Lion shrine with a mask

Campus clubs & organizations are Zooming through the pandemic

Weekly meetings, leadership, and friendship are images that come to mind when thinking about campus clubs and organizations. The pandemic has modified, but not stopped, their activities. By: Autumn Resault
What do clubs at Penn State Wilkes-Barre look like during the pandemic?

Weekly meetings, fundraisers, leadership, and friendship are images that come to mind when thinking about Penn State Wilkes‑Barre clubs and organizations. The pandemic has modified, but not stopped, their activities.

Students, understanding the importance of getting involved, have continued to find creative ways to stay engaged with friends and make new ones.

“Joining clubs helps students become active on campus, develop leadership skills, network with other students, plan events, participate in campus and community service projects, and build an understanding of the importance of giving back through volunteering,” said Jackie Warnick‑Piatt, coordinator of student activities. “The transition to virtual student activities and events has been interesting. And I’m happy to say, we’re not just surviving, we are thriving. So much is still going on. Meetings are still happening, via Zoom or Teams. And our events are not only engaging students but family members as well.”

Through the Student Government Association (SGA) and a wide variety of campus clubs and organizations, there are a multitude of opportunities for students to participate and even take on a leadership role—for example, the SGA executive board positions of president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary. Students can also represent their fellow students as senators in the SGA or have their voices heard by sitting on campus committees such as the Student Activity Fee, Facility Fee and Just Do It committees. By joining, students refine their leadership and team-building skills, gain valuable hands-on experience in event planning, and learn how to come to consensus and how to manage fundraising activities.

Campus clubs also participate in community and campus service projects. Students in clubs are able to network with peers and professionals in the community and beyond. Past projects have included the semi-annual SGA roadside cleanup; fundraising for Blue Chip Animal Rescue; volunteering at the Back Mountain Library; and “Hugs and Hope in a Handbag,” where students collect new or slightly used purses and fill them with a variety of useful things ranging from personal care items to pens and notepads for victims of domestic violence.

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Through their fundraising efforts, students offset the costs to attend off-campus activities and conferences. Fundraising activities are ongoing, with the United Stance Society (USS) holding its candy sale and other activities being approved through the Student Activities Office. In previous years, the Business Club’s fall semester mum sale supported the members’ day trip to New York City, which included a tour of the company Indeed, as well as attendance at the Empowering Women in Leadership Conference at University Park, providing students the added benefit of networking with professionals in their major. Since the pandemic, many of these conferences have gone virtual and are being offered at no charge for student attendees.

“A great example I like to use of the benefits of becoming engaged in campus life is the accounting major who was able to add to their résumé that they were the SGA treasurer and managed the budgets for more than 10 clubs and organizations with an annual budget of several thousand dollars. You can’t put a price tag on a leadership experience such as that,” said Warnick‑Piatt.

What clubs are available?

Penn State Wilkes‑Barre offers a variety of clubs and committees for students to get involved in. Are you ready to be a proud Penn State alumnus? Join the Blue and White Society, the student members of the Penn State Alumni Association. Membership in the society offers exclusive networking opportunities to students and alumni.

Are you bursting with pride and ready to welcome new Penn Staters? The Lion Ambassadors are the official student representatives of the University. They provide campus tours and help new and prospective students learn about our history and the opportunities our campus offers.

Do you like gaming? Ready Player 1? Let the games begin by joining the Nerd Herd! Interested in communications? Check out The REVOLT, the campus newspaper, or the Radio Club, which gives students the chance to DJ and provide music in the Student Commons in a variety of musical genres. Are you an architecture or interior design major, or maybe just interested in updating the facilities on campus? Reach out to the SGA to join the Just Do It committee.

There are many more opportunities to choose from, with the option to create your own club as well.

Some students have found it difficult to participate in clubs in the traditional sense, but are adjusting to this new normal of virtual. Persistent, resilient, and resourceful in their efforts to maintain their activities, student leaders have moved events online and are using Zoom and Microsoft Teams to hold meetings and keep in touch with their membership.

“The virtual transition has been a tough one, but we are adapting,” said Robert Mastropole, president of Students for Justice.

Another club, Just Awesome Musicians (JAM), used to meet every three weeks to get together and jam out prior to COVID-19. Now, because of the pandemic, they meet biweekly through Zoom. Cole Fenstermacher, president of JAM, said the virtual meetings can be “problematic because of the latency or ‘lag’ between members’ internet connections.” JAM uses live shows for its fundraising activities, but internet speed issues coupled with restrictions on in-person gathering have hampered its only source of fundraising. However, JAM is considering using social media to boost interest in the club and their music.

“When we do eventually open back up, by using social media we will have more people that show up to our gigs,” said Fenstermacher of using social media as a tool for engagement and building an audience.

Mastropole has shared the same difficulty with other club presidents, who are trying different strategies to engage their members. To help clubs get more attention and increase their membership, the Student Activities office arranged a socially distanced canvassing event on campus. The four-day event gave all clubs a chance to give a 30-second pitch about their group to new and returning students. Mastropole found success during the event.

“This had a huge turnout for us and our club member numbers doubled in one day alone. Being able to adapt is essential for any club to thrive during these tough times,” noted Mastropole.

In addition, the Student Activities office has been feverishly working to keep students involved in both on-campus and virtual activities. Warnick‑Piatt hosts a myriad of events from “Zingo with Zackie” to “Take, Make and Zoom” (TMZ) events. During the TMZ events, students pick up their materials at a designated time and are encouraged to make the items later that evening with Warnick‑Piatt and other students in “Jackie’s Zoom Room,” offering students a time to chat, relax and have fun together while doing the activity.

Warnick‑Piatt also hosts virtual diversity and leadership events for students. Most recently, she held a four-part series for National Hispanic Heritage Month and hosted spoken work artist Katie Wirsing-Kramer for National Coming Out Day; currently she’s conducting the ongoing Lessons on Leadership series.

Going forward, clubs and organizations are planning to host both on- and off-campus events. Students for Justice is in the event-planning stage of a fundraiser and will be hosting an event in the near future. The Four Seasons Club is currently planning a bonfire for mid-November.

All on- and off-campus events are held in accordance with protocols and guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Penn State and Penn State Wilkes‑Barre.