To say living during a pandemic has been a transition would be an understatement. Not only have our daily lives been impacted, but our education and how we stay connected as members of our NSSLHA chapters has too.
In March, I dreamt of the day I’d officially become secretary of San Francisco State University’s (SFSU) NSSLHA chapter for the 2020-2021 academic year. I was looking forward to walking into a room surrounded by fellow NSSLHA members and friends who are all passionate about the same things I am. I couldn’t wait to help plan meetings, build connections with our professors and members, and— most of all— incorporate my passion for writing in my new role.
But in a matter of days, everything abruptly changed. COVID forced us into a distance-learning atmosphere, which would not only impact our education but also our chapter engagement. This meant no more in-person meetings, no more volunteering in our community, and no more seeing each other every day in class.
A Virtual Fall Semester
At San Francisco State University, all classes are virtual this fall semester, including the Speech Language and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) program. Some of our students live in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, but many of us were left with no choice but to move back home—scattered across the country. Needless to say, with campus being shut-down for in-person classes, our NSSLHA chapter has to remain virtual as well.
Without large gatherings, in-person collaboration, and doing just about anything that was once considered “normal,” we’ve had to completely change how we run our chapter. Not only were my fellow officers and I learning how to become officers, we also had to figure out how we’d engage our chapter’s members while hundreds of miles apart. But even that couldn’t stop us from getting to work! We were determined to make this semester the best one yet, despite the cards we’ve all been dealt.
It’s no surprise we had to throw out any ideas we originally had about running our chapter, which means we’ve had to completely remodel what our chapter engagement looks like and how we’ll encourage students to get (and stay) involved virtually.
The most valuable thing we’ve learned is that creativity is key. Our usual ways of encouraging members to join and engage (i.e., making announcements in classes, posting flyers on the department’s bulletin board, hosting a table on the quad) had to change. And the only way to do that was to get creative.
Planning Virtual NSSLHA Chapter Events
Typically, our chapter hosts an in-person orientation to welcome incoming juniors into the program. We knew that couldn’t happen since SFSU’s campus is closed, but we still wanted to host a similar event that would create the most welcoming virtual environment possible. So, we created a “Junior Bootcamp.” The new virtual orientation included:
- Overview of the SLHS major
- Introductions from faculty
- Student meet-and-greet using Zoom’s breakout room feature
- Q+A session with professors
The event was so successful, we even hosted similar orientations for seniors and first- and second-year graduate students too!
To keep the momentum going, we’re also planning to host different guest speakers for our NSSLHA chapter meetings throughout the semester. The benefit of hosting meetings and events online is that we’re not confined to solely inviting speakers who are local to the university. Now, we can reach out to SLPs and audiologists across the country, allowing us to find a variety of speakers based on topic rather than location.
Tips for a Fun Virtual NSSLHA Chapter
Although these are just some ideas that we have come up with here at SFSU, the possibilities are endless! The more this fall semester progresses, the more experience we’ll have navigating this new world. But for now, here are my tips for chapters on how to have fun and stay connected during these times of COVID:
- Think outside of the box when developing activities. Figure out what your members want and need, and find a way to deliver.
- Use the power of social media. Don’t be afraid to do IGTVs, IG Lives, polls, and other features on IG stories!
- Take advantage of Zoom’s breakout room feature. It’s a great way to connect and get to know each other on a more personal level.
- Record and share your Zoom meetings so they’re accessible for everyone, especially those who cannot attend live meetings.
- Host more relaxed events outside of your regular chapter meetings. Holding less-formal events is a great way to get to know one another and build that support network we all need while at school!
- Connect with the incoming class (juniors, first-year grad students, etc.) through virtual events that are catered specifically to them. It’s very likely they won’t know anyone in the program (or on “campus”), so helping them build a sense of community is extremely important.
Overall, our chapter’s mission at SFSU is to use this virtual semester to our advantage rather than a disadvantage. Although we may be separated by distance, none of us are alone. We can take this time to use technology to our benefit and connect with others in ways we never would have imagined before. When it comes down to it, maintaining human interaction and connection is essential— now more than ever before.