Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 30, 2023

My virtual beginnings and physical endings at Hopkins

By ELLIE ROSE MATTOON | May 26, 2023



Mattoon reflects on how starting her college experience virtually affected the way she formed important relationships.

As someone who started at Hopkins in the fall of 2020, many of my “college firsts” were virtual. It’s hard to define when exactly my college experience became “normal.” It could have been in my first in-person class sophomore year or the first show I was able to perform without wearing a mask. However, at some point, Zoom chats became study sessions at friends’ apartments and asynchronous classes turned into saving a seat for your friend before a lecture. Even though my current relationships have illuminated a bit of what COVID-19 stole from my college experience, I think it’s made the minimal “normal” time I’ve had at Hopkins all the more special. 

As I approach graduation, I can’t help but scroll through some of the messages my friends and I exchanged at the beginning of our relationships. I certainly did not know that any of these exchanges would turn into nostalgic memories, but maybe that’s the point of looking back. It’s humbling to see how much can start with something so little.

The roommates

Back in December 2020, I was stir-crazy from experiencing my virtual freshman fall from Austin when I got an email that my housing assignment had come in for that spring! Within minutes, Allison tracked me down by my Instagram and reached out. By the end of the day, we had a group chat for the entire suite: Asha, Dinaka, Allison and me. 

In our first few weeks of living together, we were quarantined together along with the rest of Scott-Bates Commons after a COVID-19 outbreak. That weekend, we celebrated Dinaka’s 19th birthday with a pint of ice cream and a Netflix night. 

Throughout the spring, the four of us became a quarantine pod of sorts, hanging out in the living room most days and going on adventures on the few days we had off. In sophomore year, we moved together to Homewood Apartments, and, now, we live off campus together. I’m so grateful to these ladies for being a central point of my college experience. I already miss texts from Allison asking if we want to get take-out, Dinaka’s synopses of her favorite television shows and Asha’s hot takes on the latest movies. 


Caitlin actually sent me this message the same weekend my roommates and I were in quarantine. Regrettably, this delayed our ability to actually hang out until the summer months. I got to recognize Caitlin’s face better from seeing her Zoom screen during virtual Rosary nights hosted by the Catholic Community at Hopkins. During fall 2021, we both ended up working at the same clinic through Hopkins Community Connection. Now that we finally had a chance to engage in spontaneous conversation, I felt like I could get to know her better.

Although I was initially hesitant to accept Caitlin’s invitations to hang out after nearly two years of lockdown, I’m super grateful for how Caitlin never stopped asking. By that November, I was baking cupcakes in her apartment. By the summer, she was the first person I texted after finishing my Medical College Admission Test to ask if we could commiserate over ice cream. 

Not only is Caitlin such a kind and driven friend, but she also introduced me to so many other girls — Annie, Cassie and others — who have inspired me throughout my time at Hopkins. 


In freshman spring, I joined a sorority in hope of having a slightly more normal college experience. Natalie had reached out to me to set up a “girl date” to see if we would be a good match as big and little. Even though our girl date ended in a torrential rainstorm and being turned away from Wicked Sisters, which was at a reduced capacity during COVID-19, I’m so glad we still ended up being paired together. 

When I had to drop my sorority during that fall, I was nervous that it would affect my relationship with Natalie. However, I found that we somehow still ended up spending lots of time together. We supported each other through stressful Molecular and Cellular Biology upper-level courses. Natalie continued to give me college advice as any big should while I saved her a seat every day in Developmental Biology — my first and last in-person lecture class at Hopkins. 

I actually didn’t realize that Natalie and Caitlin even knew each other until long after I had met the two of them. I guess that’s the nature of meeting virtually when it’s harder to simply “run into” people. However, once I knew, I felt so grateful to have a connected community of friends for corn maze days and Galentine’s nights! 

The News-Letter

On a more professional note, it’s scary to look back and think I almost didn’t join The News-Letter. I was in Austin that fall, and the idea of joining a virtual club scared me a little bit. Luckily, Bayleigh and Trisha, the Science and Technology (SciTech) editors at the time, sent me one more email just in case I was still interested. Slowly, I began looking forward to my projects with The News-Letter more than most parts of my week. My interviews with scientists over Zoom soon turned into my covering in-person events at Hopkins Hospital or visiting a restaurant with a press pass for its grand opening. 

When I became an editor of SciTech, I had no idea I was in for a rollercoaster of emotions. But I also got to see new writers grow into confident editors in the same way I did. I also met some amazing co-editors and chiefs who supported me in my dreams to continue science writing after graduation. When I got a dream internship, my co-editor Zach was the first person I texted. Even though Zach said he’s excited to see what I do, I’m even more excited to see how SciTech continues to grow under his leadership and that of the new editors. 

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