A Virtual SPS Community Takes Shape

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A Virtual SPS Community Takes Shape


Robin H. Glefke, SPS Member, Georgia Institute of Technology

Robin Glefke. Photo courtesy of the author.  Spring is the busy season for Georgia Tech’s Society of Physics Students chapter, and last year activities were in full swing as the semester began. Typically, most of our big events—a formal, a high school physics competition, a department cookout, and many outreach events for children—are held from March to May. But as we all know, in March 2020 the world entered a crazy tailspin that resulted in the cancellation of these in-person activities. We were devastated by the loss of our efforts and stressed by the state of the world. Ultimately, however, it’s not the activities we do that make our chapter great—it’s the community of people within it who lift each other up.

In those final months of the 2019–20 school year, we rallied. We sent out a survey shortly after the lockdown started to check in on our members and ensure they were financially stable, safe, and happy. While most students were doing okay, many were lonely and bored. Thus began our efforts to translate chapter activities to a virtual platform. By a grand stroke of luck, we had transferred nearly all of our communications to Discord the year before, so we were able to use the platform to host movie nights and public speakers—and to just keep in touch. Our Public Relations Committee even organized a virtual debate between professors Ignacio Taboada and Nepomuk Otte on the existence of dark matter and dark energy for more than 35 attendees.

We also rebooted our Excellent Adventures series, where we invite students to give technical talks on things that interest them. We had a talk on Mathematica from Arben Kalziqi, an alumnus who now works for the company, as well as talks on the fundamentals of the word processing language LaTeX and the applications of split-complex numbers to physics. Alumna Mathilda Avirett-Mackenzie suggested hosting an online coffee hour to help SPS members stay connected, and the first of these was such a success that we made it a weekly event.

Time passed, and soon it was fall, but we were still quarantined in our dorms and homes across the globe. We considered how we could connect with first-year physics majors in this environment and decided on mentor-mentee bingo. Each student interested in being a mentor or mentee posted a blurb about themselves in Discord, and people were matched based on their interests. The pairs then participated in virtual activities to cross off squares on a bingo card. Squares included activities such as homework assistance, a discussion about registering for classes, and attending a movie night. The pair with the most squares completed at the end of the semester received a prize. The program was a huge hit! During the fall we also livestreamed a pumpkin drop on Twitch, and the money raised from pumpkin sales funded the club’s newly christened Minecraft server, where members blow off a little steam amidst the chaos of classes and the world.

Despite the pandemic, we are still here for each other. Our new chapter found ways to connect and realized that a virtual SPS chapter can still be pretty awesome. After all, you can’t set your background to a Baby Yoda meme when you meet in person!

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