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The COVID-19 Class: One senior's pursuit for a well-rounded education

About the feature 

The “COVID-19 Class” is a mini-series documenting the experiences of three members of the Class of 2024 from the College of Agriculture. Though they were presented with a distinct set of challenges as they began their collegiate careers, these students found community, excelled in their studies, and became leaders. Learn about the obstacles they faced, the growth they have seen in themselves, some of their favorite memories along the way, and what's next for them.

Melanie Hasler, senior majoring in agricultural communication

Melanie Hasler in Peru on a study abroad tripGrowing up on an equestrian farm in southern Indiana, agriculture has always been a big part of Senior agricultural communication major Melanie Hasler’s life. She credits her experiences on the farm and competing in rodeos for giving her the leadership and communication skills that she wanted to grow with her degree. With a study plan in place and an excitement to make memories, she looked forward to the fall of 2020.

"My whole family bleeds black and gold. My Grandpa Don was my family's first generation to go to Purdue. So we have all been destined to follow in his footsteps. Heading to Purdue, specifically to the College of Agriculture, felt like home. It was a dream come true to receive all the scholarships that made it possible."

With just months left of high school, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. For Hasler and her family, life continued relatively normally on their rural farm, which was a safe haven for months. Coming from a small town, she wondered and worried about how college would look for her.

"The transition from going to living in my little farm bubble onto a campus with over 50,000 people was tough," Hasler said.

Hasler had several friends and family members already on campus, which gave her some comfort. But the safety regulations made it challenging to get involved and expand her community in the way she had hoped. Hasler recalls stories her mom would share about her time on campus and making friends by simply hanging out in the residence halls, opportunities that did not exist for Hasler at the start of her collegiate career.

"We all wanted to be safe, so it made sense to have the protocols in place. But it was everything from going to class and having two seats between you to wearing a mask everywhere you went. Everybody was shut off because we were all so nervous."

Hasler also remembers having to adapt to a different learning style.

"Most of my classes were virtual, so I would sit on Zoom all day for my lectures, and then turn around and sit on my computer to work. Most days, I would spend over eight hours staring at a screen.”

Hasler and her peers, supported by their professors, used tools like "GroupMe" to communicate and get to know each other better. One bonus of this learning style was that she discovered she enjoys a hybrid work style and is hopeful to continue that in her professional career.

Restrictions began to ease, and as her freshman year ended, Hasler started to look forward to what would be next. "I was so eager to be around people. When sophomore year hit, I signed up for everything. I took the opportunity to jump in and get involved."

Hasler grew up being taught by her mom that a well-rounded education happened in the classroom and beyond.

"There are many important parts to an education, but coming to college, I wanted to take opportunities to grow personally and professionally."

Hasler rushed cooperatives and was selected to be a part of the Glenwood Cooperative. She has lived there for the past three years. Hasler also looked for organizations that mirrored her passion for agriculture. She became a member of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow at Purdue. She also served as an officer and member of the Purdue Agricultural Council, the Purdue Collegiate Farm Bureau, ASEC Department Ambassador and Agriculture Future of America. These experiences provided a strong community, helped her strengthen her leadership skill, and deepen her understanding of agricultural communications.

When there was an opportunity for a spring break study abroad trip, she followed what she had learned from the pandemic, the importance of saying “yes.”  "I was able to study abroad in Peru with Dr. Mark Russell. It was such an incredible experience. "

Along with involvement in organizations off and on campus, Hasler had the opportunity for hands-on learning experiences through internships. She interned for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture's communications team as well as for BASF in Raleigh, North Carolina, on their communications team.

Hasler plans to work in agricultural marketing in the Midwest to utilize the skills she has gained in and outside of the classroom at Purdue. She has also started a podcast called "The Farmer's Daughter." She interviews generational women who grew up on farms. Her goal is to dispel some of the preconceived notions people have of women who grew up on farms, and to share their valuable stories.

There are many lessons from her four years at Purdue that Hassler will carry with her. 

Hasler sits in cap and gown on steps of Hovde Hall
"In just a few short days, I will receive a piece of paper awarding me a degree from my dream college, and for that, I am thankful. My time at Purdue has been all I could have wished for and more. Not only have I grown as a communicator, but I have grown leaps and bounds as a person. Looking back, even the stressors of starting school during a pandemic have made me who I am today. I will forever be grateful for my time at Purdue and who it has helped me become."

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