As students enjoy their summer, student unions are preparing for a more “normal” fall semester in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While vaccine distribution and evolving strains of the virus complicate the return to normalcy, staff at student centers are regrouping for a return to in-person operations and events. Late night events, in particular, require a special type of organization.
The Bulletin asked the leadership at Rowan University’s Student Center & Campus Activities to talk about their successes in adapting and redesigning its late night programming during COVID, and to offer some clues as to what the future holds during a transition back to in-person programming. The team at Rowan’s Student Center & Campus Activities Department that participated in this information share were:
- Joe Lizza, Ed.D., director of Chamberlain Student Center & Campus Activities at Rowan University
- Lauren Kuski, associate director of Programming and Administrative Operations at Rowan University
- Jay Patel, assistant director of Rowan After Hours and Student Recognition at Rowan University
- Mustafa Abdus-Sabuur, graduate coordinator of Rowan After Hours and Special Events at Rowan University
How are Rowan Rowan After Hours events organized?
Rowan Rowan After Hours provides late-night and weekend opportunities for Rowan University students to become active in campus life by hosting diverse, quality programs in a safe and welcoming environment. This programming is overseen by a full-time staff member and graduate coordinators, which are part of the Student Center & Campus Activities Department. The benefit of having our late night and weekend programming under the same department as our student union allows for a more unified approach to student programming.
There is a full-time assistant director that focuses on the development, function, supervision, and execution of the Rowan After Hours series. In addition to the full-time staff member, there are three graduate coordinators who assist in the planning, on-site event management, and supervision of the student staff team. The associate director for the department provides support for all of the programmatic initiatives within the department, with the director providing direct support for all operational needs of the Student Center and overall leadership for the department.
Are there any security measures in place for Rowan After Hours events?
Due to the late night nature of Rowan After Hours, all graduate and undergraduate staff are taught basic emergency management and communication protocols. These trainings focus on identifying students who may be in danger, addressing concerning behavior, and notifying the proper individuals based on the situation. All professional, graduate, and undergraduate student leads have access to walkies and their personal cell phones in order to quickly communicate with one another.
In addition to day-to-day emergency management, the Assistant Director evaluates additional security needs for all events. This would include events with high capacity, significant numbers of outside guests, or events of a controversial nature. The assistant director would then work closely with Rowan Public Safety and Rowan Emergency Medical Services to appropriately staff the event.
During the response to the pandemic, Rowan After Hours has followed all New Jersey state and Rowan University guidelines, including venue capacity limits, social distancing, sanitation, and masking requirements. The Rowan After Hours student staff was trained by the professional and graduate staff on how to not only abide by these guidelines, but also enforce them with attendees. Additionally, Rowan After Hours was no longer able to permit outside guests into events or continue their weekly travel bus program into Philadelphia, known as the “Philly Shuttle.”
How are events organized by student organizations and funded with co-sponsorships?
The beauty of the Rowan After Hours co-sponsorship model is that it allows us to collaborate with different student organizations. The model we have set in place allows for us to promote different organizations on campus, build campus communities, and educate students, all while celebrating diversity and creating a model that allows for students to feel represented and included.
The Rowan After Hours co-sponsorship model is built into three different tiers. The tier process gives the opportunity for student organizations to grow and develop leadership and programmatic skills to make a well-rounded student leader. Tier 1 is our lowest commitment of co-sponsorship. It typically includes the organization hosting a table at an event already planned by and paid for by Rowan After Hours. Tier 2 requires more student organization involvement and input, and they are a larger part of Rowan After Hours nightly entertainment. While the overall event is still planned by Rowan After Hours, the group is more integrated into the night, allowing more exposure and interaction with program participants. Tier 3 is considered a true “co-sponsorship,” which includes the highest level of involvement, collaboration, and input between Rowan After Hours and the student organization. The minimum financial support is $1,500 but more can be given on a case-by-case basis.
How has COVID-19 impacted Rowan After Hours overall? How did you adjust events during the peak COVID-19 periods and more recently as vaccines have rolled out?
In order to keep the Rowan campus community safe, the program reduced hours to accommodate building and staffing requirements, eliminated the traditional “Midnight Food Bar” due to food safety concerns, and limited capacity at events to abide by social distancing protocols and capacity limits.
