Last minute final exam changes, blizzard force UW students to hustle home for holidays

MADISON, Wis. — Even though the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be open through Friday as usual, many professors adjusted or canceled their exams so students could safely travel ahead of the winter storm. But it still resulted in a scramble to find last-minute flights or buses.

“I am trying to get out!” said freshman Matthew Shapiro, escaping the worst of winter for his sunny home in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

He wasn’t the only one. The Coach bus stop on Dayton and Lake streets was filled with students, suitcases in tow, hustling home for the holidays Tuesday afternoon.

“My professor was very good at being accommodating, he moved the final online,” said Joey Babson, a sophomore heading to O’Hare for a flight home to Boston. “It’s been a little bit of a hassle but I was able to find a flight pretty easily.”

Freshman Hannah Angsten had no idea what she was in for when she got the message from her professor.

“When he canceled my final, I was like yeah, I should leave immediately pretty much,” she said.

“This is my first time obviously living in the Midwest so I wasn’t really aware of it, but my dad is from here so he was kind of like checking up and he told me like yesterday and I was a little worried,” she added.

Like many other students, that was the out she needed to escape delayed or canceled flights, or road travel that could prove dangerous later in the week.

“I didn’t want to stay and risk getting stuck in Chicago or anything,” Angsten said.

But not every student got that early Christmas present.

“I know some who might be trapped here until Christmas,” Shapiro said.

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In a statement to News 3 Now Tuesday, campus officials said “it’s not possible for UW to reschedule or change the Thursday exam period to accommodate travel issues on Friday or beyond,” but students should contact professors directly with concerns.

At the time Shapiro was boarding the bus, his friend Penny Berens and her friends Olivia Smith and Jen Albero still had finals planned for Wednesday.

They panicked when they couldn’t get in touch with their instructor to change it.

“We were really worried, we were freaking out,” they said in a zoom interview with News 3 Now Tuesday night.

While studying late Monday into Tuesday, they made a TikTok video complaining about being stranded due to finals.

“When we made that TikTok it was because our professor hadn’t responded yet, so [Olivia] was going to just skip her exam, take a 0, so she could get a flight home,” Berens said.

The video blew up with hundreds of other students sharing the same problem.

“A lot of students around us on our floor and stuff are freaking out about their Thursday flights that they can get canceled,” Berens said.

Their professor eventually responded and made accommodations, but the three still have to take a long 2 a.m. bus ride.

That’s longer for Minnesota-bound Berens. “I couldn’t get a direct bus because there was just none left. So makes a ton of stops so it’s like a six-and-a-half-hour drive.”

Still, they don’t fault the university for Mother Nature’s wrench being thrown into their plans.

“It’s going to be a long winter travel day but we’re really lucky we figured it out,” Smith said. “And it’ll be worth it after pulling an all-nighter that we’re home. But it’s definitely not ideal.”

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