Paloma Cartwright will begin her senior year at McGill University, but will be doing so from the safety of her home. The Montreal, Quebec, Canada, university announced on Monday that the Fall 2020 semester will begin as scheduled, but through remote delivery platforms.
It’s a decision the 20-year-old said she received with mixed emotions. But she recognizes the decision was made for the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.
“There is so much uncertainty right now, I think I appreciate that they made the decision early enough that it’s not a guessing game,” said Cartwright, who lives on Long Island.
The 2017 All Bahamas Merit Scholar (ABMS) said she’s safer at home with her family than she would be in Montreal, which is currently the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Canada.
Of the entire country’s 70,000 cases and 5,000 deaths, Montreal, the city of two million people, has 20,000 cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
The Bahamas had 94 confirmed cases – 74 on New Providence, eight in Grand Bahama, 11 on Bimini and one in Cat Cay; 11 deaths; and 1,670 tests had been completed up to yesterday. There were 41 recovered cases, six hospitalized cases and 42 active cases.
Long Island has recorded no confirmed coronavirus cases since The Bahamas confirmed its first case on March 15.
Worldwide, there were 4,315,679 confirmed cases and 294,879 deaths.
“And, for a school like McGill, where we have 45,000 students coming from all around the world, in times of so much uncertainty, it would be, like, careless for them to ask thousands of students to travel from all around the world to go back to school when we don’t know what international borders are looking like,” she said.
“It will be sad to not be on campus for half of my last year, but I think in terms of health and safety, I appreciate their decision.”
Cartwright returned home as soon as McGill shut down. She arrived on Long Island on March 14, one day before The Bahamas confirmed its first case.
She finished her third year online.
On Tuesday, she learned she completed the year with a 3.85 grade point average (GPA), which she considers fantastic, considering the switch to online learning in an entirely different environment.
Cartwright, who received her final grades on Tuesday, said her semester turned out better than she had hoped. She said she had been worried.
“Especially with a school as big as McGill, and the international population, professors had to tailor all of the classes, because you have students tuning in from everywhere from The Bahamas to Canada to Egypt, to Paris to Australia – every different time zone, all around the world.”
She said her professors opted less for Zoom classes, and more recorded classes, and posted videos. That meant less interactive lessons, which she said made it harder to access help from professors, but as university students, she said, they had to adjust.
The ABMS said her professors have been working with students to ensure they have access to as many resources as possible, which she appreciates.
“It is harder not being able to go to in-person classes. With everything online, there is less interaction and so, I find my professors have been working really hard to get us all to interact, which I appreciate, because it is a lot different and there is a lot less support in terms of academic support.”
“The last few weeks of the semester that was just completed, they were interesting, to say the least.”
She has enrolled for two online summer courses.
The ABMS said the hardest adjustment will be having consistent WiFi connectivity.
“My summer courses are both Zoom-recorded classes and I was in class earlier, and the WiFi just died on me, and I was like well we’ll figure out how to watch the lecture recording later. So, I think it will be interesting to see what fall looks like and taking a full course load, because right now it’s just summer courses.”
At McGill, Cartwright spends her nights in the library, and is usually on campus from 8 a.m. until 5 to 6 p.m.
“It’s an adventure and I know it will make us stronger for our futures.”
Cartwright commenced studies at McGill University as a computer engineering major with a focus on computer hardware and building computers. She switched to computer science in her second year, which focused on software and coding, and added a double minor in environmental studies and Hispanic studies.
“I was less interested in the physics behind building computers, and I like the software of coding, graphic design, building websites, and building apps – things like that interested me a lot more and I enjoyed those classes a lot more.”
The one good thing that Cartwright said has come out of online learning is that it will allow her time to continue her training campaign to mount a 2024 Olympic appearance with her Nacra 17 team member, Paul DeSouza.
She’s hoping online classes will allow them more training time together in their two-person catamaran.
“If everything’s online, no matter where I am, I can do my classes and also do the sailing, so that’s something that I found that’s a positive outlook in all of this.”
In the two months she’s been home, Cartwright, the daughter of Zoe and Roger Cartwright, said she enjoys being with her family, and being warm.
“As recent as three days ago, it was snowing in Montreal and I just looked at my mom and I was like ‘No, I don’t want to be in Montreal in the snow.’”
She said her family has been super supportive of her at-home online studies and reminds her that school is priority.
“They remind me that they’re here to help me in any way that they can, with anything that I need – even as simple as every time the WiFi stops working, my mom is like, ‘Do you want to use the hotspot on my phone to continue your classes, or to read, or Google something?’ Everybody in my family has been super supportive and l think that’s made this decision for McGill to go online be that much easier for me to cope with. A lot of my friends are having mental health challenges being at home with family, being out of the school environment and trying to stay focused in school. For me, it’s almost like I’m back in high school and I’m just doing my schoolwork like I did then.”