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Rutgers holds virtual involvement fair

Sep 17, 2020, 4:01 AM

The Rutgers Involvement Fair, which normally takes place on the College Avenue campus at the start of the semester, was held virtually this year from Sept. 14 to Sept. 16.

“With the in-person involvement fair, there is that excitement of having hundreds of organizations come together on College Avenue for the day before classes begin,” said Assistant Director of Major Events and Programs Ashley Vega. “With the virtual fair this year, we pushed the event to a little later in the semester to allow groups and individual students a better chance to be acclimated to the virtual setting.”

Vega said the fair had 581 groups who participated this year. From Monday and Tuesday’s sessions, as well as Wednesday’s morning session, there were more than 25,000 booth visits, 8,930 chat messages exchanged between students and members and 13,086 students who indicated they were interested in an organization, she said. 

Vega also said they extended the event over three days so students could explore on their own time and visit as many booths as possible. 

“We researched different platforms that could provide key features that would make the event as engaging as possible, such as live chat, an interactive map and the ability for student attendees to request additional information from groups they were most interested in,” Vega said. 

Members of the student organizations also discussed the transition to a virtual fair. 

“When you have a physical booth, you have the opportunity to draw people in by playing music, having a cool setup and by engaging with them as they walk by,” said Alex Manacop, School of Arts and Sciences senior and president of the Public Relations Student Society of America. “It’s a lot easier to catch people’s attention as opposed to asking them to log onto a virtual event to learn more.”

Amna Khan, Rutgers Business School senior and president of the Fashion Organization of Retail and Marketing, said the fair is always exciting since club members get to meet a variety of students and introduce their club in an open environment. Now, students can visit “booths” without even introducing themselves or interacting with members if they choose not to, said Khan. 

Kate Dobbs, School of Arts and Sciences senior and a member of the College Avenue Players (CAP), said the organization had to get creative when planning a virtual booth, given the interactive nature of their theatre company. Typically, they would be selling tickets and holding plays in their theater, but now they have moved onto a Zoom-based stage.

“For the virtual involvement fair, we set up a series of videos from previous performances as well as several show shots,” Dobbs said. “We also opened a Zoom room so that interested students can speak directly to our team.”

Khan and Manacop also said they held booths over Zoom where students could come chat with members, ask questions and learn about their clubs. Khan said her team added photos from past meetings and events, as well a link to their Instagram, so students could get a better understanding of the organization.

All three students said their engagement has been relatively low so far compared to other years and believe that while the virtual fair does do a good job, it does not have the same effect as the in-person fair. 

“It’s much more difficult to engage people and get them excited when holding this event in a virtual format,” Manacop said. “Our only difficulty is really just getting more people to come visit our virtual booth.”

Khan said constantly being online could be tiring for students, which can affect their participation in extracurricular activities.  

“With classes and meetings being directed to virtual platforms, I think a lot of students are opting out from supplementary virtual opportunities due to just frankly feeling burnt out from being online all day,” Khan said.

Although there have been difficulties, the students have also found positives from the situation. 

“Students who may have felt shy and/or intimidated to visit a booth that they would potentially be interested in are now able to explore the organization on their own time and in their own space,” Khan said.

Manacop said that the virtual fair has been a safe opportunity for students to get involved at a time that works best with their schedule. Dobbs said that CAP has been able to give the students the chance to write work and see it performed over Zoom to help maintain human connection. 

Vega said she believes that finding a community and connecting with others can happen in a virtual environment and that the platform’s features create as much of a real involvement fair experience as possible. 

“I think I can speak for all of us within Student Centers and Activities when I say that the best accomplishment following the involvement fair would be students feeling they were able to find their community among (more than) 500 organizations,” Vega said. “I believe with the level of engagement we are already seeing with the fair — we are able to accomplish this.” 

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