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Life on campus: College students tell stories of what it's like during pandemic

The University of Houston is archiving the stories of college students learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HOUSTON — During the past year, we’ve shared stories of frontline workers, healthcare heroes and grieving families. KHOU 11 News spotlighted the challenges in the classroom and the struggles playing out in homes across Houston.

As we surpass one year of living in the COVID-19 pandemic, we got a fresh perspective from college students who are using their voices to help write history.

In the summer of 2020, University of Houston Archivist Mary Manning launched a project to collect content created by students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Manning says the stories are, “really the expression of their heart, and their soul and their mind.”

The hope is that photos, audio files, music, journal entries and poems can be preserved by the university “so that their children can find it and their children’s children” can understand what life was like during the first global pandemic in 100 years.

UH’s student archive is modern. It’s completely digital from the submission process to the exhibition, which is set to open to the public this summer.

So what is it like to be a college student in a pandemic?

“It’s going to Zoom calls in your room and I have one in-person class. So that’s something to look forward to, I guess,” UH freshman Samantha Portele said. “I was the lucky senior class of 2020.”

Portele's senior year of high school in Katy ISD was rough. She missed out on prom, a traditional graduation experience and the final days of classes on campus.

The 18-year old moved on-campus this semester. She and her roommate have made a couple of friends on campus, “so we’re trying to enjoy it as best as we can.”

Last summer, Portele wrote a poem titled, "The Hill." She submitted it to UH’s student archive.

“It must be hard to be a young adult right now,” Manning said.

Vincent Mallari is the first person in his family to earn a college degree. He celebrated graduation with a virtually commencement ceremony last year.

“Everybody, in some way or another, has had to make an adjustment,” Mallari said.

He also contributed interviews to the UH student archive.

"It helped really broaden my perspective,” Mallari said of an 800-page book filled with his interviews and other entries. That project was organized by the PEEPS Program within the UH College of Education.

“We’ve all learned from it. We’ve all seen so many people do some many amazing things to help one another,” Mallari said.

UH is looking for more students to share their pandemic experience. They have until the end of the year. You can submit your student work here.

“Write a song. Record it on your guitar. Send it to me,” Manning said.

It's an opportunity for college students to use their voices to help write history.

“There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel,” Portele said. “At least that’s how I try to look at it. I try to be hopeful of the future.”