Departmental organizations adjust to campus culture

Abigail Larson

As they slip into steady routines, departmental organizations around campus work to draw students into their groups and try even harder to keep them there. With COVID-19 looming overhead, many groups are finding challenges in running a club and adapting to new restrictions.
Many clubs are running into the same problems: low attendance, keeping students engaged and creating real connections through webcams. Others have found these challenges to be new opportunities, reporting higher attendance and an ease of accessibility that allows for more diverse experiences.
In years past, there was little concern for departmental organizations around campus events or fundraising, and in-person meetings and activities allowed for a more personal, genuine experience. Despite the challenges presented by this year, clubs are trying their best to provide those same experiences for students.
David Snowball, professor, and chair of communication studies, spoke about the new communications and multimedia journalism/mass communication group created this year, CommUnity, though he expressed wariness when using the word group to define these gatherings.
“In one level, we’re not trying to start a group, we’re trying to do good,” Snowball said. “We’re not trying to create any more organization or bureaucratic structure than is necessary to see what good we can do.”
Snowball mentioned that there have been difficulties in setting up meetings that are accessible to everyone, including remote learners and those in quarantine, but the bigger challenge was getting students open to the idea of socializing with professors and other students outside of their normal classroom environment.
Other organizations have also run into difficulties with getting members interested, specifically the Geography Club.
The Geography Club is renowned for its field trips to local caves and islands to do research, but now they must find other activities since they can’t go on as many trips.
Sophomore and club member Amy Nicholson mentioned that they have been working on online presentations that explore the large expanse of topics covered in the geography field, in addition to the outdoor gatherings they have had.
Nicholson also noted another challenge for the future: cold weather.
“It’s interesting transitioning to colder weather and figuring out how to do things when we can’t go outside like we normally would,” Nicholson said.
Contrary to the problems of other groups, the Business Club has seen benefits to the online club experience.
With meetings being held online, Vice President Nick Dispensa, sophomore, said that attendance has actually been up. Whether that be a result of good marketing or the ease of joining the meetings from home, Dispensa estimated around 25 members attended the last meeting, compared to the five they would have the previous year.
Another benefit they’re finding through virtual meetings is being able to invite a wider spectrum of guest speakers.
Previously, the Business Club has welcomed guests from the business field, usually Augie alumni, to speak at their meetings and offer insight into the business world from a relatable perspective.
Now, however, those guests are invited to their online meetings, which Dispensa says sometimes comes with technology issues. Yet, it still provides the benefit of having speakers from across the country, who they normally wouldn’t get to hear from.
“I think it’s offered the opportunity to get a more diverse range of alumni,” Dispensa said. “We’re actually having one next week who’s from Colorado, and we would never have that if we were in person.”
Dispensa also expressed his interest in keeping the virtual aspect of the meetings available in the future to continue having speakers that are outside the Quad Cities.
Still, these new opportunities for the Business Club don’t come without their complications.
President and sophomore Megan Crawford discussed the difficulty with keeping people’s interest after being in virtual classrooms all day but noted that the greatest challenge comes from trying to establish real relationships with the members without the face-to-face interaction.
While meetings are online for all organizations, the Business club, like everyone else, continues to search for ways to be able to meet socially distanced in person, and restore some feeling of normalcy and community in club members.