Keeping Community at the Centre

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Grebel Students Social Distancing

The 2020 school year has sparked academic innovation. With the new challenges posed by COVID-19, students, professors, and staff at Conrad Grebel University College have found new ways to learn, connect, and grow. Grebel faculty and staff spent spring term ensuring the safety of students and staff in the building, providing students with the best virtual courses possible, and making sure everyone has the resources they need for a successful term. 

Course enrollment has increased from last year. Graduate course enrollment are up 25% and undergraduate courses have very strong enrollment. The Master of Theological Studies program is welcoming 19 new students. Emmanuel Israel, in his last year of his MTS degree, mentioned that his professors adjusted classes by shortening lectures and focusing class time on discussions, a core element in the program, to “help avoid Zoom and screen burn-out.”

The Music Department in particular is pushing traditional boundaries, as they offer seven online ensembles, emphasizing collaboration, team-work, and instrumental and vocal technique.  Sarah Lauren Brown, a music student in her last year, is taking this even further. With the help of two friends, she created an online server for the music society so “we still have the same sort of access with peers as we typically would at Grebel.”

Although smaller because of the pandemic, community remains a large part of the Grebel experience. With only single rooms available this term, there is a combined total of 102 students in the residence and apartments. “From making tables with dividers so we can eat together, to making unused classrooms into games rooms, study rooms, and a place to watch movies all at a physical distance,” explained second-year student Nathan Toews, “Grebel has done a fantastic job keeping community at the centre.”

Many non-residents are connecting with Grebelites for online games, virtual talent shows, and more. First-year virtual resident Selah Woelk said, “I have really enjoyed making online connections in the past couple of months. Sometimes it can feel like I am missing out, but people are coming up with inventive ways to keep us all connected.” Throughout the term, Grebel will host a multitude of virtual and in-person events like door decorating, virtual chapel, volleyball, and the Friday Wave, a temporary Community Supper replacement. There are 112 non-residents who can come to campus to join the socially distanced fun or log on virtually.

Grebel students in the Chapel

“Students have been very responsive to the health and safety protocols,” added Mary Brubaker-Zehr, Director of Student Services. “We want students to continue to build relationships and be accountable to one another. These responsible actions along with the COVID-19 pilot testing will allow us to continue to co-create community – COVID style.”

Sarah, like many others, has found a positive in this pandemic. She has postponed graduation so she can have her recital in person and plans to be a professional musician after graduation. The “silver lining” for her is that she can spend this extra year thinking and talking with her professors about adapting, becoming “more resilient, opening my mind to the further possibilities for how to share my music with audiences.”

Life at Grebel and the University of Waterloo looks a little different than in previous years, but with some of the creativity and innovation UWaterloo is known for, students and professors will continue to find ways to stay healthy, stay connected, and have a fun-filled term.

Written by Abby Rudy-Froese