Back-To-School in COVID-19 Times: What to Plan

For all of our campus chapters, this school year is going to look a little different. Whether your institution is fully online or on campus, increased virtual programming and distanced events will be key. I talked to a few of UNA-USA’s Campus Fellows about how they are planning their year with COVID-19 in mind.

Saiarchana Darira is a leader of the Arizona State University chapter and a Campus Fellow. She says that over the summer she has worked on collaborating with UNA-ASU student leaders on ideas to tackle their fully virtual fall semester.

“During this unprecedented time, know that it’s okay to feel unsure about what to do,” said Darira. “This is a time for us to be creative in what we can do to support the world and one another amidst a global pandemic, so feel free to think out of the box about what you can do to keep members engaged.”

Some ideas the ASU chapter has considered include online panels, career development events, UNA-USA webinars, film showings, and hosting activist mixers on Zoom with breakout sessions for small group discussion.

UNA Campus Fellow Carolina Herrera is president of the University of Iowa’s UNA chapter. She has been keeping tabs on her campus’s COVID-19 updates so the chapter knows what to expect when the fall semester kicks into gear.

“One thing all student leaders have in common is the uncertainty of this school year,” Herrera said. “Yet, that is what makes this year so special. Instead of seeing uncertainty as scary, my advice is to take it as an opportunity, a challenge for your team, your members and yourself.”

Herrera says her chapter will be more active on social media to promote online events like trivia nights, workshops, and UN documentary showings. But beyond the challenges, she noted that togetherness is vital.

“Most importantly, be there for each other,” said Herrera. “Events, fundraisers and advocacy are important, but it is during these times that we need to rely on each other to get through.”

Campus Fellow Alyssa Pascoe noted that the Northeastern University chapter plans to partake in their school’s virtual activity fair, as well as set up “coffee chats” over Zoom between prospective members and long-time members.

“Hosting virtual events is great because people can participate from anywhere in the world, and we can get a variety of perspectives in a discussion,” Pascoe said. “I encourage all chapter leaders to keep open to opportunities that may arrive as the country navigates the pandemic. It is important to stay creative and flexible.”

While this year won’t look like years past, it’s the perfect opportunity to learn about alternative ways of reaching new students on your campus! Consider how your chapter can use the virtual platform to your advantage and continue to make strides in UN and SDG advocacy. Innovate and aim higher as an organization. In this crazy year 2020 has handed us, know that every action counts.

In addition to the Campus Fellows’ advice, here are a few extra tips to help plan your chapter’s year:

  1. Use strategies to increase participation.

Chapters who put on virtual events in the spring cited difficulty in getting the same student participation virtually as they did before when they could meet physically.

Here are a few tips to help with chapter participation: 

  • Increase your social media/email promotion. You can read about UNA-USA’s chapter communications resources here
  • Partner with other clubs or departments to increase your audience. You can ask professors to hop on a Zoom meeting and share information, or collaborate with your student government or other organizations on campus to cross-promote and co-program. 
  • Find ways to engage new members early on. Host a “Welcome to UNA” informational Zoom meeting to reach out to new members. You can also start a Slack channel thread to engage students in particular aspects of your planning – such as planning a Global Health event or joining the UN Day Planning Committee. This creates projects that students can feel involved in right away without having to wait for the next virtual meeting. 
  • You could also create a mentorship program between upperclassmen and underclassmen so that new members who are joining can learn from members who have previously been involved with the organization.

2. Become familiar with many virtual tools and opportunities.

Try to use a variety of virtual tools at your disposal – whether it’s playing Kahoot, watching a video, or hosting a Zoom webinar. By diversifying your online interactions, your chapter will continue to be engaged in your programming.

Additionally, with the virtual landscape comes more opportunities – for example, guest speakers are more available to hop on your Zoom meeting for 20 minutes than to travel to your campus like they would ordinarily do.

3. Get creative with your events

Zoom fatigue is real. Find ways to make your virtual meetings interactive and engaging. See our Guide to Creative Virtual Events or schedule a consultation with your UNA Campus Fellow to learn how they are adapting their chapter program in response to new pandemic regulations.