First-year Peyton Nebens poses in her hometown of San Antonio in December 2020. As she starts classes virtually this semester, Nebens said she hopes to connect to the Pepperdine community through the University Church of Christ and virtual events. Photo courtesy of Nebens
The spring 2021 semester will begin with more new students than last spring, even as many express concern about starting their time at Pepperdine remotely and forming connections in the virtual environment.
The University admitted 132 new students for spring 2021 and 131 of them chose to enroll, Director of Admissions Ashley Nguyen wrote in an email to the Graphic. Classes will start online, but Pepperdine hopes to bring students back mid-semester if LA County health guidelines allow it.
“It’s just hard — you just wish that you could be there and really experience everything,” first-year Peyton Nebens said. “I think that everything Pepperdine’s trying to do in general to help us have the best possible experience online, they’ve been able to achieve the best possible situation given [the pandemic].”
The number of spring admits and transfers is higher than last year’s spring enrollment of 104 students. Although no significant drop in enrollment has emerged since the University’s Jan. 8 announcement on course delivery, Nguyen wrote that this may change before classes start in February.
Many students will be starting the semester remotely from out of state, such as Nebens, who said she will be attending classes this spring from her hometown of San Antonio. She hopes to live on campus later this spring if LA health guidelines allow Pepperdine to reopen.
“My ideal situation would probably be to be able to go on campus but have enough people that I don’t feel like, ‘oh, no, there’s nobody here with me,’” Nebens said. “Maybe [it would be] boring or really hard to meet people. So I’d love if there were enough people, but we were still able to stay safe.”
Pepperdine’s tight-knit Christian community and Malibu location initially attracted Nebens to the University, she said. While many of these key aspects are less attainable in a virtual environment, Nebens has formed several connections through class of 2024 specific Instagram and Facebook pages and has been enjoying virtual New Student Orientation.
“During in-person NSO, a lot of [community building] was just walking to the Caf with your roommate, meeting people in your residence halls,” said Brittany Skinner, director of Student Activities. “So we want to do our best to try to create opportunities for students to [build] those relationships, whether that’s doing a little house party game or talking to students in small groups.
Spring NSO is spread over five weeks, starting Jan. 4, with a new theme each week and a mix of both pre-recorded videos and live Zoom sessions. Skinner said organizers of virtual NSO have made modifications to the program based on feedback from the fall.
Fall NSO introduced mentorship groups, which connect new students with orientation leaders for the first four weeks of school, Skinner said. In a follow-up email, Skinner wrote that 29 students signed up for these groups during spring NSO and eight signed up for transfer-specific pairings — indicating over 25% of the spring admits and transfers are engaging in small group mentorship programs to connect to the Pepperdine community remotely.
“I’m very excited to meet [my mentor] and ask him questions,” said junior transfer Messiah Israel. “Especially on how Pepperdine is different [virtually] and how to adapt to that as a transfer.”
Similarly, many new students hope to connect with others through the University’s Christian community. Israel recently became a Christian and said he looks forward to deepening his faith through mentorship and small group discussions — which he thinks can be achieved just as effectively through Zoom as in-person.
“I won’t be surprised by what online has to offer,” Israel said. “With Zoom, you can follow through social media and they’ll post a link, so it’s easier to go into meetings. I would say [virtual and being in person] have about the same weight because it’s just meeting and talking.”
Since he’s living with another transfer student in the Malibu area this semester and already has friends who attend Pepperdine, Israel said he isn’t as concerned about not being able make new connections.
Although Nebens said she is concerned about meeting people in the remote environment, she looks forward to connecting to the Pepperdine community through faith-related opportunities such as attending worship gatherings at the University Church of Christ.
“Church always made me feel at ease because I knew that there was a place to go that I could feel comfortable,” Nebens said. “And I feel like that would be a great way for me to feel comfortable at Pepperdine.”
Virtual church can be very enjoyable, Nebens said — which she has experienced attending live streams of a number of different churches in her hometown since the pandemic started. She hopes to have similarly positive remote experiences at Pepperdine.
Pepperdine hopes to give students the opportunity to live and attend classes on campus as soon as county and state health orders permit it, said Seaver Dean Michael Feltner in the Jan. 8 email announcement. The University will provide updates every four weeks beginning the first day of classes, Feb. 8, about whether a safe reopening is possible.
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