Spring 2020 was rough for Diana Celaya, a junior computing major from Houston, Texas. When COVID concerns shut down Union College and much of the United States in March, she returned home to take classes online.

Then she broke her ankle. The combination of pain and prescribed medication made her uncomfortable and sleepy, and it was hard for her to stay focused and study.

Her extroverted nature made quarantining even harder. “I managed to finish the semester the best I could,” she said, “but it was challenging. Some subjects are easier to learn in person—especially mathematics.”

Celaya admits that parts of online learning weren’t so bad. Taking classes from the comfort of her own home was a perk, as was daily access to her mom’s cooking. And classes went as well as they could have. She says that her teachers took extra steps to make remote learning work. “They had office hours on Zoom as much as they could, and some teachers even gave us their personal phone numbers so we could text them and get answers faster than email,” she said. “They spent a lot of time with us, and some were even more gracious when it came to work and turning in assignments.”

When August rolled around, she was back on her feet and, like the rest of Union’s student body, back on campus.

“It’s so good to be back,” she said. “The environment here—worship, Student Association events, talking to professors face to face—it’s not the same online. This semester is different because we have to use masks and distancing, but seeing my professors face to face and being in the same room and in the same place with my classmates makes a big difference.”

She says she’s especially enjoying being in proximity to her fellow students and professors, soaking up the unique feel of life and interpersonal relationships at Union.

“My professors have truly shown me who Jesus is,” she said. “Through their teaching, making sure we understand the content, even making sure that our necessities as students are being met as a person—that we are OK physically, emotionally and spiritually—that’s different from other colleges.”

Celaya was born in the United States but her family moved to Mexico when she was a baby. They made their home there until relocating back to Texas when Celaya was 13. When it was time for college, she applied to two Adventist schools closer to home and one abroad, but she did agree to have her transcripts sent to other Adventist colleges.

While she was waiting on an acceptance letter from the college she thought she most wanted to attend, she received an acceptance package in the mail from Union that changed her life’s trajectory. “I was so happy, I cried,” she said. “It was a big milestone for me.” While she’d initially had her heart set on attending college abroad, she ultimately chose Union. 

Celaya started her college experience as a communication major but changed her focus to computing with an emphasis in web development after taking a web development basics class and falling in love with it. She decided to minor in communication as a way to balance her logical and artistic sides.

After graduation, Celaya plans to seek a career in the IT field. News of recent cyberattacks and hacking events have piqued her interest, and she sees helping others as part of her life path. “I want to find a job where I can serve God through technology,” she said. “I want to help people navigate safely online. I know I can’t help cyberattacks to end, but I can contribute as much as I can.”

Even though spring 2020 didn’t go quite as she’d planned, Celaya admits that online courses helped her stay on track with her studies despite the difficulties of living through a pandemic and facing an unexpected injury. And she says she learned an important lesson—that while social media and devices can distract and disconnect us when we’re together, they can bring people closer when we’re forced to be physically distant.

But she says she wouldn’t deliberately choose to trade live classes for online education even though she still misses her mom’s cooking. “There’s something about being tactile and being together that you can’t get virtually,” she said. “It’s how God created us to be—around people, being present.”

Union will be open for in-person classes in Spring 2021, starting January 11. For more information about how Union College is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit ucollege.edu/covid-19