Students crowded in the Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation (Rec) Center last Friday for the first fully in-person Student Involvement Fair (SIF) since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The biannual event, hosted by Leadership Engagement & Experiential Development (LEED), is an opportunity for students to connect with hundreds of student organizations and University offices and departments. LEED held a hybrid SIF in February after construction on the Rec Center pushed last fall’s event online.
Attendees were excited for the face-to-face event after students struggled to join student organizations during last year’s hybrid operations.
Juniors David Lu and Kesavan Venkatesh experienced SIF in person for the first time this year. In fact, in an interview with The News-Letter, Lu shared that he did not attend SIF last year because it was virtual.
Freshman Pranav Kaginele felt having the event in person made it easier to get to know different organizations.
“I always prefer talking to people in person, and I think it’s harder to see what the vibe of a club is online,” he said.
Student group leaders also appreciated the return to in-person SIF, hoping it would boost recruitment efforts.
Junior and Co-President of South Asian Students at Hopkins (SASH) Maansi Barnwal described how being in-person gave groups more options to engage with potential new members in an interview with The News-Letter.
“It's a really great improvement for recruitment purposes because last year or even the year before when everything was online, we barely had people come into our Zoom room. It was very awkward,” she said. “I think the turnout is 1000 times better than what it was.”
Members of SASH organized different games, handed out giveaways and played music at their booth this year.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Co-President of Omega Psi and Senior Supervising Board Member and Co-Founder of the Brain Computer Interface Society senior Zihan Wang explained how the in-person format allows her group to demonstrate the types of projects they work on.
“Using the demo of a robotic hand last spring really attracted a lot of people to stay at our booth, to talk to us and ask questions and they wanted to try out,” she said. “In-person events give us more room to demonstrate what we actually do, because especially for some engineering projects, it's very hard to demonstrate online.”
Barnwal noted that in-person events foster a stronger sense of community, adding that clubs gain new members more efficiently through word-of-mouth than through Zoom presentations.
Wang agreed, asserting that in-person recruitment events can make it easier for interested students to meet representatives of student organizations.
“We have this physical contact with people and you can always ask questions when you have it,“ she said. “Last fall, there were time constraints on the online chat rooms.”
Sophomore and President of Hopkins Gospel Choir Isioma Nwonye described the event as a good way to meet new people.
“I didn't know there were so many things on campus, so it's really awesome to see what everyone's involved in and what they're passionate about,” she said in an interview with The News-Letter.
Some attendees criticized the event’s cramped space, which made it difficult to navigate the rows of booths and practice social distancing.
In an interview with The News-Letter, junior and Co-President of Omega Psi Zandi Eberstadt explained that she was late to her shift at SIF, because she couldn’t find her booth.
“Finding the physical booth was kind of complicated just because there's so many people. It feels like an ocean almost,“ she said.
Lu suggested the University consider a different venue for SIF, given the number of people and COVID-19 concerns.
Wang encouraged students of all years to attend SIF and get involved outside of the classroom.
“Most people at Hopkins, we do research, we do academic things. But clubs are a very rare chance for you to actively get involved in a society and feel like it's a very energetic school,” she said.