Jonathan Echerd Oral History Interview

Interviewee: Jonathan Echerd, senior engineering student
Interviewer: George Martin, senior communication student
Date: 4/14/2021

GM: Hey Jon, how you doing today?
JE: I'm doing alright how are you, George?
GM: I'm doing all right, you know it's Hump Day. Just trying to get through the week, but you know how it is. I'm talking to you today - I just want to refresh you, we are going to be talking about your general response to the pandemic and how you think the school and the government has handled and it's an all-around, general, how the pandemic's affected you and the people around you. To start off with can you say your full name and spell it for me and then say your major and year?
JE: My name is Jonathan Echerd, and that's Jonathan spelled the usual way, Echerd, E-C-H-E-R-D. My major is engineering, concentrating in mechanical engineering and I'm going to be a senior this coming year.
GM: So, Jon, can you just give me like in broad strokes how, how the pandemic has affected you on a day-to-day basis? Like has your life seen any significant changes since the beginning of the pandemic?
JE: Well, the biggest notable change I can attribute to the COVID pandemic would be that I'm no longer in any in-person classes in school. So obviously last semester we had block classes, those only being two classes at a time, now we're out of that so my workload is about the same it's just at home rather than at school. If I was to elaborate on that, I have a very lab-rigorous schedule and um, due to the pandemic we can't be in labs, so I've missed out on a lot of labs. Other than that, I can't say it's changed all that much aside from the location.
GM: So, like, you're missing out on labs, and it's a lab heavy major so what has the school done to substitute for those missed labs?
JE: Well at the beginning, last semester, classes I was in in-person that switched mid-semester to being online, I had a couple of professors actually do the labs and record them and give them to the students, but that ended up not working out very well because, in one case one of the professors made a mistake in one of the labs and that messed up everyone's data and that just created a snowball effect of problems down the line. And I think it was just a very inefficient way of doing it, it wasn't necessarily the professor's fault, it was just um - that's just sort of the way these things goes. So, not having those labs was a problem, last semester I had a class where the professor gave us all the information, we needed to design our own labs and then we designed them and did them at home. That required us to go buy some materials and do some simple labs at home, but I think overall it worked out pretty well, so I'd say the engineering department has handled the situation overall pretty well while working with what they can.
GM: Outside of just the engineering department, do you feel that East Carolina as a whole has been able to handle the pandemic well? In terms of response when we initially came back to campus versus having to go back online, and then even more with the block scheduled. Like what was your general response to things like block scheduling and the shorter semesters?
JE: Personally, I really liked the block scheduling, but I know that a lot of people didn't, and I think that I could sum up ECU's response to coronavirus, as just being decisions made at one moment, decisions made see how that works out. I think that probably their, their biggest fault in their response to COVID was that they didn't stick to their initial decisions and played around with a couple of different things, weather they worked out or not. So maybe we tried to go back on campus twice and it didn't work out either time, I know there's a lot of people who had problems with that. I know it definitely inconvenienced a lot of people who lived on campus having to move-in, move-out, move-in, move-out. So, looking at it from the outside, because none of the engineering classes ever went back in person, I never had to go back in person, but I know a lot of people who did, looking at it from that third-person I can see how those people would be pretty irritated with that.
GM: And do - do you think the university has been effective in its communication with students in terms of all these changes being made? Or do you think it may be lacking in some areas or that they've kept up and have been able to keep the student body informed?
JE: Well, I can say in my particular case, whenever we started the pass/fail grading option, uh, the engineering department had said they were not going to allow pass/fail to happen and then that was debated and then that was overruled by the school. Then there was a lot of question if we would be keeping that the next semester, that policy, or not. This will make the third semester, you know, of doing it and this semester we can do it for two classes. I know that has its pitfalls and benefits, but I don't think the communication there is all that great. I know there's exceptions to the rules and a little gray area in some classes, people wondering about C-Walls and Prerequisites and stuff like that. I think if they're going to do it, they may as well do it all the way, but I don't think the school did a great job at effectively communicating that.
GM: And, with classes, do you feel that the professors have been sufficient in their communication and their ability to keep you updated on their expectations and what they want to see from you learning in this class?
JE: I can't make a generalized statement about all professors because I've had some that have done an excellent job and I've had some that have done a not-so-excellent job. But I can say that I had one professor, obviously we're going to online learning and there's a lot of WebEx, Zoom, Teams, all that. I had one professor who gave us all the information that we needed for the entire class in PDF forms. They were - they had all of the lessons, all the equations we needed for the class, all the lab instructions, et. Cetera. And, at first, I was questioning how that would work and turns out it's the best class I've taken maybe in college. Very efficient, very effective, I learned a lot and overall, he was a great professor. So, I think we have to cut the professors some slack because obviously this is not something that they would be prepared for, but, as a whole I'd say it's a pretty mixed bag, maybe on how much effort they want to put into the new learning style.
GM: So, with classes, it's been a mixed bag, and the university response has been mixed. So, it's just been all around chaotic, is that how you would describe it? That's how it sounds.
JE: That's the word I would use, yes.
GM: And so, outside of the university, in your daily life. Do you have a job, off-campus?
JE: I do.
GM: Well, what do you do?
JE: I work as a project engineer and draftsmen at a fabrication and engineering shop in Washington, North Carolina.
