Class of 2024 Check-in: Freshman adjust to college during COVID-19

By: Michael Harvey

As students returned to the Gardner-Webb University campus this past month, you could feel a renewed sense of excitement and optimism in the air of the one stoplight town of Boiling Springs. Following our five-month absence because of the outbreak of COVID-19, many students were ready to return to campus and put this summer of drama behind them. With the beginning of a new school year also comes the welcoming of a brand-new class of Freshman to the Gardner-Webb campus. This year we welcome the Class of 2024.

Obviously with COVID-19 still very much active in our everyday lives, the Class of 2024 received an orientation filled with face coverings and socially distanced activities. Compared to past year’s classes it is certainly unorthodox. Even though the Class of 2024 arrived at Gardner-Webb during unique circumstances, it didn’t prevent it from being a big one. Gardner-Webb welcomed 469 students into the Freshman Class of 2024, the fourth largest in school history. There are many factors that led to this year’s class being so large, such as the tuition freeze being in effect for the second consecutive year and the increase in local scholarships being offered by GWU throughout the Carolinas.

While having to adhere to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) COVID-19 health and safety guidelines of wearing masks and maintaining distant of six feet, students and staff have officially concluded the third full week of classes. GWU-Today thought it would be nice to check-in (socially distanced of course) with a few members of the Freshman class to see how they are adjusting to college life during COVID-19.

Freshman Golfer Travis Menke took some time and discussed his college experience so far with us. With the Freshman class being so big, many people have different stories on how they made the decision to attend GWU. Travis explained that he found out about Gardner-Webb through a coach he met at a golf academy this past spring.

“I was lucky to graduate from high school in 2019 prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, so I spent my spring in South Carolina attending a golf academy.” Menke continued. “While there, I met this coach who was a GWU Alumni. He suggested I come up to Boiling Springs and check out the program. They gave me a tour of campus and I fell in love with it from there.”

Freshman Travis Menke in his dorm room in Mauney.

While Travis fell in love with the campus, athletics played a big part in his decision to attend Gardner-Webb. “I’m originally from Colorado so when I came down to South Carolina to attend the academy I enjoyed how fantastic the weather was in this part of the country. So, from that moment I made the decision that I wanted to attend somewhere that I can play the game I love for most of the year and Gardner-Webb gave me that opportunity.”

While attending college during a pandemic has it’s differences from typical circumstances, Menke is making the most out of it. “Given the circumstances, I feel like I’ve made the most out of my first three weeks. I’ve met some good friends in Mauney and my classes,” Menke said.“Really, all I’ve wanted to do is stay on campus and hang out with the friends I’ve made so far and make some new ones along the way.” 

Menke believes the hardest part about going to college during COVID-19 are the restrictions on the amount of people you can have in a certain space. “Like I said earlier, I love meeting new people so not being able to have over ten people in a room has discouraged certain groups from interacting and getting to know each other,” Menke said. “As a student-athlete, I’ve been dealing with the quarantine procedures since I got here, and that has allowed me to make several close friends with people on the golf team and around my dorm room in Mauney. There are definitely pros and cons to it, but all we can do is hang in there and stay safe.”

While Menke found Gardner-Webb through a chance encounter with a golf coach, Freshman Michael Bame knew where he was destined to go from the start. Bame comes into college as a second generation Gardner-Webb student. His mom Anne is an alumni, and his sister Madeline is a current senior who both came to GWU for their music education program. While Michael isn’t going after the same field as his mom and sister, he still believes Gardner-Webb was the best choice for him and his future.

“I came down to the choice between UNC-Charlotte and Gardner-Webb. I ended up going with Gardner-Webb because of the family aspect and the size of the campus. For a freshman, I feel like UNC-Charlotte would’ve been too much to handle. I prefer the smaller campus that Gardner-Webb offers,” Bame said.

Unlike Menke, Bame had to finish high school during the pandemic. Luckily, Bame was put into a situation that made it less stressful according to him. 

“My school handled the COVID-19 outbreak by giving us a free pass. If you were passing your classes as of the last day of school that we were there, then you were done,” Bame said.

Freshman Michael Bame stands in front of H.A.P.Y Hall where he resides.

So far Bame believes he has adjusted to college life well, but as with anything there are still things he struggles with. “Thankfully, I knew what I was getting myself into with a little help from my sister, but the transition is still difficult from high school to college,” Bame said.“Keeping track of your studies is key, and I think that is definitely hard for any college student to keep track of. Luckily, I’ve been able to pick up on things along the way thanks to Madeline and that has assisted me in preparing myself for college life.”

Like most Gardner-Webb students, Bame is ready for the pandemic to end. When asked how it was adjusting to college during a pandemic Bame said, “Honestly, college during a pandemic is all I know, so I’m ready for the pandemic to end so I can fully experience all that GWU offers.”

While our start to the year hasn’t been normal by any stretch of the imagination, it is good to see that freshman are adjusting well and maintaining a positive attitude as we navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19 and 2020.