Effect of COVID-19 on College Students


It’s me, Katy again… Since my last post, I completed my first quarter of freshman year. I have some free time this winter break to update my blog, so here we are…

When most kids think of college, they think mostly of freedom and friends. Most college students live away from their parents and near all their friends, which results in minimal parent involvement in the overall experience and much easier access to the social aspects of college life. There is also significantly more academic freedom; there are relatively few required courses, and many of the required courses have different options.

I was looking forward to freedom and making many new friends. So when I got my acceptance letter to my dream school (Caltech) in early March, I was overjoyed. I assumed that in around seven months I would have the chance to prove my independence and meet many lovely intelligent and hilarious new people and I was beyond excited!! I love my parents and I know they always have my best interests at heart, but I was ready to prove that I could survive and thrive on my own and maybe be a little rebellious 😉. Eating dessert every day doesn’t sound like a bad idea!

Not long after I got that coveted acceptance letter, California (where I live) issued a stay at home order to the rapid spread of COVID-19. I’ve already written a post here that summarizes the remainder of my high school journey, so I’d like to review the events after that.

Summer was very long (thanks quarter system!), beginning at the end of May and ending at the end of September. I spent the time reviewing certain topics I needed to brush up on. Originally, I had planned on traveling, hanging out with friends, and winning giant stuffed animals but staying home and relaxing was fun too. Over the summer, I had lots of hope but very little confidence that we would have in person classes in the fall. I was hardly surprised when Caltech, located in LA county which has an insanely high number of COVID cases, announced that classes would be completely online for the fall term.

Overall, Caltech and my family both tried their hardest to make the experience enjoyable and similar to what I would experience in college. My parents renovated and cleaned out the shed in my backyard and helped turn it into a dorm room. Caltech ensured that all the fun events, such as orientation, celebratory donuts, and soon rotation are available online. There are many resources available online as well that mimic those we would have on campus, such as the online library and discord servers. The discord servers are especially helpful for collaboration and are my main source of social interaction.

Despite everything, it was difficult to remain in a good mental state. The monotony and lack of face to face interactions made life rather dull and I found myself slowly losing my sanity. I ended up running twice a day just so I could at least see other living breathing human beings (I wore a gaiter though so it was safe despite people not social distancing). At least I had school to look forward to, where I felt very challenged in all of my classes. I learned how to approach problems differently especially in physics and math, and overall I definitely reached a deeper level of understanding in every class.

But enough about me. I’ve shared my experience being a college student during quarantine, and I was interested in seeing if struggling mentally is a widespread phenomenon across college students. So I did some research.

As it turns out, researchers at the University of Ljubljana’s COVID-19 Social Science Lab studied how COVID-19 affected higher education students across the globe while researchers at Texas A&M University studied how COVID-19 affected college students in the United States. Their findings were unsurprising to me and aligned with my experience.

The Texas A&M researchers surveyed 195 US college students about stress; the questions covered stress levels, coping with stress, use of mental health counseling, and significant stressors and their impacts on everyday living. 

  • The results state that 71% of the students reported that their stress and anxiety levels increased, 20% reported that they remained the same, and 9% reported that they decreased. I would fall in the first category, and not simply because college is more stressful than high school. My particular college stresses the importance of collaboration, and, while discord was very helpful for this, nothing could replace in person collaboration in a designated work environment. 
  • Only 10% of the students in the first category used mental health counseling, and as a whole found it difficult to access counseling during the pandemic. I don’t believe I was ever at the point where I needed counseling because I had a large support network, but I can see how it can be too much of a hassle for students who might need it. 
  • 97% of students believed that other students were more stressed during the pandemic. This makes sense and I’ve noticed that everyone seems to be more empathetic during this time because they perceive that others are struggling.
  • Overall, the majority indicated negative impacts on each of various aspects of mundane life. This again makes sense because the pandemic greatly limits the number of things we can do safely.

