Keeping students connected to campus in a virtual setting

Nov 30, 2020Andrea Vasquez
Generation Park SEA 2020

Student engagement activities look a little different these days at San Jacinto College and other colleges and universities across the U.S. Instead of the usual meet and greet, fall festivals, and club meetings, student engagement events have gone virtual. But how do you create a sense of connection in a virtual environment, especially within a new campus that is facilitating nearly all online classes? San Jacinto College student engagement and activities coordinator Brian Bui says it's a community effort.

This fall, the San Jac student engagement and activities coordinators combined their efforts to provide College-wide virtual events for students. Annual Welcome Week virtual activities included a trivia game show, campus coffee hour, online game day, and custom airbrush T-shirt art by interactive airbrush artist The T-Shirt Guy. Rather than cancel the campuses' anticipated community fall celebrations, the student engagement teams provided a virtual week-long Spooktacular event featuring live Zoom demonstrations, including cooking easy sweets and treats, special effects makeup application, nail art, crafting, virtual escape room, and cave exploration. Other creative and informative presentations included an accounting game show, how to minimize stress, resume building, and talking about mental health and substance abuse.

"Student engagement's priority is to create an atmosphere of engagement on the campuses," said Bui. "Having so much support from faculty and staff has been amazing and has allowed us to expand our offerings and the topics of our virtual events. Right now, so many people, especially some of our students, feel alone due to the safety precautions everyone is taking due to the pandemic. Hosting virtual events still allows us to provide opportunities for students, employees, and our community to connect with each other through similar interests which can really make a difference."

The College also opened its new fifth campus this fall at Generation Park. Currently, Generation Park Campus is facilitating mostly online classes, which poses challenges when it comes to student engagement and connectivity. For Bui, creating that sense of campus community starts with the community itself.

"The most valuable thing we depend on is student and community feedback and input," said Bui. "That will help us steer the events and experiences we offer and create for our Generation Park Campus. We also want to be a part of community volunteer opportunities. Not only does it give us a chance to talk to local residents and potential students about what we can provide, but it also lets them know that we are here for them as community partners."

A large piece of campus engagement comes from student organizations. While their efforts have also had to adapt to virtual environments, creating that momentum at Generation Park will come from needs and interests.

"Students don't always realize that they are the ones who create the organizations we have on campus," Bui added. "And the great thing is that it doesn't necessarily have to be on your campus. Since our student organizations are driven by student interest, whether you're interested in anime, student government, culinary — we have a community for you. And you're definitely not limited to just joining something. We want students to create the communities they want and need, and the student engagement coordinators are here to support those getting off the ground and running."

Overall, Bui says that students who are involved on campus get the most out of their college experience. Student organizations not only provide campus engagement but also a training ground for skill development for future career aspirations.

"Student organizations and campus involvement provide a safe space for students to develop those soft skills that employers are looking for," he said. "They also provide those opportunities for students to learn how to write and communicate professionally via email, market and promote their events, set and facilitate their club budgets, and so many other skills that you wouldn't necessarily learn just going to and from class every day. We want students to feel comfortable getting involved and to know that there's a space for you here."

Find out more about student engagement and activities and student support resources.

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