Chasing the 2024 solar eclipse means dorm life for some New York spectators (including me)

A girl poses inside a dorm room at SUNY Potsdam in New York.
The author's daughter Zadie gets a taste of dorm life for solar eclipse chasers at SUNY Potsdam in New York for the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. (Image credit: Future/ Malik)

POTSDAM, New York — I really thought I left dorm life behind 20 years ago. But just when I thought I was out, a total solar eclipse pulled me back in.

For the last few days, my 15-year-old daughter Zadie and I have been living in an unused part of Knowles Hall North, a dormitory here at the State University of New York Potsdam, to witness a celestial spectacle: the 2024 total solar eclipse on April 8. For a mere $60 a night (my original hotel was $370 a night), we've dozed in sleeping bags on empty extra-long twin beds (we opted to skip bringing our own sheets and blankets) in order to catch a few brief minutes of totality as the moon blocks the sun on April 8. 

The rooms are a bit hot. We share communal bathrooms. And we're not alone. 

In all, SUNY Potsdam opened some 50 or so unused dorm rooms, each with two beds, to university alumni (and folks like me who happened to find the link online) willing to revisit their college days and trade the comfort of a hotel for the proximity to SUNY Potsdam, which is hosting a wide array of educational eclipse-themed activities to observe the event. The university's email alone was enough to catch the eye of Colleen Parriott, a SUNY Potsdam Class of '82 alum from Sparta, New Jersey, who along with her husband Don dropped plans a year in the making to watch the eclipse from the big city of Rochester and instead return to Potsdam, a village of 15,000 people. 

"We heard that Rochester was going to become a zoo, and we got something from Potsdam saying that they were going to open the dorms, and that they were going to have sort of a festival," Colleen Parriott, 64, told me while playing cards in a communal space in the dorm, adding that the educational activities were what caught her eye. "And that was attractive to us, because we are total nerds." 

Related: 10 things you probably didn't know about the solar eclipse 2024

(Image credit: Future/ Malik)

In fact, Knowles Hall North, where we're staying, is the exact same dorm Parriott lived in as an undergrad while at SUNY Potsdam. While it looks the same, some things are different. 

"I'm on the first floor now," Parriott said. "When I was here, first floor was boys and the second floor was girls, except for the end, that was boys, because usually they separated the halls."

Sarah Huggins, SUNY Potsdam Class of '81, said her original dorm of Knowles Hall West isn't far from here, but the rooms do feel a bit different than she recalls as an undergraduate. 

"Over the years, it does seem to be a lot more challenging," said Huggins, 65, a retired former Department of Defense official who traveled from Argyle, New York — a 3-hour trip —  for the eclipse. "But it's all part of the experience."

It was that college experience that also drew my eye to SUNY Potsdam. After my friends Cynthia and Ethan Wheeler tipped me off to the Potsdam event, it seemed like a great chance to see an epic solar eclipse on a budget, while also exposing my teenage daughter to what life on a college campus might be like. 

After two nights in the dorms, she seems unfazed. 

"I think it's cool to see what it's like to be a college student," Zadie told me over lasagna dinner the night before the eclipse. "But like, if I was going to be here for a full semester, I probably would have brought sheets." Tomorrow, we'll get a tour of the SUNY Potsdam campus, and hopefully find out what the school's Anthropology Department means by "eclipse-themed cooking" in one of the day's activities. 

An artist's illustration of the clock tower of the State University of Potsdam in New York under the 2024 total solar eclipse.  (Image credit: SUNY Potsdam)

My friend Ethan DID bring sheets and blankets for himself and his own daughter Catalina who, like Zadie, is a freshman in high school. But the rooms are still a bit hot. 

"Being an alum of the SUNY system [he went to SUNY Morrisville, Class of '96] it was really something coming back in," Ethan told me at the same dinner. "I was really grateful that they offered us the opportunity to be able to stay, even if it was limited rooms. It was pretty cool to have the experience, and it made it that much more of an adventure for us."

His daughter Catalina may have summed it up best. 

"I guess it made me more excited to go to college, instead of, like, dreading growing up," Catalina said. "The dorms were a lot nicer than I had expected. I feel like it would be nice to have a bathroom, you know, but I like the lighting and like a large window. And like, I don't know. I feel like it'd be fun. It's like a sleepover every day, to have a roommate."

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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.