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USM Students Making Most of ‘New Normal’ for Fall Semester with Virtual Events

Fri, 10/23/2020 - 12:07pm | By: Margaret Ann Macloud

Southern Miss Activities CouncilStudents at The University of Southern Mississippi, like those across the world, have made lots of big adjustments upon their return to campus for the Fall 2020 semester, one of those being how to hold campus events safely in a pandemic while still accomplishing event goals and not losing the social aspect. Emily Holmes, USM’s Director of the Office of Leadership and Student Involvement, said creativity and flexibility have been key, and that students are engaging in ways like never before.

“We have been encouraged to see many student organizations rise to the occasion and remain committed to connecting with students,” Holmes said. “While it has not been easy, they have been steadfast in recognizing the importance of student engagement through involvement.”

The Southern Miss Activities Council (SMAC), which would usually have multiple in-person social events each week this time of year, has, like the rest of the world, moved their events online, while figuring out how to make them just as engaging on a different platform. A virtual paint night with a live DJ and intermittent trivia questions attracted about 400 live viewers on Zoom and Facebook Live. A virtual cooking class led by an Eagle Dining chef was just as popular. SMAC put together event boxes with materials to be used during the events, and students could pick them up in the SMAC office prior to the virtual get-together. These specific events are new to SMAC, but even traditional events they’ve held years prior, like the fall talent show that usually attracts hundreds of people to Bennett Auditorium, are also adjusting and adding online components.

As most everyone can relate, making drastic changes wasn’t always an easy switch for student leaders. USM senior and EagleTHON President Landry Smith said new health and safety guidelines changed every aspect of the organization’s approach to fundraising for their beneficiary, Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital, from fundraising events to recruitment efforts and the “dance marathon” for which the event is known at college campuses across the country. With the fluidity of the virus presently, EagleTHON is still navigating those changes as their annual spring event approaches. As the virus quickly spread last spring, EagleTHON still managed to raise nearly $53,000 this past March. Realizing their goals are still attainable amid a worldwide pandemic, EagleTHON’s upcoming fundraising goal is even greater: $62,000.

“When quarantine and physical distancing were implemented, it seemed like there was nothing we could do,” Smith recalled. “We felt defeated; however, we knew that our mission was much bigger than our personal feelings about the situation. Our members have really stepped up to the challenge at hand to be creative and innovative. EagleTHON is a resilient group, and I know that we are able to overcome the challenges that have been thrown our way.

For many people, finding the silver linings of 2020 has been important. Student activities is no different. Holmes said that having to switch to a virtual platform has allowed the group to actually reach more people from different parts of the university than ever before. Commuter students can more easily participate in these events, and students at the Gulf Park campus can join, too. This is one part of the new normal that Holmes hopes will stick around.

“While the pandemic is something no one would say we wanted to happen, the skills student organizations are learning in hosting virtual events in areas like marketing and technology will have positive impacts not only during this time but well into the future as well,” Holmes said. “These not only create more engaging events but also serve the USM community by allowing us to reach more students not physically in Hattiesburg or on campus. We want all students to know there is a way for them to engage at Southern Miss no matter where you are!”

To keep up with SMAC’s programming throughout the fall semester, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat, or visit