GM: So, has COVID affected you job in any way? In terms of work hours or ability to get work done?
JE: So, whenever the pandemic first started, I moved home for a little while and that obviously prevented me from working for about a month, and then when I came back, obviously I have to travel at work sometime to job sites and that's changed dramatically and my job is a very hands-on job where I have to do field-measurements, corrections, fabrication in the field, things like that. So, all of that was just made a bit harder, also my office all had to navigate trying not to get coronavirus in the office and spreading throughout the ranks, so we implemented the usual measurements for that. Luckily it didn't hit us too hard, we had a couple of people to get COVID throughout, and each time it would happen, we would have the place closed down for a few hours and we would disinfect everything. They had a fumigator come in one time and spray the place down. I'd say our company, overall, did a pretty nice job of nipping it in the bud and a vaccination clinic came to our work and vaccinated us when we were all available.
GM: So, it sounds like COVID hit pretty close to home at work. Do you know anyone else around you, who you're close to, that has gotten COVID or been exposed to it in close proximity.
JE: Yeah so, the best example is my parents. My parents have been super careful since the start of the pandemic. I don't think my mom has been inside of a grocery store since last March. They've been very careful about my younger sister going places and my dad is a farmer and my mom works in drafting as well. They've been very careful about work and everything and my sister is in middle school right now. Whenever she went to school, she ended up brining COVID home from school, someone else in her class had it so my sister got it and my family obviously had to deal with that. That's very sad because of how hard they've worked not to get it and how diligent they've been. It sort of highlights it can get to anyone regardless of how careful they are.
GM: Have you had COVID?
JE: I have not.
GM: Oh, have you had to get tested for COVID at all?
JE: I have, I've had a couple of run-ins with exposures through friends, people I've had schoolwork I've had to do with, and one of the people at work who got it, I had been exposed to that person as well. But luckily, I got tested on all of those occasions and came back negative every time.
GM: So, did you quarantine when you thought you were exposed?
JE: I did. Each of those three times I went into quarantine because I had to wait for the incubation period of exposure, which actually, the period was changed in between those times as new developments came out. New research came out that said the new incubation period was five or six days, so I would wait out that time period and then get tested and wait for the results. The first times I got exposed, the rapid tests had not been made readily available yet so the period after each time, I would quarantine for a week to two weeks.
GM: Has these - COVID, especially in college students has mental health repercussions. Do you or anyone you know - have you seen an increase in mental health issues in those that you know?
JE: I've definitely experienced a greater sense of anxiety whenever I go out now. Because it's almost like people are made hyper aware of what's going on around them. I've heard a lot of people talk about the realization of how unsafe, or maybe unclean a lot of the things in our everyday world is. And I think one of the main things the pandemic has done is made people hyperaware of their surroundings. If you're in the grocery store and there's one person not wearing a mask, it may make you uncomfortable and it may make you wonder "What can I do about this? There's nothing I can really do in this situation" even if you're doing your part. Whenever you're at the gas station and now we're all thinking about how gross the gas pump is, how many people have touched it and what those people have been doing. I think it makes everyone a little bit more aware of the world that we live in and all of those people become a bit more concerned than they were before so everyone's maybe a little on edge than they were before.
George: And do you think that this sense of tension can be attributed at all to media sources either playing it up or playing it down?
JE: I can see that. I read an interesting article whenever we first got in the pandemic how, during the Obama administration this playbook was made about handling a national crisis or pandemic or epidemic. About having respected voices for the information, we would put out during the pandemic and people who are trusted, people who are apolitical. I think we, as a whole, kinda dropped the ball on that. Things that shouldn't be politicized became that way and now, you know, your response to an international and national crisis falls on party lines and I think that's rather ridicuolous for the progress that we should be making.
GM: How do you think that the government - because North Carolina has Roy Cooper, who is a democrat, and when the pandemic began Donald Trump was president, who is republic. So when comparing their responses to it and how they both handled it, and even more simply, republican and democrat, how do you think the government has responded to this pandemic and has that been an effective response?
JE: I think that at the beginning of the pandemic when Donald Trump was holding daily press releases where he and other government leaders and health workers and Dr Anthony Fauci were addressing the nation on live TV every day. If you were to juxtapose those briefings with the Roy Cooper briefings that he was also doing, I don't know if those were daily they may have been weekly, but I did watch those. If you were to compare the two there was a drastic difference in the information given and the way the information was being presented, it was almost as if Roy Cooper was giving you an updated on thing that had happened and plans that were dynamic to revolve around current events versus the president at the time giing basically goals that were, weather realistic or not, weather informed or not, met his narrative. I would venture to say that roy cooper did a better job of keeping pandemic restrictions and guidelines apolitical and more conered with the health of the state he lives in. If I was to say, I'd think he did an excellent job.
GM: Jon, I think that's everything I have for you today. I just wanted to thank you for taking time to talk with me, and yeah, thank you.
JE: Of course, anytime.
GM: Alright, have a good one.
JE: You too.

Jonathan Echerd Oral History Interview
This oral history was recorded as part of Dr. Karl Rodabaugh's spring 2021 HNRS 2011: COVID-19 and the History of Pandemics course. Jonathan Echerd was interviewed by George Martin.
April 14, 2021
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