“I will say, it almost makes graduating not feel real yet,” said Seth Ragin, a member of the Eberly College of Science’s spring 2021 graduating class.
On March 11, 2020, Penn State notified students that their spring break would be extended due to uncertainties surrounding COVID-19. Just one week later, the University made the final decision to move completely to remote learning. Today, over a year later, campus is cautiously beginning to return to normal. For the first time since fall 2019, commencement was once again held in person. In fact, for the first time since 1984, graduates were able to celebrate their big moment in Beaver Stadium.
Ragin was one of 798 Eberly students who finished their undergraduate degree this past May. Prior to graduation, he shared insight into what his Penn State experience looked like both before and during the pandemic. Ragin explained that going into college, he already had a passion for mathematics and was set on graduating a year early. In the summer of 2018, he joined the Eberly community on campus as a new member of the Millennium Scholars Program. During the months leading up to the official start of the school year, he had the opportunity to meet peers, take classes, and meet some of the faculty. It was through this program that he met one of his mentors, Nate Brown, professor of mathematics.
“The Millennium Scholars Program is an opportunity for underrepresented students in STEM to receive resources to help them get into research labs, graduate school, or whatever their dream goals are,” Ragin said. “It’s really beneficial to have another support system on campus, especially as a minority. Not only did Nate Brown teach my math classes for the months leading into my fall semester freshman year, has been a great mentor in helping me navigate math courses for semesters that I needed to overload.”
For the next two years, Ragin interned with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), working on administrative support teams handling budget operations, reports, and IT support. When the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in 2020, the FDA transitioned Ragin’s work online so that he was able to continue his projects throughout the semester.
“It’s preparing me to go into the workforce a little earlier, which is nice, but it has also been a challenge,” Ragin said. “Because this was my last year of school, I knew I was at a point of no return. I’ve really had to buckle down on my classes, and being virtual has been difficult, especially the math classes.”
Ragin shared that one of the greatest lessons he learned in college was to surround oneself with support. He credits his friends from class for contributing to his overall academic success and personal life as they acted as a lifeline throughout his time in college. His advice to other students is to not be afraid of leaning on other people and relying on friends in and out of class; college is about teamwork.
Remote learning and social distancing has impacted all students differently. For Ragin, not only did he miss the personal connections of being in a classroom and with peers, but it also made the upcoming graduation date seem intangible.
"My motto this year has been blind faith,” he said. “I've had to just push forward without knowing what I’m going to reach but knowing that I need to keep grinding because I'm going to reach the goal that I want eventually. I’m looking forward to sitting in the stadium and getting that chance to feel like I'm really graduating and letting that settle in.”
On May 8, Ragin graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a certification in business. Since speaking, Ragin has accepted a position as a budget program analyst for the FDA.