The disappointing news came in an email as Virginia Military Institute Cadet William Taylor neared the end of spring break at his mother’s home in rural Pennsylvania.Classes at VMI closed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak and courses would have to resume online. Taylor suddenly faced a difficult dilemma: he had no internet access to take his college classes.At the family’s four-acre farm in the small town of Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, WiFi and internet service can be spotty at best. The only reliable internet service in town, the library, had also closed due to the pandemic. Cell phone service didn’t work inside their house either.The Army cadet didn’t have adequate means to connect his laptop to internet so he could submit and access necessary class files. He couldn’t stream online video courses on Zoom.“I thought this could be a problem,” said Taylor, 18, who hopes to become an Army chaplain after commissioning. “We live in such a remote area that we couldn’t get internet.”His choice: go outdoors to resume his studies.Taylor retrieved the orange tent he kept in the trunk of his car and knew that he could use his cell phone’s internet hot spot to connect his laptop to the internet. Like many college students across the country, the sophomore had to adapt to a changing reality most undergraduates must face during the nationwide lockdown: college at home and away from campus.Except Taylor’s classroom would be in a tent, sitting in the middle of his family’s lawn with the farm as a backdrop.He ran two extension cords cross the lawn that he wired to a power strip connected to his laptop. He placed his laptop and textbook on a wooden desk inside the tent. There on the family lawn, he has attended online courses for more than a month in a makeshift classroom.Once, while he hosted an online bible study for fellow cadets, a few chickens wandered into his tent. He has weathered through snow flurries and cold winds. And then another day, rainwater flooded the tent.“It isn’t as waterproof as I thought,” Taylor said.The wooden desk, chair and space heater he placed inside had to go. Instead Taylor replaced them with a black suitcase as a desk and a cushion as a chair so that he could easily pick up and leave.He spends six to eight hours daily inside the tent, doing homework and taking online classes. He returns to the house he shares with his mother and four siblings for meals.Taylor’s field classroom took some time to get used to, he said, but he has grown accustomed to the makeshift study space.“Cadet Taylor’s solution to set up a remote learning environment demonstrates two critical attributes: a willingness to find novel solutions to common problems, and the determination to effect the solution despite the inevitable setbacks,” said Lt. Col. Spencer Bakich, associate professor of International Studies at VMI. “Leadership requires both in equal measure and Cadet Taylor displayed them admirably.”Taylor, in his second year at VMI, has enrolled in 14.5 credit hours this spring and he currently takes Nutrition, Arabic, Basic Swimming, Army ROTC, National Security and Research Methods.“(Studying in a tent) has made me understand more of how to learn in different environments and learn how to be able to stay focused on school even when other things around you are kind of strange,” Taylor said.Most VMI instructors don’t offer courses online and require classroom attendance in normal conditions. Taylor admitted learning inside the tent for the past month has been a challenge and said that he normally thrives learning in a group environment.At VMI, students have camaraderie and cohesion, similar to an Army unit. Cadets grow close through academic achievement, Taylor said. Taylor applied for enrollment to the school to challenge himself with its rigid military discipline and to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Brody, a 2019 VMI grad and current Marine Corps second lieutenant.“I fully expect Cadet Taylor to make a seamless transition to his career due in large part to his willingness to roll with the punches,” said Bakich who teaches Taylor’s National Security course. “Not once did mention or show any sign of frustration.”When asked what he misses most about campus life, Taylor said he misses his interactions with fellow students. He served as part of the cadre that helped train the “rats” or freshman students last semester and he also runs a Christian ministry group for cadets.Some of Taylor’s friends reside on the West Coast and must wake at 5 a.m. Pacific time for an 8 a.m. conference call.Much of the military aspect of campus life cannot be implemented in distance learning. However students must still adhere to deadlines for submitting classwork and must also dress professionally when attending video teleconferences. Taylor regularly does physical training exercises and occasionally goes for runs.“I’d say it’s still pretty strict,” Taylor said.While he stays focused on finishing the spring semester of his sophomore year, his return to campus remains in limbo. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam extended the stay-at-home order in the state through May 15. The school informed Taylor that his study abroad trip to Morocco this summer would be rescheduled and moved to VMI’s Lexington City, Virginia campus in July.Now Taylor has alternated between being outside and doing more classwork indoors by downloading course materials to his laptop. He has also tried putting his phone outside and using the hotspot to his laptop indoors when there is inclement weather. In the afternoons, he hosts virtual bible studies and tends to the family’s potato patch and feeds sheep and goats.The difficulties haven’t fazed Taylor.Studying outside “has been a challenge, but it’s not impossible,” he said.Related linksU.S. Army COVID-19 SoldiersArmy News ServiceArmy News Service archivesFollow Joe Lacdan on Twitter