Engineering Student Clubs Adapt to a Virtual Spring Quarter

May 28, 2020

By UCLA Samueli Newsroom

When UCLA announced that the spring 2020 quarter would be moved to remote instruction due to COVID-19, student leaders across campus scrambled to process the news and adjust their plans.

“It was disappointing because a lot of the big events for spring had been in the planning process for a year by the time the pandemic developed. Some groups were hosting their largest events of the year and they got canceled,” said Ikaasa Suri, the 2019-2020 president of Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

When Suri first found out about the virtual spring quarter, she immediately emailed the SWE board members and told them there was no need to continue with the events. But the board wanted to move forward to continue offering events, activities and resources for their members.

“Our events are smaller in scale now and have to be presented virtually, but the only reason we are even able to offer them is because our board members feel passionate about helping our community stay connected,” Suri said.

Student organizations at the Samueli School of Engineering are an essential part of the engineering student experience. They provide academic support, professional development and a sense of community. Despite the rapidly-changing circumstances of the quarter, engineering student organizations have stayed true to their mission — building community and support networks through virtual events, novel professional resources and digital socialization opportunities.

Promoting Academic Success

In a typical quarter, the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) would provide its members with academic direction and support by facilitating workshops on class planning and connecting members to essential resources and materials, such as lab coats. In an online learning environment, however, their priorities shifted.

At the beginning of the spring quarter, the organization’s mentorship committee held a “Stress and Spring Quarter” forum through Zoom. The event focused on mental health, ensuring that BMES members were equipped with ways to deal with stress and readapt study methods in order to have a successful quarter.

SWE put on a similar event in the second week, titled “Surviving Spring Quarter.” The organizers shared tips with its members on how to adjust to remote learning, discussed Zoom navigation and features, and advised members on best practices to keep themselves accountable in online classes. The organizers also posted a Google Form to facilitate the formation of remote study groups.

“This way, people don’t feel like they’re alone and have to struggle through the quarter by themselves,” Suri said.

Continuing Professional Development

Many students have had their summer internships canceled or put on hold as a result of COVID-19, and those who still have internships will be working remotely. To support its members, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) keeps the group’s job board updated, informing its members on opportunities that are still available, and maintaining a strong connection with the school’s chemical engineering industry liaison.

Other organizations, including the Association for Computing Machinery’s Council on Women in Computing (ACM-W), are publicizing resources for those whose internships were rescinded or modified. Leaders collaborated with different organizations to gather data, using Google Forms and crowdsourced resources on how best to work remotely, what to do if you’ve lost an internship, and open research opportunities. They also gathered tips from current and former interns at large companies on how to navigate an internship for students who may be experiencing their first internship this summer without the hands-on mentorship of an in-person experience.

Professional development events continue to remain a priority. SWE hosted a technical workshop on making the most of the summer, inspiring their members to start individual passion projects.

The organization also held a diversity in engineering virtual panel with industry professionals to discuss tips on navigating the engineering world as a minority.

Multiple committees under the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) have also transitioned their technical workshops online. ACM Cyber changed their workshop format into step-by-step demonstration videos, and ACM Hack holds Zoom workshops for computer science majors and non-CS majors alike.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of engagement with our ‘Passion Talks’ workshop, which ties tech to other fields,” said Rucha Patki, the incoming president of ACM. “It’s been nice to be able to keep the community together, and tie tech in with other subjects.”

Building Community Together

Organizations do not solely exist to help their members succeed academically and professionally. Community-building and providing social and emotional support is also an essential function of these student groups. Though clubs are unable to meet in person, student leaders are continuing to develop innovative methods to strengthen bonds and support networks.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) at UCLA typically rely on their lab space in Boelter Hall as its center of operations. It served as a place for members to gather, socialize and work on their projects side-by-side. This quarter, members meet virtually on a Discord server to stay in contact and work on their projects together.

“It’s been a little challenging to keep our communities together in the same way,” said Alexander Graening, the 2019-2020 IEEE president. “Now, my group of mentees and I play card games online. I’m teaching some of them to play bridge.”

AIChE is also taking advantage of online platforms to host online game nights. The organization uses these virtual bonding opportunities to forge stronger connections between their members and alumni, allowing them to interact outside of the professional sphere, according to incoming president Corinna Lee.

ACM has come up with a unique way to gather and engage their membership: a book club. The organization meets once a week to listen to an audiobook version of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck.

“It’s been an awesome way of getting people together to keep their mental spirits up. Turnout has been great and has increased over the weeks,” Patki said.

The 40-plus student organizations housed under the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering did not shut down as a result of the virtual spring quarter. Rather, student leaders rose to the challenge and launched innovative adaptations that centered around their core mission — supporting engineering students.

This story is contributed by Emily Luong.

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