As I was trying to read the discussion, I couldn’t help but notice that there were a lot of psychology terms I was unfamiliar with. I never took a psychology class in high school because I chose to take other electives instead, which is a shame although I don’t regret the decision. I’ve made a note to come back and read the discussion after I take a psychology class so I can understand more of what it’s saying. I found the fact that college students are particularly prone to higher levels of stress interesting because I assumed that working adults would be under a lot more stress because they have a lot more to focus on that ultimately is of greater importance. Perhaps the anticipation of entering the job market causes more stress than being in the job market itself for some.

The COVID-19 Social Lab studied a global sample– 30383 students from 62 countries– regarding how the early stages of the pandemic affected them. 

  • They were apparently content with support from their professors and their universities’ public relations. This aligns with my views: Caltech professors and the overall institution did an amazing job adjusting to the online learning environment and providing resources to help us adjust. 
  • Interestingly, the article claims that “deficient computer skills and the perception of a higher workload prevented them from perceiving their own improved performance in the new teaching environment.” I wonder if the “perception of a higher workload” is due to having to do the work alone rather than with friends, or whether it’s due to unfavorable work environments at home. Or perhaps doing work online is simply more of a hassle due to technology. I always did my homework on my school-issued iPad throughout high school because it was much more efficient than doing homework on paper. I’m guessing that maybe as students adjust to technology, they will begin to perceive their workload as less.
  • Students viewed the pandemic as detrimental to their careers. Overall, this makes sense. Although the economy will likely improve in the near future, this economy is not ideal for entering the job market. Further, many internships and other opportunities to acquire experience in one’s chosen career are canceled or openings are a lot more limited. 
  • Like the previous article, students in this study fell victim to anxiety, stress, frustration, and boredom.
  • Unsurprisingly, the article stated that the pandemic caused students to wash their hands and wear face masks more frequently but leave the house and have physical contact less often.
  • Overall, satisfaction with hospitals and universities was higher than satisfaction with governments and banks. I know that in America, people tend to be very grateful towards hospitals and universities for all their hard work while dissatisfaction with the government was very high and affected the recent elections.
  • The researchers were also able to compare the different demographics: “students with certain socio-demographic characteristics (male, part-time, first-level, applied sciences, a lower living standard, from Africa or Asia) were significantly less satisfied with their academic work/life during the crisis, whereas female, full-time, first-level students and students faced with financial problems were generally affected more by the pandemic in terms of their emotional life and personal circumstances.” I find this interesting and understandable, although I haven’t been able to notice this phenomenon myself due to the narrow demographic I associate myself with.

I find it fascinating to learn that people worldwide are coping both similarly and differently with the global pandemic. It’s almost reassuring– this is a universal problem and thus everyone has incentive to cooperate to slow and stop COVID-19.



E huakaʻi me ka palekana…



P. S. So last blog post I introduced you to a new friend I met in the yard. Since then I have made quite a few more friends in the yard and Wap has become a lot more friendly… I have her eating out of my hand…



It’s me, Katy again… Again, it has almost been a month since my last post and I just wanted to say hello…

So far things are going great!! I am really enjoying my first quarter at Caltech. Of course it would be more fun if I were able to be on campus, but I understand the situation and I am adapting. While it is difficult to meet up with some of my new friends in person (due to geography, I am using the opportunity to meet up with some of my local friends who are also at home. We go running together and chat a bit comparing our college experiences, classes and other people 😜 You know who you are…

A few days ago, I was going through my unread emails and I stumbled across an interesting article in the Biohacker Weekly (as you may recall, I took a few classes in Biohacking). Anyways, the article of interest is here:


As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, a couple of months ago I participated in the Young Scientists Journal’s 8th Annual Conference “A Timeline of Science”. I submitted a poster entry and was selected to present my research/poster at the conference (remotely of course). If you are interested in checking out my poster along with others that were submitted, please visit:


The one thing I wanted to add is the link to my talk:

Anyways, that is all for now. I hope you and your families are all healthy and safe!!

E huakaʻi me ka palekana…



P. S. I would like to introduce you to a new friend. As I have been studying in a room in the backyard, a friendly cat came by. I call her WAP.

Go Beavers!!


It’s me, Katy… It has almost been a month since my last post and I just wanted to post a quick update on a few things…

Online classes and remote learning have begun!!! While it may not be the typical college freshman experience, I am still having fun meeting new students, faculty and staff.

