Students reflect on power outages experienced during midterm season

Students reflect on power outages experienced during midterm season

Photo Credits: Katherine Franks / Aggie

Faculty worked to accommodate students in the recent power outages, although some students felt unsupported by their professors and the university

Many students and residents in Davis and surrounding areas experienced power outages starting on Tuesday, Jan. 26 and lasting until Jan. 30. 

When their power went out, first-year molecular and medical microbiology major Isabelle Smith and her roommate checked into the Residence Inn by Marriott only a couple of miles away from their West Davis apartment.

Smith said that all of her midterms were pushed back and her professors were accommodating.

“We had no food,” Smith said. “All of our devices were dead and we still needed to study. If it happened again, I’d probably just go back to the hotel again. It was $120 for two people, so we split that in half.”

Other students weren’t so fortunate. Erika Lambert, a fourth-year linguistics major, lost power for 20 hours and the following day her internet went down, all while she was recovering from COVID-19. She sat in her car to charge her phone and send emails to her professors.

 “I had pretty bad symptoms,” Lamber said. “I didn’t have to go to the hospital, but there were a few times where I thought I might have to.”

Lambert falsely assumed that all of her lectures would be recorded and, as a result, missed a handful of classes. One professor expressed discomfort being recorded, explaining that he would have to change the way that he acts. 

“He’s in the Midwest area right now and does Zoom from over there,” Lambert said. “He basically just made fun of the storm. He was like ‘30 miles an hour is nothing and you guys are so overdramatic.’”

Megan McFarland, a spokesperson for PG&E, said in an email that the storm was actually highly uncommon for this area.

“Based on 30 years of weather data, PG&E meteorologists described the late January winter storms as the strongest since 2011 and say that it caused the highest two-day and three-day outage totals since 2010,” McFarland said. “From Tuesday, Jan. 26, through that Saturday morning, more than 935,000 PG&E customers lost power due to heavy wind, rain and snow.”

Lambert reached out to the linguistics department chair and the Office of Undergraduate Education to discuss her situation and request that lectures be recorded in the future. When she was sick, she notified two of her professors who were both understanding. She didn’t request special accommodations, such as extensions for assignment or exam deadlines, besides lectures being recorded.

“I think it’s definitely nice for professors to record [lectures], but I guess it is somewhat like an in-person class where if you miss it, that’s it,” Lambert said. “But I think this school year is definitely a lot different than when we had in-person in that people have a lot of stuff going on. I think just not recording during the power outage is a big deal, because more than half of the class wasn’t there.”

Lambert said she doesn’t feel supported by the university during this unprecedented time. 

“We’re expected to just continue on with school as if nothing is happening,” Lambert said. “As if there is not a pandemic and a new president and an insurrection and a power outage and a storm. They’re like, ‘Okay, well go to class.’ I think the school underestimates how much we’re going through right now, some more than others, but still I think it’s a lot for everybody.”

Dr. Wolf-Dietrich Heyer, the chair of the department of microbiology and molecular genetics, said that he didn’t receive any complaints from students and was surprised by this silence. 

“There was a lot of sympathy with the situation,” Heyer said. “I think everybody was extremely accommodating to mitigate the circumstances. Of course, it hit right at the time where exams were up, so deadlines had to be extended. It added a lot of stress to students and to faculty, on top of the stress we already work under with the pandemic.”

Heyer said that faculty have become crisis management experts. 

“From my vantage point, I think we managed the crisis well,” Heyer said. “We are becoming overly good at managing crises because of all the experience of the last 10 months. It is not a good status quo. I do hope we get back to normal in the fall with face-to-face instruction. It will be much more enjoyable for everybody involved.”

Being from Germany, power outages are a new phenomenon for Heyer. 

“I’m from Germany, an equally as developed country as the U.S.,” Heyer said. “In all of my life in Germany, I cannot remember experiencing a power outage. In my time in Davis, it’s a common event. I think there is a lack of investment in vital infrastructure. There is an incredible need to improve this.”

If the power goes off on campus, on-campus generators switch on immediately, protecting sensitive samples and years of work collected by researchers. On-campus power outages are extremely rare, compared to outages in the city; Heyer said he could count with one hand the number of on-campus outages that have occurred in his 20 years at UC Davis.

Dr. Rena Zieve, the department chair of physics and astronomy, was grateful for the more robust power infrastructure on-campus as opposed to the less reliable surrounding Yolo County infrastructure. 

If power was lost, it could be detrimental and researchers would lose years of work. 

“We have some things that particularly are kept under vacuum,” Zieve said. “There are samples that basically will be destroyed [if power is lost]. Not physically destroyed, but they’ll lose the special properties that we’re trying to study if they’re exposed to air.”

Zieve said she was concerned about the students who lost power and may not have known to request accommodations.

“I offered the students in my class spots to work in the physics building if they needed a place where there was power,” Zieve said. “On Saturday, there were a couple of students who came. Some of the students were very proactive about trying to get help, other students didn’t really believe that anyone would help them. The message I’d really like to get out is that if you need help you should ask for it.”

Heyer said that he trusts when students are asking for help, they need it. 

“We’re all in the same boat,” Heyer said. “We better all row in the same direction, otherwise we’re not moving forward. These are real problems. They take time. If we all have some understanding towards each other, we can help ourselves through these problems. Luckily, they’re always only temporary.”
Written by: Rebecca Gardner — campus@theaggie.org

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