EXCEL Campus Activities—the official student-led programming board at The University of Texas at Arlington—has adapted to the challenges of keeping students engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virtual events in 2020 included trivia, open mics nights and comedian-led bingo games. A limited number of in-person events have been offered, including a drive-in movie night and an educational Tedx Talk. Livestreaming for all such events continues to be available for those who want to watch from home, allowing EXCEL to reach UT Arlington students on a wider scale.
“The variety of student-led programming within Student Affairs allows students some voice and choice in a space and time when they don’t have a lot of other opportunities to do that,” said Lisa Nagy, vice president for student affairs. “We’ve heard from some students that organization meetings are the best part of their week, and we’ve heard from others that it’s the one time that they feel comfortable and safe talking and communicating.”
EXCEL provides social, educational, cultural and traditional events and activities for the UTA community, all aimed at enriching student life. Naydine Almeida, a junior studying medical laboratory science who oversees membership engagement for EXCEL, said she is proud the organization has created opportunities for students to bond despite COVID-19.
“More people are able to show up for the online trivia nights than the in-person events at this time, but even the chats online are very lively and people are forming friendships this way,” Almeida said. “We want to create the safest possible environment on campus and let students know that socializing is still available, just in a different format.”
EXCEL is following numerous safety measures for in-person events, such as offering multiple show times to ensure smaller audience sizes, disinfecting and sanitizing the space in between show times, marking seats for socially distant spacing, providing hand sanitizer and following the campus face-covering protocol.
“This type of engagement is important for well-being,” said Noel Watts, student development specialist. “We want to serve our students’ social needs so they feel that sense of belonging here at UT Arlington. Campus activities still need to engage students, reassuring them that they still have options to have fun and get involved at UTA like they have in previous years.”
Matt Delos Reyes, assistant director of student activities, said he believes engagement, content and modality are all significant factors to consider while planning and implementing campus activities during a pandemic.
“We’ve had to reimagine how we are serving UT Arlington students,” Reyes said. “The time spent in college outside of the classroom is important, and EXCEL Campus Activities can help students engage—whether through programming or building relationships—even in these virtual times.”