In past years, Student Commons played host to Clubsfest events. This year, its blocked-off seating gives the once-busy area an eerie feeling. Photo credit: Madalyn Howitt

Although Algonquin’s clubs will all be virtual like so many other parts of college life this term, Hien Ly, a biotechnology-advanced student, went ahead and co-founded a club called STEAMed this fall.

“We can’t believe we actually made it during the pandemic, it’s all uncharted territory,” said Hien. “We don’t know what we are up against.”

Hien joined 16 other clubs on Sept. 24 for Clubsfest’s completely virtual event. While club leaders had to change the structure and their approach to signing new members, the Zoom event was set up to allow students to move in and out of club meetings without feeling constrained or obligated to sit through all of them.

The event’s organizer, Sienna Benson, the clubs and communities coordinator, says that even with all the uncertainty, club members and club leaders have shown that there is a shared desire to build spaces to connect.

“The collaboration portion of it is way more than I ever dreamed of,” said Benson. “I wanted it to feel more like a coffee shop feel.”

Students could attend as many or as little online club meets as they wanted. When comparing the 2019 and 2020 Fall semester there was a major downsize when looking at all three campuses. Algonquin College had 50 clubs operating in Fall 2019 compared to only 16 clubs this Fall.

Wi-Fi connection was one of the main concerns Sienna and the other club leaders had. “With anything going virtual there will always be technical difficulties,” said Benson. Another major concern was the fact that students just wouldn’t show up via Zoom given that students were online all day.

For Ari Kamal, an occcupational therapist assistant / physiotherapist assistant student the co-president of Algonquin College Esports, the downside of his club going virtual extends beyond just the Clubfest event. Kamal says he will miss the sense of community on campus he relied on.

“Ever since I joined Esports I had a second home for every single day of my college life,” said Kamal. The club was a way to meet new people and create long-lasting friendships.

“I loved seeing 50 people in a whole room watch a tournament,” he said. “It was one of the best things I could have ever hosted.”

Although a lot of the clubs did not return, Sienna explained “the interest has definitely shifted to more virtual [options]…this has definitely sparked new ideas, new creativity, new wants and needs from students.”

For some of the new clubs, the decision came about for a need to find new ways to connect with students who share similar interests and continue to build a strong social scene when there isn’t an opportunity to share physical spaces.

This is what happened in Hien’s case. And other students want to be a part of it too. STEAMed now has a little over 30 members.

“We hope to keep that number and have people as interested as they were on day one,” said Hien.