Eau Claire (WQOW)- After campus laid dormant for months during the pandemic, Blugolds are finally bringing life back to UW-Eau Claire.
The university kicked off its fall semester on Wednesday, marking the first time students attended in-person lectures since the COVID-19 pandemic moved all courses online in March.
Many students said they were excited to get back on campus, but some returning students said they didn't feel the same energy on campus as they typically would on the first day of classes.
"It's kind of eerie honestly," said Alex Moldenhauer, a senior at UWEC.
"I feel like it's kind of more vigilant," said Robert Meehan, a junior at UWEC. "Everyone's kind of watching out for everyone else and everyone's paying more attention to what's going on around them."
For some, the eerie vibe resonated inside the classroom as well.
"It was different because everybody sat down, and were all six feet apart, but nobody was really talking to each other because you can't see anybody's face," said Jules Gerhards, a junior at UWEC.
Most class sizes have decreased or moved to a hybrid model between virtual and in-person learning, which creates challenges for professors with interactive teaching styles.
"This is my tenth year, and for sure the most unique year that I've taught here, said Liz Glogowski, a professor of material science and biomedical engineering at UWEC. "So far in class, the number of students is smaller, but they're farther away, so getting used to working that way will be an adjustment."
Regardless, professors are delighted to see students back at their desks, even if it's from a distance.
"It's still good to see their faces, and they get to see mine and I get to tell them I'm smiling even if they can't see me," Glogowski said.
As students say campus operations have gone smoothly, many students are hopeful to make it to the end of the semester.
"I'm pretty hopeful about this upcoming semester and I hope that we can get through it together," said Jenna Erickson, a UWEC sophomore.
Others expressed concern that they might not make it all the way to December.
"Personally, I really have a strong feeling that we're not going to make it to the end of the semester," Meehan said.
Nonetheless, Blugolds are thrilled just to make it to day one.
"It feels good," said Amanda Scharping, a UWEC junior. "I'm excited to get back into the swing of things."
"It's definitely a little uneasy, but I'm just thankful to be back," Moldenhauer added.