With coronavirus cases on the rise across the country and with in-person instruction at IUP suspended since mid-March, most students have been working from home—miles away from campus and miles away from each other. Still, many have stayed connected through student organizations and found creative ways to continue their business—albeit not business as usual. Here is a sampling:
In its time away from campus, Student Government has become skilled at holding regular meetings through Zoom technology and at listening and responding to students’ concerns through social media.
SGA President Alex Fefolt said the group’s greatest accomplishment this spring was contributing to the University Senate’s approval of the temporary change to the pass-fail policy.
In addition to having representation on the Senate’s Academic Affairs Committee, SGA conducted a survey of students on Twitter, asking if they would prefer pass-fail or letter grading for the spring semester. Of the 2,200 respondents, 59 percent selected pass-fail, and 41 percent indicated letter grading.
“But, their comments about how it impacted them were really informative,” Fefolt said.
SGA also recently completed its election process for 2020–21. Typically held in person, debates were conducted in mid-April via Zoom and aired on Facebook Live, and students cast their votes, as usual, through the Crimson Connect website. Fefolt, along with Jessica Poley, vice president, and August Bolinger, chief justice, took office earlier this week.
Although its methods may have changed, SGA continues its work with administrators, deans, faculty members, and the Student Cooperative Association to ensure that students are well represented, Fefolt said.
“We’re still here for students,” he said. “They can reach out to us on any issue by email at SGAfirstname.lastname@example.org or through social media.”
The role of the IUP Ambassadors is to connect alumni, current and prospective students, faculty and staff members, and donors. So, when key events like the Distinguished Alumni Awards and Philanthropy Day were postponed to fall and various admissions events were moved online, the group had to find different ways of engaging its audiences and planning for next school year.
Part of that effort was bringing back the Breeze, a newsletter written by current Ambassadors for past members and shared on a private Facebook group. The Ambassadors also held virtual events such as trivia nights, Netflix watch parties, and card games for members.
“We know it’s a tough time for everyone, so we are trying to keep up the morale of the organization and of anyone who is involved with us,” Mikayla Dokos, the group’s president, said.
One of the highlights from the remote half of the semester were interviews of potential new members conducted through Zoom.
“Even through technical difficulties, all participants did a great job overcoming the unconventional method of interviewing,” Vice President Katie Haux said.
After the interviews, the IUP Ambassadors mailed each new member a welcome gift—a stuffed “Baby Norm” with a personalized note. But, they decided new-member training and the spring retreat would be more effective conducted in person next fall.
Last week, the group held its annual Senior Send-off via Zoom. The program featured advice and favorite memories from the 19 graduating seniors, as well as fond memories of those seniors from the general membership. In a spinoff of yearbook superlatives, winners were announced in categories such as Most Likely to Have an IUP Building Named for Them, Future Trustee, and Future Member of the Eberly Hall of Distinction. The group’s advisor, Nicole Bukosky, said she called it quits at 11:30 p.m.—three-and-a-half hours into the program—but the Ambassadors were still going strong.
“Our seniors have done so much to keep this organization strong, and they deserved a send-off as fantastic as they are,” Dokos said.
Each semester, the Student Activity Committee, also known as STATIC, aims to bring the IUP community together through cultural, recreational, social, and educational events. So, come mid-March, when in-person classes were suspended for the rest of the semester, STATIC was suddenly back at square one, with a full slate of canceled events.
That didn’t last, however, as the executive board quickly pivoted and put together a packed lineup of virtual events for April. The group kicked off the month with an NBA e-sports tournament, mixed in some Netflix watch parties, and planned a series of challenges—trick shots, dance, and cooking—for the video app TikTok. In partnership with the Residence Hall Association, STATIC also encouraged students to show off their rooms, which could later be viewed in an “IUP Cribz” Facebook watch party. The group even got moms and dads involved with “Family Quarantined Feud,” held via Zoom this week.
These events are opportunities for students to connect from home and have some interaction with other students in a setting other than virtual classes,” STATIC executive chair Issac Lowe said.
According to the group’s advisor, Zach Clark, the semester’s most popular events have been the free virtual classes offered by IUP Group Fitness on Instagram.
While the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues, STATIC has been rising to the challenge, working on three event lineups for the fall, depending on whether that semester turns out to be normal and in person, completely virtual, or somewhere in between.
IUP’s chapter of Delta Omicron, an international professional music fraternity, is dedicated to creating and fostering fellowship through music. With students away from campus, the music may be lacking, but fellowship through weekly Zoom meetings
“It’s not as good as seeing each other face-to-face, but it is definitely better than not seeing each other at all,” Chamari Willis, chapter president, said.
The chapter’s major events are being moved to the fall, though that creates challenges for Willis and others who expect to graduate in May.
“Our second vice president is trying to set up a date that works for everyone,” she said. “Pledges will be initiated during that time, so they can have the gratification of all of their hard work paying off. Our first vice president is in constant communication
with them to make sure they don’t lose hope on becoming initiated members.”
Meantime, the chapter is planning a virtual musicale and has been finding fun ways to stay engaged, such as the #TakeoverTuesday its members conduct on Instagram.
Willis said she understands the loss and frustration many students are feeling this semester.
“You just have to find something that makes you feel good and gives you positive thoughts toward the future,” she said. “This organization is my getaway every week, and I am blessed to have them.”
Sisterhood, empowerment, and community remain at the heart of Alpha Sigma Tau’s operations this spring. Although its members miss studying together in the library, meeting for lunch, and talking face-to-face, the sorority has pushed forward remotely, conducting regular chapter and executive board meetings and new-member education through Zoom and communicating daily through apps such as GroupMe and Snapchat.
“Despite the circumstances, we are still striving to move forward and keep things as normal as possible,” President Casey McCardell said.
Being connected remotely also required members to get creative with their “Big-Little reveals”—announcements of the pairing of a sorority mentor, or Big, with a new member, or Little. Members used TikTok, Instagram, video chats, and photos altered through Photoshop to make the experience special, McCardell said.
She shared an example: “One video started with the great-great-great-grandbig introducing herself and then continuing down the family line. After it went through the four grandbigs, the video captured the Big welcoming the Little to the family.”
Although her sorority has stayed active online, McCardell said there’s no replacement for time spent together, in person.
“Alpha Sigma Tau is truly one big family here at IUP,” she said. “Even though we are all missing our IUP home, the best part is knowing that we have such an amazing place to come back to.”
When campus activities were moved online, the Student Association of Nutrition and Dietetics had to cancel some of its big plans for National Nutrition Month in March, including its annual Crockpot Cookoff (last year’s event raised $400 for the IUP Food Pantry) and lectures by Pittsburgh-based dietitian Haley Goodrich, who was to discuss how to have a healthy relationship with food, among other topics.
For an organization that relies on in-person engagement with the campus and Indiana communities, the need for social distancing and other safety precautions was an absolute curveball.
“It was challenging to figure out how to move forward,” SAND President Allie Duttry said.
Minus its major events, the organization continued with day-to-day business, such as executive board elections, signups for committee chair and cochair positions, and the awarding of certificates of membership, though the criteria had to be changed.
Typically, near the close of each semester, the group holds a banquet at Indiana’s Hilton Garden Inn to reflect on its accomplishments and recognize outstanding members. Last week, the members did exactly that—although they gathered via Zoom and brought along meals of their choosing.
“I’ve loved every second of being involved with SAND,” Duttry said. “In my current position, I’ve been able to form so many bonds with peers and faculty members in my department that I want to continue.”