With students and faculty kept from interacting face-to-face and Zoom fatigue keeping engagement low at virtually held events, members of the Department of Journalism & Creative Media Industries' Marketing, Recruitment & Retention committee found a solution.
The inaugural Student Engagement Accelerator grant (SEA) was created for departmental or college student organizations looking to increase membership engagement. A call for proposals was issued in November, and the committee was reviewing documents soon after.
Maggie Matella, an instructor in JCMI and committee member, says the SEA grant supports both the goal and purpose of the Marketing, Recruitment & Retention committee.
“The committee was formed to make sure that we're marketing to students, both new students and potential students, that we can recruit them into the program, and that we're retaining our students,” Matella says. “We want our students to feel that they are being supported. We want them to feel we are investing in their interests, so they want to stay within the major or within the college. We want to continue that dynamic and relationship.”
The COVID pandemic affected many campus organizations and the students within them. Without the ability to meet in person for club events, organizations suffered low participation and traditional fundraisers were difficult to conduct.
“We understand that with a pandemic, clubs might not be getting financial support from other entities on campus or from sponsorships,” Matella says. “The committee wanted to make sure organizations were funded and that they were still able to reach their goals and objectives for the year. I know so many things have been turned upside down and community is really important. Being a part of an organization that you care about and that you feel invested in—that's like your family.”
Jared Hughes, president of the VR Club, was told about the SEA grant from the club's advisor, Nick Bowman, Ph.D., an associate professor in JCMI. He says the grant will give his club the opportunity to buy VR equipment for club member use.
“We're going to be able to complete the club's mission,” Hughes says. “The main thing is getting VR out there and into people's hands. VR is somewhat of an expensive hobby to get into and it's going to be the future. What we have now is the beginning of that future, and getting people exposed to it early, without them needing personal financial backing to get into it, is important.”
Hughes, a computer engineering major, says VR is another way for humans to communicate, but with added abilities.
“For example, you have older, regular flat-screen PC and Xbox games,” Hughes says. “With those, you're communicating by text chat or voice chat. But with VR, you have body language, too. Body language is part of communication and it helps with long-distance communication, allowing for more personal online communication.”
Rob Peaslee, Ph.D., associate professor & chairperson of JCMI, is the chair of the Marketing, Recruitment & Retention committee. He also is the Tech Gaming Club faculty advisor and wrote the club a letter of support.
Peaslee says emphasizing how the grant would help the club and students was necessary for the proposal, but also that the club helps people outside the organization, too.
“If we're bringing a group of students together around the activity of streaming and they're learning some new skills,” Peaslee says, “or they're building their community, but they're also benefiting others, then that seems like a real sweet spot. Those are things that I tried to emphasize in my letter. This is something that we should support because it doesn't just benefit these students, it also benefits other folks as well.”
With the future environment of higher education uncertain, the SEA grant will continue to be offered as necessary and as budgeting allows.
“We're certainly hopeful that we can do something similar next year,” Peaslee says. “I think we're also hopeful that we are going to be able to do more of the things that we're used to doing next year, too. Since the model is in place, I think it is going to allow us to be more responsive to a variety of realities as we move through the summer and see what the next academic year is going to look like.”