We began to innovate under changing restrictions and guidelines in order to best serve the campus community and continue to promote #RowanPride throughout the academic year. The program adapted traditionally in-person events into a hybrid model, including monthly live bingos and our larger $5K bingo event. Live performances were hosted in-person and live streamed, and students could pick up their own “Do It Yourself” kits and follow the staff-created YouTube tutorials at home. These opportunities contributed to Rowan After Hours further engaging Rowan students on and off campus.
What did virtual Rowan After Hours events look like?
The ability for a variety of programs to shift to a virtual platform also allowed for our department to work more closely with our enrollment management team by allowing newly admitted and prospective students to attend some of our events and get a feel for what will be occurring when they arrive on campus. In addition to events for current students, we hosted some programs specifically for our prospective students alongside admissions staff. This has been a goal for our department for several years, but was more difficult when our events were on campus due to space constraints and concerns over minors attending events running until 1 a.m. By offering virtual events, these same individuals could interact, build relationships, and help further influence their decision to attend Rowan this fall.
The main challenge we experienced was the ability to find different ways to engage with students in a virtual environment. Programs that traditionally worked well in-person such as live music, magicians, and game shows were not well received. However, all hope was not lost. We found that events such as bingo in a virtual environment were very successful. Students would join in high numbers for a chance to win $1,000 worth of prizes.
What we felt made this type of event so attractive was that it was heavily incentivized. We heard from students on numerous occasions that they were just exhausted from sitting in front of their computers all day long for class, and an event really needed to speak to them for them to do the same thing in the evening. Virtual programming has also allowed us to find new ways to be creative. An example of this creativity was when the after hours team created a paint tutorial video that aired during the traditional Rowan After Hours time. Students were able to pick up the materials in advance and log onto YouTube to view the demonstration and participate safely from home.
What kind of feedback have you received from students for the after hours program?
The programs offered by Rowan After Hours have traditionally been recognized as some of the best events on campus, but with this honor comes significant expectations by attendees. A common theme heard from our students was that student life at Rowan looked a bit different—in a positive way—than that at other colleges and universities.
The Student Center & Campus Activities Department remained operational throughout the entire pandemic, with health and safety modifications in place to ensure the safety of our students and staff. During this time, the team remained consistent in providing quality programing that may just have looked and felt a bit different. With programming, dining, and other building services remaining functional and staff on-site on a rotating basis, we were able to provide a mix of in-person and virtual programming events for our residential and commuter students.
Overall, the feedback from students has been positive. They appreciate the modifications that were made, but are understandably eager to return to the traditional offerings that are currently being planned for next semester.
Are there any new after hours events students could look forward to this fall? What’s in the pipeline for your fall programming?
As students return to campus this fall, there’s a flexible plan in place to guide our way back. The plan for Rowan After Hours is impacted significantly by the overall university health and safety plan. The university will continue to require unvaccinated students, faculty, and staff to wear an appropriate face covering while also getting weekly asymptomatic testing. As state and university guidance adjusts, the program is slowly returning to its pre-pandemic state. An example of this is shifting from our current 11 p.m. ending time to 12 a.m., with an eventual shift back to 1 a.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. All after hours programming will be in-person this fall with its traditional late-night food bar and COVID capacity limits removed.
One of the lessons learned from programming during a pandemic is being able to adjust and meet students where they were. This forced us to change our model of programming and rethink traditional events to be able to successfully serve our residential on-campus and off-campus commuters and remote learners. These adaptations can now carry forward post-pandemic to more equitably engage those students who may not typically be on campus during the evening or weekend hours.
Some events that are being planned for this fall are Headphone Disco, a live petting zoo, our annual Harvest Festival—which brings together the campus community with live performances—novelties, and more. Rowan After Hours has remained consistent in its program offerings during the past 18 months and will continue to offer both traditional and reimagined events to re-energize our students, university partners, and staff.
While COVID-19 has and continues to be challenging on many levels, the program continues to engage students and serve as a sign of hope that collectively, the campus will return stronger and more inclusive in our approach to programming. The entire campus activities and student life teams have shown steadfast support for student engagement and student success during a very difficult period of time, and have been recognized by campus colleagues and the student government association for these efforts. In addition to our traditional late night and weekend programming, the Student University Programmers coordinated a variety of programs each week to complement the Rowan After Hours offerings. All of this work could not have been done without the support of our senior university and divisional leadership who have provided guidance and encouragement throughout.