Specific aspects of college life like enrollment and group relationships are uncertain in this time of social distancing brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and though it seems dark, there is light ahead. Despite what may be to come, a large group of friends at MBU is making the best of a bad situation and growing closer while remaining apart.

This story is part of an ongoing series of stories and analyses produced by MBU Timeline staff members, focusing on several aspects of what the COVID-19 pandemic will have changed long after it has passed. Our writers try to answer a question you may have asked yourself: what happens next?     Photo courtesy of MBU University Communications — Graphic by Dylan White


As the world is experiencing the COVID-19 onslaught and its demanding effects, it’s hard to visualize when and how it will all come to an end. 

Not only are jobs being lost, people being forced to distance, and the overall normal becoming abnormal, but universities across the country are also taking a hit, much like everything and everyone else. 

Dr. Lydia Thebeau, Missouri Baptist University’s vice president for academic affairs and accreditation and professor of biology, is well aware of the challenges presented during this time for universities and specifically their fall 2020 semester enrollment.

“There will likely be a lot of different types of challenges and opportunities coming out of the COVID-19 crisis with respect to college enrollment. From the financial side of things the layoffs/furloughs experienced by many, especially in what are deemed ‘non-essential’ businesses, could impact a family’s ability to afford college, so students may have to consider alternative plans,” Thebeau said in an email. “If those students were already planning to attend MBU, it could mean that they might still attend but can no longer afford to live on campus, or it may mean that they have to explore other options such as a community college or take a gap year to save up money to attend.”

Thebeau, who has been at MBU for 15 years, continued: “If St. Louis-area students were perhaps planning to go away to school, the current situation may cause them or their families to reconsider the distance and they may elect to stay closer to home and MBU could benefit from those changes in plans. Alternatively, MBU and other colleges and universities across the country could see an uptick in enrollment in certain programs (and perhaps overall) due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis.”

Thebeau pointed to a government-published report that shows a correlation between unemployment and college enrollment. Click here to read the entire report, which shows that following the recession of 2007-09, college enrollment rose sharply as presumably many Americans went back to school to receive additional training to improve marketability or acquire new skills.

For example, Thebeau explained, programs in healthcare and business in particular may be of interest to traditional and non-traditional students alike as the university emerges from this pandemic.

With the potential outcome of potentially greater enrollment for the fall 2020 semester comes the hope of something else too.

Members of “Special K’s Minions,” a group of friends consisting of over 80 MBU students, dressed in costumes for a Halloween party they hosted in the fall.  Photo by Emma Bushery __________________________________________________________________

“Another possible outcome from the crisis could be a renewed sense of community at MBU. In the 15 years that I have worked at MBU, I have always felt like I was part of a family, but my hope is that through this crisis, we will come back together (as soon as the social distancing is lifted) and become a stronger community as a result,” Thebeau said in her email. “I hope that students have been able to feel the ongoing care, support and concern from their instructors and the university at large, despite the remote learning environment.

“I am eager to see how this plays out in the coming fall semester. My hope is that we will see stronger connections across the university, both within the student body and between students and their professors, coaches and staff.”

Christian Akridge, 22, a junior at MBU from St. Louis majoring in broadcast media, and a resident at MBU men’s residence hall, Pillsbury-Huff, is part of another family at MBU, which has the potential to grow in the fall 2020 semester in spite of the virus, composed of student body residents and commuters alike who possess a strong connection.

Special K’s Minions, as we so lovingly call ourselves, currently consist of 82 people and are likely to grow in the coming months. That’s one of my favorite things about the group. The fact that there are that many people in this one group shows that Special K’s Minions is very inclusive. I also love that the group has people from a variety of majors at MBU,” Akridge said. “From accounting to Christian ministry and many majors in between, the fact that we have so many majors represented in this one friend group proves that God makes each of us with a uniquely different purpose.”

Unfortunately, much like MBU is wondering about fall enrollment, members of the MBU friend group, Special K’s Minions, are also speculating whether or not their group will remain the same or forever be changed by COVID-19, which is a concern for member Alison Patton, 20, a sophomore at MBU from Pacific, Missouri, majoring in vocal musical education.

“I think that this will change the group,” Patton said. “ I think some people will be even more involved, but I think others will drift away.”

Josh Nurnberger, 22, a junior majoring in history at MBU from Waterloo, Illinois, is a resident at Pillsbury-Huff and reminisces about the time when the group was bonding together before COVID-19 hit, and he hopes for more to come. 

“Every month my friends and I would choose one night to have a feast. We would cook whatever food we wanted to and then share it with everyone and play games,” Nurnberger said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do that recently. Hopefully when this is all over, we’ll be able to do it again.”

Patton also misses the MBU fellowship of the group and expressed a difficult effect of COVID-19: being alone. 

“It’s lonely without friends around. I miss the connections that I have at MBU,” Patton said. “It’s difficult having gone so long without talking to people.”

Although physical presence is absent from the group, the members’ bond continues to grow. 

“While the activities we have at MBU took a sudden halt due to social distancing orders, I feel the bond we have is still just as strong,” Akridge said.

Despite the unknown shrouding the future for MBU’s fall 2020 enrollment and group relationships, Thebeau does know who is in control in this time of trouble and because of Him, there is light at the end of the tunnel for her, Special K’s Minions and everyone else at MBU.

Thebeau referred to a Chapel speaker from a few years ago, Dr. Jim Denison, former pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas and founder of the Denison Forum, a nonprofit Christian media organization that comments on current issues through a biblical lens and publishes a daily article connecting current events to spiritual lessons.

“One of my favorite quotes of his is, ‘God redeems all that He allows.’ God can use challenges like this to mold us into the individuals He wants us to be, and my hope and prayer is that we can all draw closer to Him through the challenges that this crisis brings, whether it is the loss of social connection, loss of an athletic season, frustrations of having to learn online,” Thebeau said, adding that a March 20 article of Dr. Denison’s speaks of “how we have before us an unprecedented opportunity for spiritual awakening.  Americans are hungry for hope and hungry for good news. As Christians, we have the best news ever in the gospel, and I hope that as we emerge from this crisis, we would be infused with an urgency to share God’s love with others.”

By Hannah Chaney

Hannah Chaney is a staff journalist for MBU Timeline, majoring in public relations and minoring in journalism. Chaney is on the women’s tennis team, an RA at North Hall and student worker in Student Development. After graduation, Chaney plans to use her degree in event planning.