University Fest, hosted by the Student Association (SA), serves as an annual reminder that the semester is here. Students are welcome to visit the Peace Quad while clubs, sports teams and other organizations table to recruit prospective members. However, this year, the event is being held completely online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The fair began on Monday, Aug. 31 and will continue until midnight on Friday, Sept. 4. Participating groups set up virtual booths on B-Engaged, an online system utilized by campus offices and organizations to connect with students. At these virtual booths, organizations have provided short descriptions of their groups, lists of their officers and chat options.

The decision to hold University Fest virtually was reached through the combined effort of the University and the SA. Both parties decided that a virtual event was the best way to convert the large fair into an event that abides by current health and safety guidelines. The virtual University Fest is called “SA Recruitment Week.”

Maggie Koekkoek, executive vice president of the SA and a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, explained the plan for the virtual event.

“Freshmen can click on the B-Engaged link, answer a few questions and be matched with clubs,” Koekkoek said. “They can also join live Zoom sessions and ask questions through the chat messaging system. The program is pretty easy to use.”

If students are interested in joining the organizations they come across, they can simply click the “I’m interested” button.

This online experience, while new and experimental, allows the SA to mimic the atmosphere of the fair and give students a chance to get involved on campus. 231 groups will be represented with 24/7 information booths and, at scheduled times, these groups will hold Zoom breakout rooms where club officers will be present to answer questions and give more details about their organization over video chat.

While this year’s event will differ from previous years, Koekkoek is optimistic about the event.

“The event is getting a lot of interest,” Koekkoek said. “I’m hopeful that it will run smoothly.”

Like Koekkoek, Madelyn Yevoli, College-in-the-Woods’ vice president of public relations and a sophomore majoring in economics, expressed excitement about the event.

“I think that the virtual recruitment fair is pretty easy for people to navigate,” Yevoli said. “The virtual booths are a good replacement for in-person meetings during this online semester.”

In contrast, Joelisse Then, a co-fundraiser involved with the Juvenile Urban Multicultural Program (JUMP Nation) and a sophomore majoring in history, expressed concerns about the nature of the virtual fair.

“You can give people information virtually, but it is not the same as speaking to them in person,” Then said. “In person it is easier to get a feel for the vibe of the organization. We usually have an internship program that gives people an idea of what we do and I worry that the virtual booth will be a hindrance to our organization. But I am trying to stay optimistic.”

Some first-year students have expressed interest in SA Recruitment Week, as many have been looking forward to joining clubs and organizations on campus. Allison Choi, an undeclared freshman, is eager to get involved.

“I’m excited to join clubs,” Choi said. “I want to join all of them, but it’s important to limit social contact because of everything going on. If everything was in person, I probably would have signed up for a lot more.”

Students interested in attending SA Recruitment Week between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4 can register on B-Engaged.