You could hear a pin drop in the CUB. The Glen Terrell Mall was empty. But it wasn’t summer break.

“When COVID first started, we were at a swim meet, and they told us we had to come home,” Chloe Larson, a Washington State University senior swimmer, says. “The whole world kind of went upside down.”

Person in WSU coat puts up cardboard cutouts of fans in 2020
Coug fans sent images of themselves for cardboard cutouts to fill Martin Stadium seats during the November 14, 2020, home football game (Derivative from Photo by Robert Hubner)

On March 11, 2020, WSU announced that after spring break, all classes would be virtual. Students were encouraged not to return to campus to stop the spread of COVID-19. No one realized these circumstances would last another year.

“It was a bummer we couldn’t finish the season in 2020 because we were doing really well, and we couldn’t practice together as a team,” Nicklaus Chiam, a fifth-year senior and WSU golfer, says.

As the 2020–2021 school year started, athletic events were delayed or canceled, despite hopes that COVID-19 would be under control. WSU’s football season, a staple for students and alumni alike, was delayed until November, and three of the team’s seven games were canceled. Even in the football games that took place, there were no fans in the stands.

“Our seasons have been cut short, we can’t travel as much, and not many teams were willing to put themselves in positions to compete,” Samantha Howell, another senior WSU swimmer, says.

John Bussey, a materials science and chemical engineering major, had his high school graduation disrupted before starting his freshman year at WSU in the fall.

“Socially, it’s been different than I expected college to be,” Bussey says. “But the few people I was able to see I’m even closer to because of the pandemic.”

By social distancing and wearing a mask, Bussey was able to participate in undergraduate research in a lab, and he worked with a team of other freshmen for NASA’s 2021 BIG Idea Challenge. They studied Mount St. Helens ash to figure out a way to wash lunar dust out of astronaut spacesuits.

“I’ve been blown away by the opportunities WSU has given me as a freshman,” Bussey says. “While there are COVID precautions, we’re still able to do all this research.”

Despite the setbacks, WSU students, staff, and faculty are doing what they can to return to normal. A new normal, that is, influenced by what they’ve learned in the last year.

Through virtual events, the Division of Student Affairs worked hard to provide students an opportunity to stay connected despite distance. During the University’s Family Weekend in April, students and their parents could watch a ramen contest and a performance by WSU opera and music students online. Virtual trivia night, video games, and interactive media were also available.

But for fall 2021, they hope to debut a new Coug experience: socially distanced events in open-air spaces, limited sporting events, and both in-person and virtual classes.

“The whole thing with COVID has been being flexible and understanding, taking things in stride,” Howell says. “We’ve done the best we can this year.”

Washington State University spirit signs painted by studentsVirtual Coug Spirit Paint Night during Spring 2021 Family Weekend (Courtesy WSU Student Affairs)