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Pumpkin Grades: Discussing the Class of 2025’s unique transition to college

Illustrated by Katherine Chui

By Eliza Jasani     10/26/21 10:52pm

When October comes around, students start walking around campus wearing cozy sweaters and holding hot lattes from Rice Coffeehouse. As the cold approaches, something changes within the freshman class as well: talk of midterm exams, projects and pumpkin grades begin. About midway through the fall semester each year, instructors submit midterm grades — nicknamed “pumpkin grades” because of the season — to let freshmen know how they are performing in their classes.

This year’s pumpkin grades hold a special significance. For many freshmen, their grades were indicative of their first month and a half of in-person learning after more than a year of studying remotely. Maya Adhikari, a freshman at Brown College, is one of many students who completed high school virtually. 

“I think that when you’re online it’s difficult to pay attention, and coming to in-person classes where things move at a much quicker pace … was certainly an adjustment for me. It’s definitely nerve-wracking because it’s easy to fall behind, and at the same time, there is so much to do here besides academics,” Adhikari said. “Preparing for midterms was extremely stressful because I’ve never been in a class where I’ve only had two grades, a midterm grade and a final grade, and that’s what most of my classes are here.”

Martel College freshman Daan Veldkamp, who finished his senior year with in-person classes, said that being in-person made it easier to adjust to academics at Rice.

“Being in-person last year made the transition [to college] easier since most of my classes are in person now,” Veldkamp said. “The only transition that was hard was adjusting to my fully remote class because I need more discipline and self-motivation to do well on Zoom.”

Burke Nixon, a lecturer in the Program in Writing and Communication and First-Year Writing Intensive Seminar instructor, said that, in general, this class of freshmen is having a much more normal experience than last year’s freshman class.

“Students seem to be relieved to be learning in person,” Nixon said. “The first-year experience seems much closer to normal this semester, even if it’s never easy.”

Lina Dib, also a lecturer in the Program in Writing and Communication and a FWIS instructor, said that she has noticed one positive change in the classroom as everyone returns to campus: a heightened awareness of mental health and work-life balance.

“It’s been refreshing,” Dib said. “Of course everyone has their unique experiences and stories, but it feels as though we are all there for each other as a group. This disposition has allowed for a certain level of comfort that has in turn stimulated vibrant intellectual discussions.”

Some worries about pumpkin grades recur every year, regardless of the pandemic. Because pumpkin grades are given in the middle of the semester, final aspects of students’ grades, such as extra credit points or participation averages, are not factored in. 

Wiess College freshman Faith Hill said that the way her midterm grades were calculated was a source of stress for her.

“I know that ... my midterm grades aren’t accurate representations of my real grade [because instructors] didn’t factor in every part of the class,” Hill said. “Also, some of them were filler grades because professors ... put in set grades that are lower than what we would typically have, and that was pretty stressful.”

Director of the Principles of Economics Program and Senior Lecturer James DeNicco, who teaches an introductory economics course with over 500 freshmen enrolled, said this inaccuracy in grade calculation is the reason he decided not to reveal pumpkin grades on Canvas. He said he provided students with a grade calculator that they could use to calculate their final grade on their own instead.

“Giving out pumpkin grades is weird because it’s like, ‘This is your grade right now,’ but I ... weigh my grades,” DeNicco said. “What I do is I send out a grade calculator to everybody ... so you can project what your final grade is going to be based on [how] you think you’re going to do on the next couple exams.”

Despite the difficulties of transitioning to college amid the pandemic, students are just glad to be back in person, according to McMurtry College freshman Pranav Mandyam. 

“This next week may be higher stress because I have a lot of midterms coming up,” Mandyam said. “But I feel like a lot of us just really wanted to get back in person after so long of being in our houses, being online and virtual.”

Instructors are also ready to put the pandemic behind them, and they are excited that students are back, according to Krista Kobylianskii, an assistant teaching professor in the department of chemistry and instructor for General Chemistry Lab. 

“I would just encourage [freshmen] to keep fighting the good fight,” Kobylianakii said. “When you get out into the real world, the world is oftentimes not very nice to you, so this is a great chance to learn some grit and just kind of push through and come out stronger on the other side.” 

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