Apart, but Together

The Office of Student Organizations, Leadership & Engagement leads the College’s effort to continue social activities for students virtually throughout this campus closure.

By: Meghan Kita  Monday, April 6, 2020 10:18 AM

News Image
Director of Student Organizations, Leadership and Engagement Ellen Lentine (center) in an archival photo from Orientation Week. Lentine and her team are now spearheading an effort to continue student activities virtually.

On Friday, March 20, Director of Student Organizations, Leadership and Engagement Ellen Lentine logged into the videoconferencing platform Zoom to lead students through a round of 2000s pop culture trivia. It was the College’s first foray into virtual student activities, taking place less than a week after students left campus due to the threat of COVID-19. Jonah Adamcik ’20, the presidential assistant for the Office of Student Organizations, Leadership & Engagement, says he and his colleagues thought maybe a couple dozen students would participate. Instead, they had 110.

“That just kind of blew us away,” Adamcik says. “It showed us that there is demand for this. The students want to stay connected. We’re going to do whatever we can to meet those needs.”

The Office of Student Organizations, Leadership & Engagement and members of the Muhlenberg Activities Council (MAC) began discussing how to continue offering activities virtually as soon as everyone was learning or working from home. They started by researching how other institutions were handling this. At the same time, entertainment agencies Lentine had worked with previously reached out to her with their virtual offerings. That’s how trivia came about.

A screenshot from The Office-themed trivia, one of the options Muhlenberg has offered its students so far

“These programs are so much easier to do in terms of manpower that we can offer something every day,” she says. They’re also far less expensive—one trivia session costs about a tenth of what it would cost to bring a non-celebrity performer to campus for a night—which means there’s ample budget left over for prizes like GrubHub gift cards and other easily shippable items.

MAC is planning to offer trivia Tuesdays and Fridays, Movie Mondays (using the Netflix Party extension for Google Chrome) plus a variety of other events (video game tournaments, virtual escape rooms, a game show) throughout the coming months. Adamcik is also working out the technical side of an idea he had: allowing student performers to sign up for 30-minute slots to be live-streamed across the MAC social channels.

“We’re trying to make sure we keep that Muhlenberg feeling,” says Adamcik, who notes there are nearly 40 performance ensembles on campus. “We’re not together physically, but we can still be together emotionally and virtually.”

A screenshot from a Super Smash Bros tournament Muhlenberg set up for students

Other offices are also offering activities—for example, daily Zoom seminars with Career Center staff, meditations with the Office of Multicultural Life—but Lentine’s team populates the newsletters that let students know each Monday what’s coming up that week. Ideas still in the works include setting up Slack communities for various student populations at Muhlenberg (like student athletes and the Greek community) and creating virtual resources for student organizations to allow them to continue meeting. 

It’s all about maintaining that Muhlenberg sense of community in an unprecedented time, says Lentine: “It’s important to me that the students know we’re still thinking about them and that we still want them to have a great experience at Muhlenberg, whether they’re here on the campus or not.”