Uni Life

The New UON

The pandemic has meant universities have had to think outside the box when it comes to student engagement. Charlotte Lloyd tells us what’s on, and what’s new at UON this semester.

After moving back to Newcastle this week after a long haul of isolation and the COVID-19 reality, it became clear to me that I would soon be faced with a new reality…the UON reality.

Now, studying at university isn’t what it once was. It’s not studying during the week and going out for drinks on the weekend and having a little boogie. It’s not walking to class every day and sitting through face-to-face tutorials. No, this is something much different, and, while some would say  it is much less appealing there are some upsides, and some people are trying to make the most of what we have left to savour.

There have been some recent events, and, there are upcoming events, including Welcome Back Week (WBW) events. While events still need us to maintain 1.5m distance, they give us something to look forward to, and can help us get socialising before the stress of semester starts up again.

Events which have been organised and run by UON Student Central are for both UON NewSpace and Ourimbah campuses, and they have left no stone unturned in terms of the variety of events which we can attend.

Recently I talked to a couple of people involved in both the organisation and execution of these events. Firstly I spoke with Student Events Team Leader, Rowan Stevenson, about how these events came together, and also what he is expecting from this slightly different WBW.

This semester, while not what we would have expected, still has some of the same and most loved events, including the CREATE Festival, Green Week, DJ & Band Comp. Also, the welcoming of residents back to campus brings events such asDrive-In Movie, Drive-in Concert and more. But it is clear that the COVID hasn’t made this an easy ride for Rowan and the team that have organised these events.

“As soon as students began studying from home we sat down and looked at what elements of our program we could still run but in a different way. Surprisingly, a lot of what we do could be delivered online,” says Rowan.

With restrictions constantly changing, events have had to be adapted according to the restrictions in place at the time. Rowan comments on the difficulty of planning events especially with such uncertainty, however, coming up with a ‘Plan A and a Plan B,’ was the most effective way. ‘Plan A’ follows a COVID safe face to face event, and ‘Plan B’ would be the option to produce it online if circumstances were to change. Whether it be online or face to face, Rowan is hopeful that WBW will be a huge success.

“I believe that students go to Uni for than just an education. They want to experience University life and meet a whole bunch of people along the way”, says Rowan, “as long as we can adapt our student events and activities so that students still have a rich and engaging experience on campus and online then I think we will be happy.”

The Drive-in Concert is one of the most anticipated events of WBW, and stars local singer/songwriter Jacob Ridgeway. I got to chat about to Jacob about his expectations for this event, and about how he has been affected by COVID on a bigger scale. I also got a sneak peek at what he has in store for those attending.

As a local artist, sharing music with people is one of the greatest joys of performing, however, with COVID-19 here to stay for the unforeseeable future, the reality of performing has been difficult to uphold for Jacob. Musicians as well as the Arts industry as a whole have been distinguished as one of the worst affected areas of the economy. Musicians were some of the first to have severe restrictions put in place, and this all happened just off the cuff of Jacob’s new single ‘I’m Not Coming Home’. As you can imagine, the disruption impacted how and what Jacob could do to advertise his music.

“As it stands, the arts are severely going to be affected for much longer than other industries by not being able to play shows. This will also affect the venues we also play at over time as well,” says Jacob.

Gigs have had to be adjusted as restrictions continue to change, however, being able to perform even at a restricted level has meant that Jacob can continue to work in and support an industry that he loves. Despite not being in ordinary circumstances and not “having the people there in front of us…and being able to feed off the energy continues to be a struggle,” says Jacob. But, it is hoped UON’s very own Drive-in Concert will  be a success, not just from those planning it, but also from those involved in it, like Jacob.

“I’m stoked to be able to get everyone back together to play music. I’ve got a couple of new songs that I want to share. We don’t know when this might happen again for us so it’s also about enjoying the moment,” says Jacob.

Aside from this though, we also have to get used to the fact that class and group study sessions are not what they used to be, and, things which we could do without giving them a second thought are now off the table.

For me personally, and probably for a lot of others, picking my timetable this semester has been a roller coaster ride, and the fact that some classes are online and some aren’t, and some even alternate, which means that I will most probably show up to the wrong class on the wrong day. It’s confusing, to say the least.

And, managing the stress of COVID itself was sometimes hard enough, but now, starting classes up again with it still on our minds intensifies this stress even more. However, UON is doing it’s best to keep up with the constantly changing restrictions and making the transition easy for students and staff.

There have been constant updates on their behalf for everyone connected to the university, and if you haven’t already read or heard about it, there is a university COVID-19 page on the university website which has all the latest information. To ensure their response is up to date with medical advice, the university has been working closely with NSW Health, and, as of the 1st of June the university started the ‘Recovery’ phase of the framework that has been set up for COVID-19.

This framework includes campus information and health implementations which have been addressed on their website. But, despite hope that we will return to face-to-face learning in Semester 2 and Trimester 3, there have been no final updates on this.

Some of the implementations in place are as follows:

  • Labs and practical classes will be prioritised for face-to-face.
  • Newcastle campus (both Callaghan and Newcastle City) have lecture maximum numbers depending on the size of the rooms and will have designated entry and exit points with social distancing advisors. N.B. this varies from campus to campus.
  • Libraries are still open for study and borrowing books, however social distancing is in place using the 4-square meter rule.
  • On-campus retailers are still operating with minimal seating available and with social distancing rules in place. Your student card will need to be available in case of an outbreak. This ensures you are contactable by the university if this were to occur, similar to that of restaurants.
  • Tutorials are distinguished as online or face-to-face. Simply search your course on the UON website, and following through to the 2020 timetable.

One of the main, and most obvious restrictions in place is that staff, students, and visitors cannot come onto campus if they are feeling unwell. Even before COVID, being sick and still coming to class was not an ideal situation, but, with the global pandemic happening, this is dire.

Staying home and getting tested is safer than risking others’ health. And as a summary, maintaining social distancing when on campus and keeping up good hand hygiene puts everyone’s mind at ease; especially with a 2nd wave on the horizon. This is even more imperative because we know what the outcome could be if we aren’t smart about our health.

There are also specific restrictions and requirements in place if you have been to the NSW and Victorian hotspots in the last 14 days. This information, as well as how to get tested and where can be found on the UON  COVID-19 webpage. On top of this, if you are getting tested, you can pick up a care pack from the libraries around campus, or Student Central locations; these include a mask and are to ensure your safety and others.

Although this might not be what we’re used to, both WBW events and study, by complying with the measures in place we are ensuring we stay healthy for ourselves, our friends, and those here to help us.

WBW, although different, can and still will be as enjoyable as we once knew. By collaborating face-to-face and virtually, it allows for us to stay social while staying healthy, which is the main objective. Don’t be disheartened by these measures, everyone wants to stay sane and healthy while also enjoying ourselves, so, make the most of our new UON. After all, we are all in this together. 

All updates regarding WBW events and Semester info can be found via UON Student Centrals Facebook or Instagram page or the UON website.

Feature Image: Madelyn Gardiner, Yak Media Designer

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