Embracing the On-Campus College Experience

For Olivia Virgen ’24, living on campus at Saint Mary’s is one of the best decisions she has made. The first-year student from Pasadena was thrilled when she was accepted to the College, and she was especially elated to know that she could live on-campus since it was cleared to reopen in the fall after meeting and exceeding state and county health department guidelines.

“I always had Saint Mary’s on my mind when I was looking at colleges. My older sister, Isabella ‘14 attended Saint Mary’s and had an amazing experience. And while visiting her on-campus as a kid, I fell in love with the College,” said Virgen. “When it came time for me to look at schools, Saint Mary’s was automatically on the top of my list.”

Virgen vividly recalls living vicariously through her older sister. “My sister had such a great college experience, and I wanted the same. She is actually back at Saint Mary’s in the Masters in Psychology program,” said Virgen. Now, both sisters are living on-campus and have embraced the ‘new normal’ of campus life amid the COVID 19 limitations.

Virgen had no qualms or hesitation about living on-campus, and her decision was fully supported by her parents. “We knew that Saint Mary’s was doing a good job with all of the safety measures they were putting in place to make it a safe place during COVID, and that helped to make it an easy decision,” said Virgen. For me, it was really important to have the first-year college experience, and I didn’t want to miss out. I mean, I knew it was going to be somewhat different, but still, it was going to be good because having the campus college experience is better than not having the experience.”

After having spent the second half of her senior year in high school being sheltered at home with all of her classes taught virtually, she was ready for a change. “I had it in my brain that I was going to move on-campus at Saint Mary’s. And for me, it was a great decision,” said Virgen. “It was so nice to just be with new people, in a new environment. I have to say that one of the positive outcomes of social distancing and all of the precautions that the College has taken is having a single room. I love my room, and I’m loving adjusting to college life in general.”

Moving on-campus was initially challenging for Virgen during the first few days because typically there would be large groups or gatherings of people throughout the campus, but now, there weren’t. She would see people getting food at the dining hall, but everyone was distanced by at least six-feet and wearing masks, and seeing people just hanging out on campus was pretty rare. Fortunately, she saw this dynamic change after more students moved on-campus and when her in-person classes started. “I thought it would take a little longer to meet people, but I was wrong. I have met some really great people, both in my dorm and in my two in-person classes, so that has been extremely nice,” said Virgen. “I have to say that being able to attend in-person classes is amazing—especially after coming from three months of being completely online,” she added.

With even more of the campus COVID restrictions being eased as a result of the College meeting state and county guidelines, Virgen has welcomed the opportunity to engage in a host of student events and activities. “I have taken advantage of the reopening of the gym. First, it was just the pool for lane swimming. But recently, they’ve opened the indoor facilities, so there are machines and weights that can be used,” said Virgen. “The machines are blocked off so you’re physically distanced and not next to someone else working out, which is good.” Virgen also participated in the Colleges' First-Year Olympics. “That was so much fun! I did it with some friends and competed in the tricycle race. It was hilarious.” She likewise participated in outdoor pumpkin carving during the week of Halloween.

Virgen is excited to know that the College is planning to ease additional requirements that have been in place, which will allow for greater student campus engagement. She looks forward to joining various clubs and groups and meeting even more people. “The spring semester is going to be even greater because after adjusting during the fall semester, I feel like I’ve got living on-campus down solid. Now, I’m going to add more things to my plate, which will be awesome,” said Virgen.

Saint Mary’s efforts to protect the safety and well-being of its students, faculty, and staff continues to be met with success. “The College has a really good record, and the regular testing of students is necessary, but not bad at all,” said Virgen. “I’ve been tested three times now, and everyone understands that it's super important. The testing is done pretty randomly to make sure that nobody on campus is positive. So far, so good!”

Virgen shared that her family is also pleased with the good job that Saint Mary’s is doing to help protect students. “With me and my sister living on-campus, it’s important that they feel good about it,” said Virgen. “I think the College is doing an excellent job. I have friends at other schools that have been sent home because of the outbreak on their campuses. And the fact that Saint Mary’s continues to engage students through social distancing and to be able to have in-person classes are great accomplishments.” She is especially fond of the outdoor classroom pavilions on the turf fields. “The pavilions are super nice with chairs, tables, whiteboards, TV monitors, and of course professors that I can actually talk to and learn from in-person.”

Living on-campus continues to be one of the highlights of Virgen’s first year college experience. “If a student is thinking about living on-campus, but they’re not sure, I say they should be open to it. The College has a great track record of keeping everyone safe. It’s also a great way to take advantage of the college experience in person,” said Virgen. “It really makes a huge difference being on-campus, and being able to see people in-person, and to take some in-person classes. I just think it’s a huge part of the college experience. It surely has been for me.”