Buffering… Buffering… Connection Restored

A Loma Launch event in Chula Vista. Photo courtesy of Noah Harrel.

It’s during times like these when PLNU students might realize just how much they take for granted. This could be walking with someone in the same general direction to classes, connecting with a new friend in the caf or even those hall events where no one really planned on going but somehow everyone ended up there anyway. In the age of COVID-19, these simple experiences are but a distant memory. Creating ways for students to connect has become a much more difficult task for the university. But it’s not impossible. 

Over the last few weeks, freshmen were able to connect with each other through the Loma Launch events. Beth Denney, resident director of Hendricks Hall, coordinated all 12 Loma Launches which took place in various cities across the country with considerable numbers of incoming freshmen.

Blanca McCormick, freshman applied health science major, said she was grateful to attend the Loma Launch event, even though she planned on commuting to campus this semester. 

“It’s events like these that I appreciate because I’m still able to connect with students during times like this,” McCormick said.

Loma Launch was able to bring students together with classic PLNU staples like La Croix, Cravory cookies and icebreaker questions akin to those one might hear in an Alpha Group, along with new, COVID-friendly activities like group trivia and sitting to chat in socially-distanced chairs. 

William Geyman, freshman biology major, had his PLNU swag bag in hand as he left the event.

 “It was really fun, the people are really really nice and I think I made a good decision coming here. [I’m] looking forward to being a part of this seemingly amazing community.”

Making new friends as a freshman is hard, even without the complications of a pandemic. Students like Geyman and McCormick expressed their excitement for the opportunity just to physically meet and engage with new people. 

Jake Gilbertson, dean of students and director of residential life, explained that the purpose of the Loma Launch events was to give students a place to connect and be part of the community. While PLNU offered a plethora of virtual connection opportunities to new students, Gilbertson said he felt it was important to give students the chance to “make a friend, to get someone’s cell number, to follow each other on Instagram and to have some sort of real connection beyond just ‘I’ve seen you in a Zoom.’”

So why haven’t there been any events for the rest of the students yet? Director of Community Life, Scott McGowan, said “Loma Launch provided a template for what outdoor off-campus activities could potentially look like some time in the future. At this time, there’s still no guidance on how we can do that under current state and county guidelines.” 

The roadblock that Gilbertson, McGowan and ASB Director of Activities and Marketing, Colin Mowers, are facing is the ever changing guidelines PLNU must adhere to when organizing an event. Mowers has big dreams for what he wants to happen next semester if social-distancing regulations loosen up.

“We would love to make up for some of the events that we lost, like the staples of [PLNU],” Mowers said. “Bobby B’s birthday bash is a huge one that so many people love. It would be fun to do something similar — something that kind of reflects that attitude that we’re back together.”

While PLNU students await the triumphant return and the celebration to come, they may be able to look forward to something this semester. Gilbertson said, despite being limited by ever-changing guidelines, recent updates from county health officials may allow for the planning of on-campus events as more people move into the residence halls. These events will definitely involve spacing out, probably masks, and will look totally different, he explained.

“Even with the limitations, I think we’ll be able to host campus events that will feel really good after the last six months we’ve been through.”

A movie in the Greek Amphitheater is one example Gilbertson gave of a small event students may experience soon. While it might not be as flashy or exciting as the birthday bash, even a movie in the Greek, which, Gilbertson admits, might’ve felt lame a few years back, finally gives students the opportunity to connect after a long six months.

Written By: Noah Harrel