Last Sunday, Miami University’s virtual Mega Fair offered students intimate video call opportunities to chat with the members of more than 600 student organizations. The event lasted three hours and also included Miami’s regional campus organizations.
I logged on to the virtual fair shortly after it started and scrolled through pages and pages of various student organizations. Zoom links and Google Meet links sat at the end of the description page for each club, populated with mostly upperclassmen waiting, unsure, to see if the virtual platform would bring them any digital traffic.
JS Bragg, assistant director of student activities in the Division of Student Life, worked with Campus Labs, the company that provides The Hub to Miami, to put on virtual Mega Fair.
Bragg said 1,219 students attended virtual Mega Fair and the team that worked on putting the event together was really happy with the turnout.
“Before a lot of the Miami decisions were even made, we made the call that Mega Fair would need to go virtual,” Bragg said. “There's too much of a risk in an event like that with increased contamination [and] people not wearing masks no matter how much we insist. We decided we didn't want to put our students at that level of risk, so we moved to virtual early on when we knew virtual was possible.”
Bragg said last year’s in-person Mega Fair drew over 4,000 students, which he also noted was unusually high due to the fall 2018 Mega Fair’s rain cancellation.
Organizations like Paws for a Cause Miami and EcoReps had club members waiting in Zoom calls for potential members to log onto The Hub and click on their call links.
Paws for a Cause Miami Vice President Claire O’Dell said that over the course of the three hours, they had 10-15 people hop on and talk to them about the club, a significant decrease from their usual Mega Fair attendance.
“We missed our audience that we usually get from sitting [physically at Mega Fair],” O’Dell said. “Specifically because we have all our dogs there and that attracts people.”
In addition to Mega Fair, Allison South, the EcoReps president, said the club also recruits representatives out of residence hall community leadership teams, which might not be possible this year as the return to campus remains uncertain.
South said, this year, they met with seven people during the three hours the EcoReps were available. She said she expects membership to be lower than normal this year.
“I think the people that turned out seemed pretty willing to be active members and they're actually engaged,” South said.
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O’Dell said that although there was a lower turnout compared to previous years, she feels she was able to build a better relationship with new recruits.
“We had more one-on-one personal conversation,” O’Dell said. “We’ll see if more of those numbers will be more likely to be more involved with the [organization].”
South said the only challenges her club had with tabling virtually were figuring out the Zoom breakout rooms and making sure members were comfortable with the virtual setting.
Looking forward, Bragg said they’re potentially planning another virtual Mega Fair this fall, along with several other cluster virtual fairs, as well.
“The students who were stopping by [at virtual Mega Fair] were interested in certain types of involvement,” Bragg said. “We want to offer opportunities for some of those other groups to find something new and creative and to also get that opportunity again in the future.”
Other fairs like the College of Engineering and Computing Science’s student organization fair are also taking place virtually through The Hub’s digital platform.
“There’s a lot of students who may find what they’re looking for better in small fairs,” Bragg said. “We want to do what we can to give student organizations connections and help first-years find their place and home at Miami.”