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How UofGH's community stayed close in a virtual setting

From rigorous academic workshops and career-boosting networking sessions to student-led society events, spirited trivia nights and charming virtual visits with good-natured dogs, the University of Guelph-Humber community found plenty of opportunities to come together virtually over the past academic year.

With most programming moving online during two semesters that saw much of the UofGH community studying remotely, Student Life reimagined many signature events and programming – including the First Year Experience and CliftonStrengths programs – for a virtual setting, while creating many new events and initiatives intended to engage students and keep the UofGH community close despite the physical distance mandated by the pandemic.

“This year has presented new challenges for students and the Student Life team worked hard to create a positive University of Guelph-Humber experience even though we were remote,” said Susan Thomas, Acting Department Head, Student Services.

“The team researched new programming tools and worked seamlessly to integrate these into events to engage all members in our community. While we cannot be together on campus, the team is here for students every step of the way, whether that's getting involved or connecting them to supports and resources to ensure their success.”

In response to these efforts to foster a sense of community and togetherness even with many studying remotely, the UofGH student body was characteristically enthusiastic.

“I noticed students were very engaged this year – a lot of our events and programming saw increased student participation,” said Student Life Coordinator Liana Acri-Rosa.

“Students were looking for opportunities to connect with the UofGH community and they could do so in a manner that was comfortable for them, whether they wanted to participate on camera or via the chat.”

A good start

In the fall, programming focused on helping new and returning students alike make a smooth transition into their studies.

For first-year students, virtual Orientation – complete with Student Success Sessions and introductory meet-and-greets with the Program Heads of all of the University of Guelph-Humber’s programs – set the table for a full year of First-Year Experience programming intended to help UofGH’s newest students make the most of their first year in University.

With the similar goal of helping students hit the ground running, Student Life also debuted Swoop into Success Month to kick off each semester. Every day, students had the opportunity to attend a bevy of virtual events offering helpful tips on finding academic success, making the most of University resources, managing their finances, or just having fun with other members of the UofGH community.

“Students appreciated having a schedule of daily activities that they could choose from,” said Acri-Rosa. “It was a great way to gradually introduce students to all of the opportunities and resources available to them.”

If these programs resonated with students, it’s likely because students played a large part in developing that programming.

In November, Student Life ran a series of focus groups with students of all years exploring their experiences with remote learning. After hearing students express concerns over a lack of connection to their peers, the department set to work on a number of fun, social events that would give students a reason to gather in their downtime, including Virtual Quest and Trivia Showdown.

“We offered new social activities to help students make connections with other students and staff. They also served as wellness breaks and spaces for casual conversation, which are a huge part of the on-campus experience,” said Student Life Coordinator Jessica Pilfold.

“I won’t forget some of the highlights of this year's Student Life programming, such as the UofGH Virtual Quest and the UofGH Trivia Showdown,” said Student Life Coordinator Riyanti Poerba. “Being able to have a little friendly competition and share a laugh (often plenty) has provided our students with the opportunity to interact with members of our community in a fun and enjoyable setting.”

Making the most of the situation

Graduating Media Studies student Alexis Ford helped plan and promote the year’s student-focused campus events and programming as a Media Assistant with Student Life.

She worked diligently on events including Last Lecture – the annual toast to the University of Guelph-Humber’s graduating class, which was held virtually for the first time this year – in part because she understood first-hand how students missed connecting.

“Now more than ever, it's important to have those reminders of where your support systems are,” Ford said. “You need to have a community that reassures you that they are putting their best foot forward to provide you with everything they can with the resources they have. If any of the events that Guelph-Humber provides to their student body – whether it come from Student Life or another department – helps even just a handful of people have an hour of fun in their day or connect with their peers they've been tending to isolate away from, then I think they've done their job.”

Fifth-year Business student Amanda Mohabir was one of those students who actually found it more convenient to attend events in a virtual environment. In fact, she spent the past year getting more involved than ever in campus life.

“Every week there were new meetings, workshops and events to attend that I found were really helpful,” Mohabir said, citing Swoop into Success Month as a highlight – specifically, she enjoyed sessions exploring potential career paths as well as another focused on UofGH’s scholarship and bursary offerings.

“Personally, I found that having the events online was fun and engaging. I was able to attend more events this year than I did in prior years simply because I found it was easier to know and attend the events that were happening. It was definitely more easy access and easy to attend in comparison to having to do so in person.

“I appreciated all the opportunities to connect with my fellow peers and staff – I was still able to network and meet new people, which I really enjoyed,” she added. “Even from the isolation of my home I was able to connect with others, which made the year a lot less difficult to get through.