Michael Wenye Li / Sun File Photo

This semester, a crowded Barton Hall was replaced with Zoom rooms and the renovated Campus Groups website as students searched for their next extracurricular and community.

September 14, 2020

From Barton Hall to Zoom Breakout Rooms: Fall 2020 ClubFest Goes Virtual

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Each year, the chaos of ClubFest fills up Barton Hall, with hundreds of stickers and quarter-cards from student organizations flung at potential new members. Students engage in eager conversations, hoping to find a new hobby, activity or community.

But this semester, the ordinary procedures have been replaced by Zoom calls and virtual booths.

Student organizations were forced onto an online platform called Campus Groups, where leaders from attending organizations were available in virtual booths for students to visit.

The virtual booths allowed clubs to upload photos, handouts and videos to mimic a tri-fold or banner. Each group could also set up a messaging feature to chat with members or upload a Zoom link to talk with them face-to-face.

Despite the technical difficulties that came with the first-ever virtual version of the career fair, the Campus Groups platform appeared to be successful and clubs were able to meet with interested students.

Thomas Lu ’22, co-president of Cornell Creatives, had mixed feelings on the virtual rendition — one of his concerns was the website’s format.

“I think it’s not really designed well for students. It’s a very confusing interface to navigate,” Lu said. “For that kind of platform, you’d expect some sort of feed of events or information, and there’s really nothing like that. I think it’s a better design for the administration side.”

Lu added that the club had to figure out the best way to manage its Zoom room, with considerations such as whether they should have breakout rooms, whether they should go through a PowerPoint or if they should have people speak to whoever comes in.

But Lu said that there are some positives to everything being online, too.

“It’s very targeted,” Lu said. “Whoever joins your call will most likely stay and pay attention, instead of just people passing by and trying to get them to come to your booth.”

For Cornell Tamasha, a Bollywood fusion dance club that started during the summer, some of their members had never even met in-person.

President Anusha Choudhury ’22 and co-creative head Riya Jaggi ’22 said that the virtual dance atmosphere allows for a more inclusive environment, connecting people of all levels to dance in the comfort of their own home.

Choudhury and Jaggi said that ClubFest felt different, citing how first-years came in with very specific goals in mind, often eager to learn about their dance group.

“It felt low-key more like a career fair than a club fest,” Choudhury explained.

However, Choudhury explained that virtual club fest might actually reduce some of the anxiety first-years might feel when having to approach new people.

Jaggi and Choudhury also said that Campus Groups was sometimes confusing to navigate.

“We didn’t have a lot of information of how this was going to go. It was something we had to figure out ourselves,” Jaggi said. “All of this was so new to us. Not only are we trying to create a new club, but we’re also trying to figure out how we can use all these online tools to our advantage.”

For first-years, who have never experienced an in-person ClubFest, the experience might not have been as challenging.

Eric Zhang ’24, a computer science student, was not all disappointed.

“Although not all clubs put their Zoom links or information pages in the same place, it still wasn’t too hard to find out where to find them or just ask for the link,” Zhang said. “I was able to engage with almost every club I wanted to check out virtually.”

Zhang found it easy to navigate around Campus Groups, especially since the clubs were organized based on topic.

Catherine Huang ’21, Student Assembly executive vice president, said that her team was a bit worried about technical difficulties at ClubFest, especially because of the pitfalls the career fair experienced, but she was pleasantly surprised.

“We managed to attract a lot of people who came and saw our virtual booth, and we also had people dropping into our live Zoom call all of yesterday,” Huang said.

Huang also suggested that the easiest thing freshman can do, other than just going to an organization’s website or hopping on a Zoom call, is to directly reach out to an organization via email. Choudhury and Lu also encouraged first-years to directly reach out to upperclassmen about their organizations.