This quarter, I am taking Chemistry, Physics, Math, Computer Science and a cool humanities class called “Making Life Legible: Materials and Methods in the History of Modern Biology”. I am also attending lunchtime discussions about research in biology. So far so good.

It takes a little getting used to attending class remotely, but there are quite a few drop-in study groups using Discord. It is kinda cool since there are usually different groups studying different things and/or working on different problem sets, that you can drop in on and ask questions, and participate/collaborate. We were also assigned learning pods. My learning pod has students from various parts of California. It seems like this is like a “home base” or “home room” where you can discuss anything and everything. I love my Pod!!!

At Caltech, our first two quarters are pass/no-pass so that we can adjust to college life while not stressing too much about grades. We do take tests and do homework and they are graded so that we generally know how we are doing and what we can work on so that after the two quarters passes we can hit the ground running.

Speaking of running, I am training for the Caltech Cross Country team. Although our season has been cancelled due to the Covid situation, I still get up early in the mornings to train. Because of all the fires here in Northern California, I usually check the air quality before I run. If it is too unhealthy, I will either postpone my run or use my parents’ treadmill to break a sweat.

I have also signed up for some volunteering opportunities and have started learning about the work study programs at Caltech.

It has been pretty busy these last few weeks, but I am really enjoying it.

One more little thing to note… A couple of weeks ago I participated in the Young Scientists Journal’s 8th Annual Conference “A Timeline of Science”. I submitted a poster entry and was selected to present my research/poster at the conference (remotely of course). If you are interested in checking out my poster along with others that were submitted, please visit:


My talk was recorded, but I am not sure if it will be made available.

Anyways, that is all for now. I hope you and your families are all healthy and safe!!

E huakaʻi me ka palekana…



Woot!!! My third paper was finally posted in an online journal!!!

Hey all!   This morning, another one of my papers was published online in the Young Scientists Journal!!   Yay!!

Please check out the link: “A 3D Cellular Automata Cancer Stem Cell Model using Matlab and App Designer”.

A screenshot of my Appdesigner code

This paper was inspired by some of the summer programs I attended when I was a junior at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, California. During one of my summer programs, Rosetta Institute’s Molecular Biology of Cancer Workshop at Berkeley, we studied various concepts in cancer research and tumor growth. Another program, Stanford EXPLORE Lecture Series on Bioengineering, Bioinformatics, and Genetics, showed me the possible applications of a recently completed computer science course at my high school, which I also really enjoyed. The lecturer mentioned different analytical tools and software like MATLAB and Wolfram Mathematica and said how they were useful in research. After looking deeper into several of the topics covered in the lecture series, I stumbled across the concept of Cellular Automata (CA) and how it may be able to model the growth of cancerous tumor cells.

One of the CA simulations I ran

I wanted to examine Cellular Automata for myself and the analytical tool I chose was MathWorks’ MATLAB and I took an online MATLAB class. In hindsight, I probably should have used Mathematica, since later on I found out that Stephen Wolfram (the person responsible for Wolfram Mathematica engaged in a systematic study of one-dimensional cellular automata). Anyways, after completing an online course in MATLAB and Appdesigner, I wanted to see if I could create a simple model in MATLAB so I could examine the various parameters that lead to cancerous tumor growth and what parameters may help with the treatment of cancer. The paper is a result of my studies.

It did take awhile to get the paper finally published as I submitted it for publication to the journal in February 2019, but it finally got published!!!! I’m so happy!!!

For my other papers:

Please see the link:   The Effect of UV Light on the CaCl2/PEG 3350/DMSO Transformation Buffer for CRISPR Cas9-edited E. coli

And my Ladder Game Paper on this website.   It is very entertaining (Click the link in the above menu).

Have a fantastic day and stay safe!!!

This is Katy Chu signing off….

