Moving to an online learning environment for academics is a real challenge that universities across the nation are facing. Student Life at UT has faced its own set of challenges: helping students feel engaged and heard even when they’re not on Rocky Top.
The staff at the Center for Student Engagement have been hard at work to provide students with the same programming they can access right from home! Whether looking for comedians like Chris Turner and Maya May or slam poetry reading from Adán Bean, there is a little something for everyone when it comes to engagement. Jordan Smith-Porter, assistant director of the CSE, says that even though we’re away from campus, there are still ways to participate in campus life!
“You can still participate the same and feel like you are on Rocky Top! Just because we apart do not mean we cannot still feel like we are close together. Students are able to interact with each other during these events and also interact with the talent. These events were created with the hopes of taking your mind off of the stress you may be experiencing right now. Take a break, you deserve it and come enjoy the opportunity these great events!”
Coordinator for Center for Student Engagement, Brittney Wright, explains that the key to success when it comes to online engagement is getting started as soon as possible. “It was definitely all about getting ahead of the curve. We worked to book and schedule events very quickly and were one of the first offices at UT to starting posting interactive content on our social media pages such as ‘This or That’, ‘March Madness Bracket’, and ‘BINGO’ templates, or by engaging students through weekly questions they could answer. We’ve loved seeing so many other offices and student organizations start to do the same over the last few weeks!”
Smith-Porter says the main focus of the CSE office is trying to make student’s experiences as normal as possible in this new, online environment. “We wanted to normalize this environment as best we could. We traditionally would have very similar events like spoken word artists, speakers, comedians, etc. Many acts were shifting to a virtual environment and were able to accommodate the ability to present to our students their talents or the message they speak about. We were intentional to be as balanced as possible with having a range of diverse voices and also diverse types of events.”
Wright says that the response they’ve received from students regarding these events has helped them understand how CSE programs are performing. “They’re responding really well! We’ve had a consistent group of students and community members that play our virtual trivia games every week and we’ve gotten good feedback that we’re providing different kinds of events that appeal to different people or organizations.”
Wright also emphasized the importance of social media during this time, explaining the need for cross-promotion with other offices and how those partnerships have made an impact. “One of the biggest challenges I think we, and other universities, have faced is how to continuously create new and innovative content on social media and within programs that are different, engaging, and something students, staff, faculty, and the community may not have access to otherwise,” says Wright. “I’ve also discovered that students love interacting with Instagram stories, so I started using that as a way to market our events.” This includes the staff’s take on March Madness. Wright created several “March Madness brackets,” for Disney, Pixar, and Marvel movies that corresponded to the CSE’s trivia topic that week. Students could vote each day over the course of four days in movie match-ups until it was narrowed down to one winner. “We would have anywhere from 100-150 students voting on the bracket each day and it was a great way to promote the themed virtual trivia event each week!”
Wright explains that she appreciates the collaboration that she has seen with other offices at UT. “Office and organizations have worked hard to engage with each other’s social media accounts and share events, so I hope this marketing effort and collaboration also continue in the future. I’ve also been shocked by how many new incoming students have found our page and participated in our virtual events! I think this has taught me that we don’t just need to focus on engaging students from the moment they step on campus – but from the moment they’re accepted. These students are they’re most excited about UTK then and want to go follow all the social media accounts and know what there is to look forward to, so I think that’s something I’d like to keep in mind for future years.”
Director of the CSE, Ashleigh Moyer, spoke towards the future, noting how programming may shift even when students return to campus. “We are definitely considering continuing virtual programming even once we return to campus. I think it has allowed us to reach different students than have often participated in the past. We are seeing graduate and Ph.D. students, along with more non-traditional students engaging in online programs. I believe we had a number of faculty, staff, and community engagement with our ‘Homemade Pasta Making’ course, which was great to see them get involved, as well.”
“One thing I will brag about this CSE team is the speed at which the staff brainstormed, researched, and put program ideas into action,” says Moyer. “Due to the quick work and initiative taken by the CSE team and Student Life leadership, we were able to get events planned and posted ahead of most peer universities.”
Be sure to join the staff of the CSE, and all of the Student Life virtual program planners, as they round out the semester with these events and check out more virtual engagement opportunities at calendar.utk.edu/ves. Events are open to students, faculty, and staff!
4/29/20 4:30 PM Student Organization Recognition
4/30/20 6:00 PM Study Break Trivia