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UK student organizations rise to challenge of virtual connection after unprecedented halt of semester

By Danielle Donham
University of Kentucky

For millions of college students across the country, their spring semesters came to an unprecedented halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That unfortunately equates to students no longer being able to meet up with one another in person for student organizations and activities, many of which were planned for the last half of the semester.

Several student organizations will no longer be able to hold their philanthropy events and activities, at least not in the way they imagined. But many UK students have accepted the challenge, tapping into their creativity to transform the way they connect with their fellow students and maintain a sense of normalcy.

One student organization, the FCC-licensed, noncommercial educational radio station WRFL 88.1, has been working around the clock (quite literally) to provide accurate and up-to-date information regarding COVID-19. The station airs content 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and students have drafted contingency plans to ensure content continues.

UK students work together at their laptops. (UK photo)

Station leaders continue to work with artist partners in order to deliver new independent music to listeners, while developing new ways for local musicians to be heard on air and around the world.

“Now the message is: what can we do for you?” said station promotions director Aileen Tierney. “We want to help our listeners and our community, now more than ever.”

Multiple organizations are holding elections live via Zoom, with some seizing this opportunity to play games, organize study sessions and host trivia nights utilizing the platform’s video chat feature. Others have had to adjust their programming, with many scheduled speakers and guests having to cancel visits and presentations.

“There’s a definite lack of camaraderie when everyone is separated and trying to just survive themselves, but video chats and the like can definitely help with this at times,” said Brenton Craggs, president of the Health Law Society, special events chair of the Federalist Society and president of Pro-life Wildcats.

Craggs, a dual J. David Rosenberg College of Law and College of Public Health student, also sees this as an opportunity for current student leaders to extend their influence and continue to mentor the next wave of Wildcats taking the reins.

“I do hope those who take over next will not hesitate to reach out to the leaders who are graduating as resources for planning, mentoring and organizing in the upcoming year,” said Craggs. “And I hope my fellow leaders will take time out of their professional post-graduation schedules to give back and assist these up-and-coming leaders as they pick up the burden we have left for them.”

Staff members and advisors in the Office of Student Organizations and Activities (SOA) have been working hard to support these groups, committing countless hours by providing resources and tools to help manage this transition to virtual organization management.

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These resources include the following:

• Virtual Student Organization Management Guide: This guide serves as the hub for all the resources and tips compiled to help organizations best navigate this transition. It is updated weekly with new information and events. The guide is linked here: uky.campuslabs.com/engage.

• “Early Bird” Organization Registration: Our office opened organization registration for the 2020-2021 academic year early to help get as many organizations registered and connected to additional resources. Since opening April 1, 50 groups have already taken steps to get their organization registered with the university. An overview of registration can be found here: getinvolved.uky.edu.

• Student Organization Round Table: Student organizations are all navigating this change together. Round tables will provide opportunities for student organization leaders to virtually meet and discuss challenges and share cool and innovative ideas. Round tables are held weekly and focused on specific topics including officer elections, virtual events, and more. Check the schedule here: uky.campuslabs.com/events.

• SOA Office Hours: SOA staff is available 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday for virtual office hours to meet with student organizations and answer questions or troubleshoot any issues. Meetings can be scheduled here: calendly.co/studentorgs or calendly.com/studentorgssupport.

Benjamin Starr, coordinator for student organizations in the Office of Student Organizations and Activities, explained the importance of student organizations, especially during this time.

“Student organizations play a vital role in fostering our campus community,” Starr said. “The Office of Student Organizations and Activities recognizes and appreciates the work each and every student organization does to engage and build relationships with their members. In this time of transition, the role of student organizations is just as important as ever.

“We have already seen from many of our organizations that the bonds found within these groups can continue to be fostered virtually.”

In addition to recognizing the significant contributions that student organizations have made this academic year, SOA is virtually hosting the “Lead Blue: Student Organizations Celebration” starting 7 p.m. on April 27. This virtual event will recognize student organization achievements and accomplishments of student leaders.

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