P. S. Below are a couple of photos of my temporary “dorm” room (you can see the rope ladder I used for my Ladder Game paper behind me on the ground). Due to the COVID pandemic, most Caltech students won’t be able to be on campus this fall and will have to attend remotely. My parents were able to fix up the shed in out backyard this last month so that I can have a quiet place to study, socialize remotely via teleconferencing, and possible study with friends in study groups outside. It has Wi-Fi, air-conditioning/heat, windows, etc. I still plan on sleeping in my comfy bed in the house though. It’s not quite the “freshman” experience, but under the circumstances I am happy!!! Thank you Mom and Dad!!!

COVID-19 in Hawaii

My graduation photo – Go Lancers!!!

Hi all,

I apologize for not posting in a while but the last few weeks have been quite busy for me. As most of you may have guessed, I finally graduated from high school. Yay! It was bittersweet for me as we understandably didn’t have a have a formal in-person graduation nor did we have a senior prom (due to shelter in place). We did have the opportunity to drive through campus to return our iPads, collect senior swag, and wave goodbye to all my teachers, but I really missed the opportunity to say farewell and good luck to a lot of my high school friends as they head off to college or whatever the future may bring.

I have also been getting ready for college by taking college placement exams, watching orientation videos (instead of the traditional on campus PreFrosh Experience), and communicating with some other students and the running coach at Caltech, Coach Raphelson. I will be running for Caltech in the fall (hopefully, if we are allowed to). Here is a link to the press release introducing the incoming women’s cross county/track & field Class of 2024:


Now that things are settling down a bit, I wanted to write about a couple of articles1,2 that I read recently about COVID-19 as it pertains to Hawaii (where my mom is from and a place that I visit almost every year to visit my grandparents). I won’t go this year as I am afraid of the possibility of making my grandparents sick. Here is my entry:

Hawaiian Airlines is implementing new sanitation and social distancing measures as the state prepares to lift the mandatory travel quarantine on interisland travelers.

Hawaii, a highly popular tourist destination with visitors from all over the world, was definitely a disaster waiting to happen. It seemed obvious that the islands, especially the population-dense areas of O’ahu, would become victims of a huge COVID-19 outbreak. However, Hawaii has actually become one of the major success stories within the United States. The state has the fewest cases per capita amongst all states. In the early stages of the outbreak, Hawaii was proactive, with doctors pushing aggressively for widespread testing and an epidemiologist who tracked all confirmed cases. The fact that Hawaii was also able to enforce a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the islands also helped.

It was fascinating to read about how thoroughly the epidemiologist, Sarah Park, and her team were able to investigate those who fell victim to the coronavirus. It was much easier for them early on when there were only a few cases, although they were clearly able to make a huge impact when confronted with a barrage of cases as well. Other states that had attempted similar investigations tracking COVID-19 patients were unable to keep up as the number of cases increased astronomically, but Park and her team managed to keep track of everyone. Park did get criticized for not testing everyone who had come in contact with an infected patient, but I agree with her methods. Testing is not widely available and should therefore be saved for those who need it most, and those who came in contact were quarantined anyways.

Image credit: Hawai’i Community Foundation

I was also impressed by Dr. Miscovich’s dedication to ensuring that lots of PPE (personal protective equipment) was shipped to the islands early on and for doing his own testing despite the department of health’s lack of urgency. He ensured that testing became more widely available in Hawaii. He and his staff helped test 17,000 people and spread information about COVID-19. This is a lot more than what has been done in other states. And because of Hawaii’s remote location, the early shipments of PPE were of utmost importance.

I’m disappointed in how everyone seems to be handling COVID-19 right now though. Many large gatherings have taken place as many people seem to be returning to their pre-quarantine lifestyles. This has greatly increased the number of cases, and many experts seem to agree that face masks and social distancing are still necessary. The number of new cases per day in Hawaii has increased due to more traveling and human interactions. The article I read emphasized that none of the new cases seemed to stem from protests, which were all fairly small and controlled. Everyone supports people using their voices, but they also want to make sure everyone is staying safe while doing so.

Anyways, that is it for now. I hope you all are healthy and staying safe!!!

This is Katy Chu signing off for now….

E huakaʻi me ka palekana (Hawaiian for “Travel safely on your journey”)

P. S. As I am spending a lot of time at home this summer enjoying my pets, I would like to introduce you to one of my goldfish, Juicy.

My fish named Juicy 🙂