Student activities thrive during pandemic

Publication Date

Sometimes, total longshots pan out. Even (or maybe especially) in a pandemic.

That’s what happened with singer-songwriter and social media influencer Jason Derulo.

“An agent told us not to pursue it because there was no chance it could happen – we wouldn’t be able to afford bringing him to campus,” said Hayley Coakley ’21, president of U Program and Concert Club.

But then COVID-19 happened. Everything went virtual spring term. And an event with the Tik Tok star was suddenly within reach.

Poster of the Dutchmen Splash

“When we got the news that Jason confirmed for a price we could afford, I actually fell down the stairs,” Coakley said, laughing. “To be able to have someone that is so relevant really hit home with students – many of us were jamming out to his songs in middle school.”

“A lot of people told me it was the highlight of their spring term,” she added of the Zoom session with Derulo, which drew more than 1,000 people to their computer screens.

Other popular virtual events have featured actor/writer Ben Schwarz ’03, rock climber Alex Honnold and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actor Stephanie Beatriz.

Coakley and the staff in the Student Activities office credit their success to all the practice they got earlier this year.

“We have an advantage in our trimester system,” said Matt Milless, assistant dean of students. “We got lots of experience in the spring and have really been able to hit the ground running this fall when other schools are still trying to figure things out.”

“Our clubs and organizations have also really learned to leverage the technology we have,” added Lauren Dougherty, director of Student Activities. “The Society of Women Engineers was able to connect to high-level GE leaders and talk on Zoom with these women about their journeys in the field. Before, they would have just watched a TED Talk, but the pandemic has made everyone more open to using technology to actually connect.”

Union students have also been more dedicated to collaborating and connecting with each other. This term, more than 70 clubs and organizations are working with the Student Activities office and with each other to make great events happen.

And they’re doing so with safety as a top priority.

“We want to be together and we want our college experience. That means following the guidelines,” Coakley said. “All of us students are working so hard to put things together for one another in ways that are engaging and safe.”

To that end, most events have been virtual, though smaller in-person activities of 25 or fewer individuals have started. Some club sports are beginning to practice (doing supervised strength training and conditioning together) and an in-person Uno tournament is in the works.

Whatever the format, Coakley and her peers plan to keep the momentum going.

Halloween weekend there will be a murder-mystery event led by professional actors. Everyone will work together on Zoom to figure out who committed the crime.

Then in November to close the term, students are bringing back a painting activity that was a big hit in May. Participants will be mailed everything they need to follow along on Zoom as a professional artist teaches them how to complete a piece. In the spring, it was the Nott Memorial on canvas. Nearly 100 people attended that event.

“There’s this large focus on what we’re able to do, rather than what we’re not able to provide,” Coakley said. “We’re realizing there’s so much we can adapt to.”

For all the latest student events, follow Student Activities on Instagram @UnionStuAct or click here. Check out fun and informative Student Activities videos here.