When Penn State University made the decision to move to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, students, faculty and staff faced a variety of challenge in transitioning to all-online modes of communication. Shortly thereafter, a second challenge arose: How to facilitate the same transition for student programming and how to foster that same sense of community and engagement with students scattered far and wide?
The Penn State Berks Office of Campus Life team rose to the challenge, and immediately set to work creating an impressive calendar of virtual programming designed to encourage the continued participation of Berks students, even while they are away from campus.
“While I miss seeing these amazing students and wish we were currently on campus, I look forward to offering a variety of virtual programs and activities for them to occupy their time outside of the classroom,” stated Felicia Nelson, student activities coordinator and campus activities board (CAB) adviser.
The virtual programming has helped students with the transition to remote learning and being away from campus. “I feel connected to campus because I Zoom with all my friends and then have meetings with my professors on Zoom,” said Becca Zeiner, a sophomore Rehabilitation and Human Services major from Leesport, Pa. “The campus activities board has a lot going on social media, which is a nice way to see campus a bit and have some fun.”
In response to the governor’s statewide stay-at-home order concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn State has committed to remote learning through the end of the semester. With students off campus and distancing from one another, the schedule of programming for the spring semester had to go back to the drawing board.
“This virtual programming is different because we are trying to find ways to offer activities for students to do during their leisure time,” explained Nelson. “Normally our events require in- person communication and interaction; there is no true substitute for this online. But we are doing our best to be creative! Currently, CAB is collaborating with residence life on an up cycling crafting series called “Trash to Treasure Thursday” where students can access YouTube videos. CAB is also planning a Tik Tok Competition during Virtual Spirit Week where students can submit videos incorporating a roaring ’20s song.”
The experience of transitioning to remote learning has been difficult for students in some ways, but the shift to virtual programming has created even more opportunities than usual for students to have their voices heard as the programs are developed. “We are constantly taking suggestions from students” said Nelson.
CAB has announced a variety of virtual programs, some based on social media and others utilizing video conferencing.
On social media, CAB is sponsoring several online contests. Students can identify a photo of a random location on campus for the “Common Hour Challenge” every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Students are invited to submit photos of their furry friends for the “Paw-Parazzi Unleashed Photo Challenge” on Instagram. CAB is also requesting recipe submissions for a collaborative cookbook that they are putting together.
Residence Life and Student Life have teamed up for “Tune in Tuesday” and “Trash to Treasure Thursday,” both of which are video-based programs designed to encourage new, creative projects. Other programs, such as the Zoo Lover’s Day, are designed to let the students follow along on social media adventures. Zoo Lover’s Day lets the students “visit” zoos across the country from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
The Senior Activities Board has jumped in to create a “Wayback Wednesday Kahoot Trivia Night,” and every Friday night Berks students can join their friends in a live, virtual concert.
Other campus departments have also developed online programs, like the Health and Wellness Center’s “Wellness Wednesday” which features tips on staying healthy during the pandemic.
On April 8, the University announced a program that will run from April 9-12 at 7 p.m. titled “Penn State Presents: A Virtual Performing Arts Celebration,” consisting of live, 15-minute vignettes by students and alumni from Penn State’s School of Theatre and School of Music.
Nelson adds that Penn State Berks Campus Life is interested in hearing from the students. “If students have any ideas or suggestions for programs they would like us to incorporate, they are more than welcome to contact me by email at [email protected], or check This Week at Berks for the upcoming CAB meeting.”