Involvement and engagement in the community can be important parts of a student’s college experience, and without knowing how the fall semester will look, the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE) and student organizations have been preparing for possible remote scenarios to keep providing these experiences while dealing with COVID-19 restrictions.
Director of the CLCE Mike Severy said he has been discussing ways to continue the traditional programming pieces, including civic engagement, cocurricular leadership activities and student organizations.
“We’re probably talking about three different delivery methods: face-to-face but socially distanced, partially face-to-face and socially distanced and also simultaneously online, and then third, completely online,” Severy said.
The CLCE is expecting to deliver the same content such as the Lunchtime Leadership series which is part of the leadership training and education program provided by the department. Over lunch, students can discuss personal stories and their journey in helping the community with their peers and leaders within the Tampa Bay area.
The CLCE also will focus more on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and on educating students about systemic racism issues as part of their civic engagement and service programs.
While events like Stampede of Service will occur less frequently, the CLCE is still planning programs on national service days, including 9/11 and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“We will continue to do national days of service with a breadth of opportunities for students, to the degree that our community partners can maintain social distancing and meet USF standards for health and safety of our students. And if they can’t, they will likely be closed,” Severy said. “If they’re open and they can’t support the health and safety of our students, then we won’t direct our students to those sites.”
However, Severy said other service programs like Bull Service Breaks will be compromised due to the pandemic.
“The one program that probably has a degree of vulnerability will be our Bull Service Breaks,” Severy said. “Right now there’s a travel restriction by the university so we can’t do that. So we will continue to prepare for full service breaks in our traditional way, but we fully anticipate that we may not be able to deliver on that experience over spring break.”
Student organizations have also been preparing for the fall semester and for the different scenarios it might present. The plan “Resuming University Operations Amid a Global Pandemic” approved on June 23 by the Board of Governors (BOG) included some guidelines on how to continue their operations in light of COVID-19.
“All student organizations, fraternities and sororities and sports clubs will need to submit plans for how they will share responsibility for maintaining a healthy campus community by abiding by USF health and safety guidelines in events and programs,” the plan stated. “A committee will review and approve these plans before they can begin functioning in a face-to-face format.”
Soon after the BOG approved USF’s reopening plan, some student organizations started drafting plans for the resumption of their activities in the fall semester.
The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) hopes it will be able to host its events through different delivery methods, including in-person events that abide by the new university guidelines.
“Some things we have in mind is to go to and from face-to-face events to virtual events. If we can do an event online and it will have a good turnout, then we will do it,” said Andrea Lopez, the president of SHPE.
“If we do have face-to-face events, we will be making sure people don’t sit next to each other and we will be telling our members to be aware that that’s a thing and that they should be careful.”
Other organizations such as HEXA Consulting, a student-led organization that offers free consulting services to businesses, are preparing to fully work remotely over the fall semester given that most of its members are international students who may not be able to come back to campus.
“We have been trying to think about how we are going to engage our students, how we are going to recruit people to come in and how we are going to keep them really engaged, because everything’s going to be online,” said Isabella Marques, president of HEXA Consulting.
Amid the uncertainties presented by COVID-19, presidents of student organizations are concerned about recruiting new members in the upcoming semesters.
“Doing things in person is better in every way,” Marques said. “If we are for example at Bull Market, giving out T-shirts and everything and we are talking about HEXA, people are going to be like ‘Oh that’s cool. These people are cool. Let’s sign up to do it.’ Now that we’re doing it online, nobody knows what we are as an organization.
“Maybe they are going to go to BullSync and try to find some new organizations but who knows. So that factor of just being able to connect to students personally, there isn’t any.”
Student organizations are also concerned about attendance of members at their events due to the limitations in closed spaces as well as the lack of engagement from students in online gatherings.
“It will definitely impact the amount of people that we would get and it will definitely decrease the amount of attendance that we get, especially if it’s face-to-face just because people don’t feel comfortable going,” said Lopez. “Maybe we don’t have enough space, or maybe we limit the amount of people going.”
Severy said the CLCE has been communicating with student organizations to support them through these uncertain times.
“We have provided a variety of different training opportunities hosted by our office on how to run a meeting remotely, how to host events remotely and how to continue to stay engaged with your student organizations and continue to manage the work of those student organizations,” Severy said. “So that communication about those training pieces has been pushed out to the primary contacts, president and treasurers of the student organizations.”
The CLCE is also planning to help incoming students approach student organizations that align with their interests and goals, and to help them in the process. If in-person events are allowed in the fall semester, Severy said the CLCE is thinking about alternatives and more focused student organization fairs to reduce the number of people.
“We may run more targeted involvement fairs, if we can get to a face-to-face piece, we need to look at what the Marshall Student Center is capable of helping us manage,” said Severy. “Or we may do an online remote fair.”
For now, student organizations are relying on word of mouth and marketing on social media platforms to recruit new students.
“We are hoping to do good marketing, trying to get ideas of what students want from us so we can put it specifically on flyers or posts and things like that,” said Marques.
They are also hoping students will keep reaching out to them for help to continue with their success as student organizations.
“I think the members will have to seek us out more individually rather than us being there for them like we always have been,” said Lopez.