Summer Engagement: How to Keep Students Connected
Summer is approaching and the need to keep students engaged and connected is stronger than ever. Interested to know what some student affairs professionals across the country are implementing and how? Our team sat in on the conversation and here’s the summary!
On April 30th NACA held their bi-weekly Coffee & Conversations, hosted by Kayla Brennan, Education & Resource Coordinator for NACA.
Ahmed Samaha: Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina-Aiken.
Grant Deppen: Assistant Director of Intramural Sports & Esports at the University of VA-Aiken
1) Will you be doing any virtual planning over the summer, and how are you planning?
Grant mentioned that the students do not have a lot planned for the summer, however, “we have the capacity to engage them in a bunch of different ways” and they will be making sure staff reach out to the students to continue to build their relationships. They will be doing orientation completely virtually by transferring what they did in person to online. He emphasized the need to help students maintain a sense of belonging to campus from a virtual and digital platform, especially for first year students.
Ahmed said his school created a committee with people from different departments, the goal is for each department to submit suggestions for virtual programs as well as how to keep students engaged during the summer. To stay connected with students they are dividing up the entire student body among staff, each staff member having and calling a list of students to check in.
2) Are you primarily using Zoom or leveraging other platforms to host virtual programs? Are they synchronous or asynchronous programs?
At Grant’s school they are using multiple programs to meet multiple needs for groups. For instance, for their group fitness activities they are utilizing Instagram and they use Zoom for other activities. The level of synchronicity differs as well. For their esports and digital program students set up the structure and this is asynchronistic, whereas the online advising appointments are synchronistic and will be in person at point in time.
Tips: for any asynchronous activity use a single location to make all information easy to access. Also, utilize platforms students are already familiar with.
3) How are you incorporating student organization engagement during the virtual orientations?
Ahmed says his school is looking at using Blackboard for modules, for instance if someone is interested in Greek Life they can log onto that specific module where council presidents can chime in, perhaps offer a live chat. They are trying to get student organization leadership engaged with the orientation wherein team leaders will host live chats for students to ask questions and gather information.
4) How or will you be utilizing student leaders and how are you keeping them engaged?
Ahmed said their Student Government Association will have office hours during the summer so students can email questions through Facebook live. The wellness center is going to be implementing programs on fitness and nutrition tips as well as mental health videos on Instagram.
Grant emphasized that students are looking for ways to engage. He suggests to try to operate the same way during the summer that schools do for any semester in order to maintain consistency and keep students engaged.
5) What type of messaging will you be sending to students during this uncertain time, and what types of communication forms are you using?
Grant said they are trying to streamline as much as possible, communication coming from the university leadership when related about openings, closures, and activities. Also, a weekly newsletter goes out highlighting all the activities students can be involved with. In this way they can consolidate everything and quickly reach all students. Going forward they want the tone and the message to be, “we’re still here, we still care, we want you to be engaged as much as you can.”
6) How are you using the summer for your own professional growth and development?
Grant is in charge of the esports program coming up in the fall and is dedicating a lot of time constructing this. The University of VA uses Linkedin Learning’s development program as an online platform for professional development and leadership for their student employees in order to maintain their student positions and continue receiving pay. Professionals are also doing the same thing.
On a personal level he is working to recognize how this situation has opened up new opportunities, and he is exploring how they might use some of the tools (Zoom meetings) when things return to students being on campus. Looking beyond the COVID-19 situation, he is focused on how to adapt and continue to collaborate with others across campus in order to continue making connections.
Ahmed said the budget is a concern regarding professional development this summer- how to use federal aid, etc. He reached out to other vice chancellors in the state (state system, public schools, and private schools) to do Zoom meetings with different groups in order to share ideas and discuss how everyone is adjusting. To track attendance and involvement they use Blackboard Collaborate as well as Presence.
7) Is anyone using Campus Labs and are you using them for interactions and any initiatives?
An audience member, from the University of Kentucky, joined in saying they have been using Campus Labs for populating an event calendar and using Zoom calls to gather user ids and enter them into platforms to collect data. A second audience member, from Palm Beach State, said they put their events into BBNvolved, and they also use Instagram to track the number of students involved.
8) Is anyone doing any student focused professional and/or personal development this summer?
One audience member said they are using other institutions’ summer resources for ideas. University of FL has an SGA institute that they are moving online and offering other schools to participate. They are working to build an online community with opportunities that would count towards professional development for student leaders.
Another member added that her school is focusing on professional development and will be hosting events during the summer that are also open to everyone. This will be a mixture of networking opportunities from different businesses and actual trade skills opportunities. Details will soon be available via the Facebook Virtual Events Ideas Page.
NACA is offering summer professional development opportunities for students and staff. This is an 8-week virtual summer series including topics such as Leadership, Program Management Boards, Esports, Concert Management, Marketing, Diversity & Inclusion, Student Government. They will have the schedule posted on their site soon, so be on the lookout for that!
9) What virtual engagement platforms and/or activities have been the most successful? How have you been creative with virtual planning?
Grant said that social media has been the biggest platform since a lot of students are frequently on their phones. Students are creating and sharing their own content.
Ahmed echoed social media being used a lot, such as, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, TikTok, and Facebook. They have created localized games and give away prizes. They are also using MOOZ for scavenger hunts.
Other schools chimed in as well with what they are using: virtual DJ battles, Netflix parties, trivia night, fine arts groups are doing virtual gallery tours, Met Opera watch party with a live chat on Discord, group karaoke, mad libs theatre, and themed dress up social events.
10) Is anyone doing anything during the summer to celebrate seniors?
One school purchased a photo box for seniors to take photos via the app and the school then makes a living collage from it. They are also using this to connect with incoming students as well.
Grant says their school is doing a digital ceremony; they are having students who are on campus decorate graduation caps then post them on Instagram Live to show the artistry and give tips on how to decorate.
Other Tips & Suggestions:
State associations and organizations like NASPA have ideas for summer programming and engagement.
Museums and government agencies often offer free programs.
Twitch.tv live streaming platform
LinkedIn Learning online sources for learning
Prescence campus engagement platform
BBNvolved platform for students to connect to campus organizations, programs, and departments