Student Activities In A Digital World
April 16, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Emily Binetti
Since announcing the move to remote learning last month, Sam Houston State University faculty have adapted all courses to new formats within an incredibly short timeframe. Likewise, many staff including those in the Department of Student Activities have taken a similar approach.
According to Brandon Cooper, director of Student Activities, the effort has required what is typically a very events-focused department to think differently about how they connect and serve students.
“It has been somewhat challenging to move most of our face-to-face programming to online, but honestly, challenging in a good way,” Cooper said. “First and foremost, our top concern is always with our student Bearkats. To maintain meaningful engagement, we’ve had to ‘step out of the box’ with how we do this from a distance.”
Some of the new initiatives launched by Student Activities include:
The Virtual Front Desk - created to foster a sense of Bearkat community and enable students to access, and interact with the department. Members of Program Council and Diversity Council student boards are ready and waiting to connect with students who contact the virtual front desk. This resource provides information on upcoming (virtual) events, department programming, or simply a way to connect with fellow Bearkats – something needed now more than ever.
“This time of isolation can be lonely and disconnecting for students, and the Student Activities staff want to do everything we absolutely can to provide students with as much normalcy as possible. Our goal during this difficult time is to make students feel like they never left campus,” Rachel Valle, associate director of Student Activities, said.
The department’s new Virtual Engagement & Activities webpage offers a variety of fun digital options for students to connect with others and provides an entertaining diversion from current news headlines. Students can host their own Netflix viewing party, take a virtual trip to England or on an African Safari, or explore masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum of Art – all from their home.
Enhanced social media content is another area where Student Activities has embraced new efforts. From fun videos on how to stay active at home and updates on campus changes, to a Q&A with President Hoyt and streaming annual events like the Sammy’s, Student Activities has created an entire season of fun social media content to maintain connectivity.
According to Jordan Chang, assistant director for the Center for Diversity & Intercultural Affairs, the quick transition to digital engagement required plenty of staff and creativity.
“Shortly after the announcement of the transition to remote learning, we recognized that during these uncertain times, students are quickly looking for some sort of normalcy. As a result, we discussed ways to still keep the majority of our programming, however transitioning them into a virtual platform where students are still able to participate and be engaged in the conversations, as they normally would at our on-campus events,” Chang said.
In just a few weeks of launching these efforts, the results have been very positive and have expanded their audiences in new ways.
“The responses to our enhanced social media content has been great. We try to focus the majority of our content in engaging pieces so students still feel a part of the SHSU fabric.” Chang said. “We have also noticed more diverse student participation in some of our social media content (Instagram Live Discussions, for example). We now have students participating virtually that we would not necessarily have at our on-campus events.”
Moving forward, Cooper and his team are learning from the needs of the moment and through it all, finding new ways to expand on their mission.
“We will be able to take what we’ve learned from being a part of the Student Affair’s team during this challenging time, and weave those best practices into our regular programming. In the end, it will make us even better at what we do,” Cooper said.
For more information on the department’s upcoming online programming, view the Student Activities online calendar.
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