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Students, faculty react to return of in-person OHIO-in-L.A., Scripps Semester in D.C. programs

After over a year, Ohio University’s OHIO-in-L.A. and Scripps Semester in D.C. programs have returned to hosting students in-person during summer 2021. 

The programs, which normally give students the opportunity to live and work in two of the U.S.’s major metropolitan areas — Los Angeles and Washington D.C., respectively — and study subjects including communication, journalism and media, were disrupted Fall Semester 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to concerns surrounding the pandemic, the OHIO-in-L.A. program was held virtually in fall 2020. The Scripps Semester in D.C. program was canceled entirely.

Roger Cooper, a professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies and the director of the OHIO-in-L.A. program, said he was glad students were able to experience the program virtually, though he prefers being in-person. Nothing can replace being in Los Angeles and getting to experience the lifestyle of the area, Cooper said. 

John Amato, a recent OU graduate who studied integrated media, attended the virtual program in fall 2020 and the in-person program in summer 2021. Amato said he enjoyed both programs and felt Cooper did a lot to make the virtual program feel complete. 

Amato also said most of the benefits of the program, like working internships and connecting with OU alumni, can be applied to both the virtual and in-person modalities, though, like Cooper, he feels there is one significant difference. 

“Obviously, not being in Los Angeles is a downside, because I feel like a big part of it is actually just being in the city and exploring and figuring out if this is the right place that you want to land after college,” Amato said. “That's probably been the biggest advantage and difference for me between the virtual and this summer, just actually being here.” 

Although some aspects of life during COVID-19 — like mask wearing — linger, students haven’t been deterred from applying for and participating in the program. For summer 2021, Cooper said the program had 45 applicants, on par with previous years’ numbers. Out of these applicants, 28 were selected for the in-person program. 

“We still had a very robust number of applicants,” Cooper said. “I think there's an element of just feeling like things are getting back to some normalcy and being able to travel out to L.A. and experience the program, and to be able to do most of the things that we would typically do in an L.A. program.” 

The Scripps Semester in D.C. program has also returned to in-person engagement for summer 2021. Hebah Abdalla, the on-site director of the program, said a record number of students applied for the Summer Semester program amid a very competitive market. 

One of the selected students was Julia Howell, a senior studying journalism, who applied for the summer 2020 program before it was canceled due to the coronavirus. For Howell, getting to experience the program in-person in 2021 was enjoyable, even if some remaining COVID-19 restrictions bothered her. 

“We couldn’t go into a lot of the sites the past Scripps in D.C. kids had, but we still got to see a newsroom, and we still got to see the Press Club. So I think I was a little discouraged at first, because I wasn't able to go see certain things that we would have usually been able to see,” she said. “Almost ending this internship and this program, it's nothing that I think totally altered my experience or made it bad in any way. It just wasn't ideal.”

Tim Goheen, director of the School of Visual Communication and co-director of the Scripps Semester in D.C. program, said he hasn’t heard complaints from students in regards to pandemic restrictions. Goheen attributes this to restrictions becoming a part of everyday life for many and doesn’t think precautions have had much of an effect on the program. 

“COVID shut us down for two semesters, but like everybody else, we're trying to get back on our feet,” he said. “And so far, I don't really see any change in the program, except just like everybody else, you have to follow the protocols to be healthy and safe.” 

Cooper and Abdalla both commended students on their reactions to the abnormal nature of the programs. Cooper praised students in the OHIO-in-L.A. program for their engagement and positivity, while Abdalla said the students she worked with were resilient in the face of lengthy coronavirus health and safety measures. 

Despite saying the pandemic didn’t have a sizable effect on the Scripps Semester in D.C. summer programs, Goheen is hopeful future programs can return to full normalcy. 

“Hopefully, a year from now, we won’t need to be socially distancing,” Goheen said. “People will have gotten smarter and more people vaccinated, and hopefully the pandemic will be behind us.”

Maya Morita contributed to this report.


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