Susan Kasten
June 08, 2020

Pet Photo Contests and Zoom Dance Parties

Virtual trivia games, hashtags, and other social activities helped Beloit students stay connected around the world this spring.

A global pandemic has affected everyone in countless ways, but it ran into resistance when it tried to erode the tight-knit sense of community at Beloit.

Shortly after most students unexpectedly had to pack up and leave campus in March, faculty and staff started devising ways to keep everyone connected. Faculty members were quickly pivoting to a remote teaching model, and many were thinking about how they might lift the spirits of their students.

Remi, one of 80 pets entered into Beloit's inaugural pet photo contest, won first place last Apri...Remi, one of 80 pets entered into Beloit's inaugural pet photo contest, won first place last April. Remi is the pet of student Alyssa Morris’21 of Aurora, Ill.The team that runs the show in the Powerhouse, Beloit’s new student union and rec center, came forward early with creative virtual programming.

They stepped up their regular menu of fitness programs and social activities and invited students to join video e-gaming leagues, participate in virtual bingo and trivia nights, and even take part in a pet photo contest that was judged in March Madness bracket style. The pet photo contest was wildly successful, with 80 pets entered—all belonging to students, faculty, or staff. By the time it reached the final round, 1,300 people had cast more than 3,000 votes in a welcome escape from the thrum of bad news in the world.

The Powerhouse group also launched #togetherbeloit, a hashtag that encouraged the community to stay physically active while sheltering in place. One student posted her photo after a quick run, writing that she “wasn’t really one for running before the quarantine, but getting out in the fresh air has been so good for my physical and mental health.”

The team also invited students to play group games like Mario Kart and Harry Potter-themed virtual trivia, which lightened the mood and reminded everyone that Beloit’s social life and spirit of community was intact despite distance.

Second place winter Valentino belongs to former Admissions staffer Gail Hartje. During some of th...Second place winter Valentino belongs to former Admissions staffer Gail Hartje. During some of the darkest days of the spring semester, the chance to vote on cute pets in a bracketed competition was a welcome diversion.“Our job with clubs and organizations is to bring people together and help them have fun,” says Mic Brunner, who directs Beloit’s Student Engagement and Leadership program. He’s part of the Powerhouse team and creator of the popular pet photo contest. “We’re looking for shared social experiences while practicing social distancing,” he says.

The small number of students who had to stay behind on campus also received “rec packs” to cheer them up and keep them moving. With colored pencils, journals, bubble kits, frisbees, playing cards, and more, the packs offered a welcome diversion.

Steve Robinson, who directs Beloit’s new Powerhouse, says that even virtual events allow people the side benefit of checking in with one another.

During a Google Meet conversation in April, Robinson said he was overjoyed by the ongoing student activities and events he was seeing. He pointed out that they went far beyond what his own team was spearheading. He cited a Zoom dance party, hosted by Jennifer Esperanza, a professor of anthropology, along with the college’s Health and Wellness Center, as a great example of an effort to rally the community.

This kind of programming is always important, he says, but especially right now. “This disruption in our lives was abrupt and connecting with each other brings a little normalcy back. It brings back our connection to Beloit.”


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