For senior and exercise science major Gabrielle Koehne, staying connected to campus during the pandemic has been a challenge. As a Tommie Ambassador, Koehne had previously enjoyed getting to know new students by giving tours and hosting them for overnight visits. Through conversations with families who came to campus, Koehne felt she was building a sense of community at the university by helping students feel welcome at St. Thomas.
Since the start of the pandemic, Koehne has felt her involvement on campus shift. “It can be hard to stay connected to something that feels like it’s not the same as it used to be,” said Koehne, who is a lifeguard at the university, has been a member of Tommie Ambassadors for the past four years, and is the vice president of Delta Epsilon Sigma (DES).
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many changes throughout the St. Thomas community. With distance learning, and student clubs and organizations unable to meet in person, it can be hard for students to feel as connected to their fellow Tommies as they did prior to the pandemic. With the new online format that clubs and organizations have taken, Koehne has seen some positive outcomes.
“I do think one thing that is kind of nice about having everything over Zoom is I can almost be involved in more things because I don’t have to physically be there. I can join in over a Zoom meeting and get to know a club better, so I think there are some things that I probably wouldn’t have looked into before because it felt like too much of a commitment. But now, because of Zoom, I have the ability to briefly pop in if I want and can leave if it’s not a great fit. It has really helped me to still feel connected to campus.”
While the presence of the pandemic has adjusted the way in which the university learns and comes together as a community, student–led clubs and organizations have found creative and innovative ways to keep members involved. This has inspired students on campus to not only stay engaged with the organizations they had been involved with prior to the pandemic, but also has allowed students to virtually explore new interests.
Student involvement on campus
Noah Becker, a first-year student at the university, has felt the importance of getting involved with different organizations on campus despite the impact of COVID-19.
“I actually got involved in a lot of new things,” Becker said. “I’m involved in Undergraduate Student Government (USG). I’m on our public safety committee, I’m the chair of our tuition transparency committee, and I’m also on the advisory committee. I’m also involved in LEAD Club, mock trial, Pre-Law Society, and badminton club.”
Becker explained that as a first-year student, it was important to immerse himself within the St. Thomas community, despite the new online format. “I know a lot of people who have not taken the opportunity to get involved around campus. But I would say look for more opportunities to try to get involved. It’s a really good way to build relationships and get to know people and have fun and feel like you’re really part of campus.”
Adam Revoir, a junior at the university, echoed Becker’s sentiments of feeling the importance of continuing to explore newfound interests. Revoir, who was heavily involved on campus prior to the start of the pandemic as the executive vice president of USG, explained that despite working remotely he decided to utilize the pandemic as an opportunity to get more involved in USG.
“I have a lot more involvement with committees within student government, so internal committees, as well as external university committees, which is super cool.”
Like Becker, Revoir also saw the pandemic as an opportunity to immerse himself further into the campus community. “I have just recently completed the pledging process for Delta Sigma Pi (DSP). I’m excited about that. It was definitely something that has been on my mind since spring semester of my freshman year, and I was just kind of pushing it back and realized, you know, with COVID-19 it has really opened up my schedule a lot so I’ve been able to fill it in with this.”
Pandemic has impacted students’ schedules
Koehne also noticed her schedule begin to open up as the university shifted online. She sought ways to fill her time with greater involvement in the campus community. “With the pandemic, it was getting really repetitive and kind of boring and I thought ‘I want to switch it up, I really want to have a leadership role on campus.’ Then an opportunity presented itself within DES and I don’t know if I would have done it if I was running around in person all over the place because I don’t know if I would have had enough time. But because of the pandemic, I found that I had a lot more time and decided to take on the role of vice president within the organization.”
Deja Copeland, a senior with a major in international studies, is the president of the Black Empowerment Student Alliance (BESA), a member of the African Nations Students Association (ANSA), the Globally Minded Students Association (GMSA), and the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Achievement (HOLA). Copeland explained that the university’s switch to an online format for student organizations has had an impact on her day-to-day schedule.
“It probably eased up my schedule when I think about it because even just being the president of BESA a lot of the events that we obviously usually have in person would have taken a lot more complex brainstorming. So, just in terms of in-person events, it probably has freed up a bit.”
Like Copeland, Becker also felt a shift in his availability as a result of this online format. “I think that it has opened up my schedule quite a bit with everything being online. There’s not as much getting to where I need to go and figuring that out timewise. I feel like I have more opportunities to do what I want … it makes it really easy to do that.”
Student clubs fostering connection
With the pandemic changing the way students are able to connect with one another on campus, student–led clubs and organizations are working to use innovative ways to keep members involved and engaged with one another.
For some organizations, like BESA, this has meant finding new ways to carry out events. As Copeland explained, “We had a talent show online in November. We basically had an entire talent show that was over Zoom.”
For other organizations, such as Delta Sigma Pi, they have connected students with one another via Zoom. “In DSP, we’ve done sort of informal chats with some of the brothers and that has of course always been on Zoom,” Revoir said. “So, that’s been really cool because DSP has over 70 members.”
As clubs have worked to keep members engaged over the course of the pandemic, students have felt how important it is to stay connected to the St. Thomas community. Becker described the impact that USG has had on him during his time on campus.
“I think that being a part of USG has definitely made me feel more involved on campus,” Becker said. “Some of the things that we have done in USG have transitioned to actual actions taking place. I think that having a role in making things happen and then seeing those things happen across campus, definitely makes me feel like I am doing something and making an impact and that feels great.”
Copeland talked about the impact that her involvement on campus has had during the pandemic. “It has definitely served as a blessing during this time to be involved in these clubs.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has continued, students have seized the opportunity to utilize clubs and organizations as an avenue to stay connected to the university and their fellow Tommies. When asked about continuing to stay involved on campus, Revoir had some advice for his fellow students: “Try to get involved, even if that means going to one or two Zoom meetings. Do it because in the long run COVID is hopefully temporary and you’ll be able to have your foot in the door and say, ‘Hey, I was part of this club.’ You can take it a little bit slow, but know in the long run you’ll be able to continue on from there.”