Online trivia, virtual dance parties and outdoor fitness classes are in this fall. High fives, handshakes and hugs are out, at least for now.
Activities and engagement are as much a part of college life as academics. That’s why staff and student volunteers at the University of Mary Washington have worked tirelessly this summer to ensure that campus traditions like Club Carnival and Eagle Gathering draw first-year and transfer students into the UMW experience. Going virtual for the first time, these events will continue to foster community and connection, even when students are apart.
“All students go to college to get a degree, but their experience is often defined by their involvement in activities outside the classroom,” said Sandrine Sutphin, director of Student Activities and Engagement.
As COVID-19 cases climbed last spring, Sutphin’s team sprang into action on social media, engaging incoming and current students through bracket challenges, game nights, playlists and cooking videos. Participation this summer was strong, said Assistant Director of Student Activities Crystal Rawls, who is confident the trend will continue into the fall.
New Student Welcome is the first Mary Washington event getting virtual treatment, kicking off with Playfair Online. A popular attraction at colleges nationwide, this team-building program brings students together and helps them make connections. The events are full of laughter and icebreakers – silly rhyming games, dance parties and show-and-tell – as well as breakout rooms where students can have meaningful discussions and get to know their peers.
Other activities this week include a journaling workshop, trivia, arts and crafts, yoga and writing to nursing home pen pals. Traditions like Honor Convocation and yesterday’s Eagle Gathering – a candlelight ceremony open to the entire community and livestreamed on Zoom and YouTube – will officially usher new Eagles into the campus community and introduce them to UMW’s ASPIRE values.
Club Carnival is the easiest way students can get involved, said Sutphin, whose team has transformed the popular Ball Circle afternoon event into a week of virtual interest meetings held by UMW’s more than 150 student clubs and organizations, beginning on Aug. 26. “It’s definitely the springboard to a student’s co-curricular experience while they are at UMW.”
Many clubs and organizations have worked throughout the summer, she said, finding creative ways to engage remotely while following the guidelines outlined in the #ForwardUMW Return to Campus plan.
Fall events also include virtual caricature speed drawings as part of Campus Programming Board’s First Fridays, socially distanced scavenger hunts and online movie nights. Bingo will be held on Zoom, with hosts that include surprise campus celebrities and a special guest from RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“Through online events, we’re interacting with larger groups of students, especially the Class of 2024,” said Rawls, adding that freshmen – many who may have missed out on their high school prom, class trips and graduation – are eager to connect with new classmates.
Campus Recreation is also reaching a broader audience, with an average of 200 viewers for each of the 60 workouts – yoga, mindfulness, core, strength, barre, dance fitness and cardio – posted to Instagram Live this summer. Zoom fitness classes will continue this fall, as will the popular Mindfulness Meditation Courses led by Bill Brooks.
“For years we’ve been intending to build up our online library with virtual staff training and videos,” said Assistant Director for Campus Recreation Brittanie Naff, adding that these resources can continue to be accessed via Campus Recreation’s Instagram account.
Sport club teams will host Instagram takeovers throughout the next few weeks to encourage student involvement, while the Intramural program will offer virtual mileage competitions and other online and socially distanced opportunities. Mary Wash Moves kicks off today with a step challenge for Devils, Goats and UMW employees.
Once students come to campus, they’ll be able to partake in numerous outdoor fitness classes and reserve a time to use the fitness center. Exercisers will have more than 10 feet of distance from one another, and equipment will be sanitized in between uses, Naff said, while masks will be required to use the facilities.
Things may look different right now, Director of Campus Recreation Kelly Shannon said, but students can still count on her team to help them focus on their health and wellness.
“We’re here to help you make connections, manage stress and move your bodies,” Shannon said. “It’s such an important part of tackling life at this time.”