After three quarters of remote learning, UWT faculty and organizations are still finding new ways to keep students involved.
In contrast to the silence of the physical campus, the community of UW Tacoma roars through its virtual club meetings, study sessions, volunteering opportunities and food assistance programs.
Elizabeth Hansen, the Director of the Center for Student Involvement, noted that the center offers students the opportunity to find their place on campus; whether it’s through finding students a club they can call home, or offering leadership opportunities.
“Some clubs have gone a bit dormant but others have been doing well,” Hansen said.
She mentioned clubs, such as the Game Development Club, have remotely offered those with a passion for game design ways to have fun and socialize without being on campus. One of the challenges from the club for its members was to meet in Discord and submit anything that could go in a game. Whether it’s code, concept art or music.
The Dawg Den, which was once filled with students playing games together has also been moved to the virtual space of Discord. With the HuskyGamerz Discord group, students can meet virtually and live stream playing games together.
But Hansen also added that virtual clubs don’t all have to be goofing off and playing games. The Accounting Students Association helps its members gain knowledge on the accounting industry by contacting professionals.
“The Accounting Students Association brought people in from different accounting firms who answered questions for students,” Hansen said.
This shift from in-person to zoom, Discord or other modes of communication has now allowed students, like prospective accountants on campus, to gain opportunities without the need to meet professionals face-to-face.
“Even before COVID we’ve been encouraging clubs to have virtual meetings,” Hansen said.
The use of virtual spaces for club meetings has a few advantages over being exclusively face-to-face. Before, if a club member didn’t have any classes the days the club meetings took place, it would be a hassle to get involved.
“Because so many of our members are commuters it doesn’t make sense to drive for an hour meeting, now it’s like anyone can join in regardless of their class schedule,” Hansen said.
Students that benefit from and rely on study groups may find just the thing they need with the virtual study lounge. The Associated Students of UWT and the Students Activities Board worked together to create a virtual study lounge for more than just studying.
“It wasn’t all just studying,” Hansen said. “They started out with games and then they gave out some prizes. The last hour or so was people just sitting there studying and recreating that feeling of being with other people while they were preparing for finals.”
Students looking to offer a helping hand may find a change in scenery with virtual volunteering. Hansen said a quick and easy way to help would be through websites like freerice.com where students can feed the hungry by answering trivia questions.
Other more complex ways volunteers can assist those who need it is by adding closed captioning to videos for students who are hard of hearing. Students who enjoy driving may also consider volunteering for The Pantry and students who live within 30 miles of the campus can receive delivery.
The Students Activities Board has wasted no time moving a lot of their events online. Slam poetry and bingo nights being two that have worked well and successfully made the transition.
“Every Friday they’ve been doing trivia nights and a few bingos,” Hansen said. “They’ve still been able to mail out prizes to the winners.”
But winning games isn’t the only way to earn prizes. The program Dawg Bonez gives students points for attending events. Those who attend enough can win prizes such as t-shirts and water bottles, but t-shirts and water bottles aren’t the only rewards students can win. Rewards can come through non-tangible forms like new friends.
In another recent development, Hansen said the upcoming Virtual Involvement Fair may face a video game-like makeover.
“For winter quarter, we’re using a program called Gather Town. It’s a video-voice communications system so you can have an avatar just like in a real event,” she said. “When you walk in, it looks like a big meeting space,” said Hansen. “It just makes it a little more fun; it’s like a game.”
With this, students will be able to create their own avatars and walk around in a virtual space where they can mingle with officers of clubs and organizations. Hansen is optimistic that the new virtual involvement fair will mimic the bustle of face-to-face involvement fairs of the past.
“If [your avatar] is far away from someone in the room, you won’t be able to hear them until you get closer and closer just like in real life,” she said.
She also pointed out that each registered organization will have its officers in their respective areas. The green area may consist of the Black Students Union for example and the red area may be for the Accounting Students Association. Hansen added that finding creative ways to mimic face-to-face events keeps things more interesting for everybody.
Moreover, Hansen wants students to know that COVID doesn’t have to spoil your college experience.
“The biggest things we want people to know are that programs are still happening,” she said. “Yes, they look different, but we’re here to support students. Any questions they may have, students are welcome to come to us, most offices have online chats and everyone is doing their best to be as accessible as possible.”
Hansen said the virtual door is open for anyone who has suggestions or ideas for programs that they think could help other students.
“It’s already hard to be a new student, but even harder now,” Hansen said. “I can’t wait for us to be back, but in the mean-time, we want to make the best of everything we have. We want someone to be involved. If there’s something students want to see on campus, maybe a club you want to see you can contact us and we’ll do the best we can to make it happen.”