the concepts that she’s hearing about in the news media. “Every day all we hear is ‘COVID, COVID, COVID,’” the finance and business analytics major said. “This is a chance to learn about it myself rather than just rely on being told by the news why you are wearing a mask and how we can reduce the spread of the disease.”

Assistant Professor of Marketing Prachi Gala leads class in the Love School of Business on the first day of Winter Term.

Winter Term will include changes on campus in response to the pandemic, with undergraduate students to participate in required COVID-19 testing each week to more quickly identify any cases among the campus community. The calendar has also been adjusted to allow for a later start to Winter Term and a shorter break between the end of Winter Term on Feb. 3 and the start of the Spring Semester on Feb. 8.

In response to challenges that students expressed about their experiences during fall semester, the university has updated its Information for Students page to include new guidance and resources. That includes a Learning Guide with strategies for student success including guidance for adjusting to blended, hybrid and online learning environments, tips for attending class virtually, best practices for utilizing video conferencing platforms and campus resources.

During the first session of his Circuit Analysis course on Wednesday, Associate Professor of Physics Kyle Altmann said it was good to see students coming together again in masks and physically distanced. Students will be learning how to analyze circuits and figure out the current, voltage and different parts of a circuit. Students in the course will be working independently and not sharing equipment as they create circuits in the lab in Duke Building.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Computer Science Pratheep Paranthaman leads class during the first day of Winter Term.

“I’m really happy that with one semester under our belts, it doesn’t feel quite as foreign anymore,” Altmann said. “I think we’ve figured out a good way to be able to give everybody the hands-on experience that you really need in science and engineering but to do it in a safe manner.”

Jackson Abele ’22, an engineering major, said he’s been “itching” to get back to Elon. “I’m really happy I got the opportunity to take this class just because of all the hands-on things we’re going to be able to do in less than a month,” Abele said. “Having nearly two months during break to really think about what was going to be different in school during COVID times versus normal times definitely helped me work out how I was going to plan out my life and organize everything and set achievable goals.”