Since last spring, all college events have gone virtual. Photo credit: Andrea Sternberg

On the heels of the most recent Algonquin College open house on Jan. 20 and after almost a year of adapting to hosting in the virtual environment, event planners are pleasantly surprised by their successes.

Despite COVID-19 changing how they’ve had to work, organizers adapted and plan to keep remote events around for the long term.

“When we went virtual, we really thought the community wouldn’t be on board,” said Sophia Bouris, events manager in the office of the president.

Her team organizes and oversees town halls, coffees with the president, AC Vision, AC Hub and recruitment events among others.

“In person you have the five senses. You walk into a room and you get all the warm and fuzzies,” she said.

When the first lockdown happened, she and her entire team “took the time to pause and educate” themselves, certifying as virtual event planners.

They brainstormed ways to continue to deliver meaningful events for everyone involved, from attendees to speakers, entertainers and staff.

“Our numbers actually went up in participation,” she said. “And I’ll be honest, I was shocked.”

So was Anne Kalil, manager of student recruitment, whose team organizes AC open houses and other events for prospective students.

“We were able to pivot pretty easily, and we’re learning as we go,” she said.

Hard numbers for participation at the virtual open houses her team organize are difficult to track, but the number of registrants increased from 2488 in the fall of 2019 to 3213 in the fall of 2020. “Almost a full thousand more,” she said.

“We attribute that to more people being able to attend from places they would not normally be able to come from, like northern Ontario, New Brunswick and even oversees,” she said.

Back in the office of the president, Bouris echoes this trend.

“For a town hall, which is more of an information sharing event, typically on campus you would get around 70 to 100 people,” she said. “When we translated it to online, now we’re getting anywhere from 500-700 people…” and participants are feeling more connected and part of a community.

“That’s just one example but they kind of all skyrocketed,” she said.

Kalil says they will always have virtual events now.

“I don’t know what the format will be in the future, but we now know that virtual events are a good way to meet with people. It gives students a more personalized experience,” she said.

“Online you just tune in for what you want to see, and I think that’s a really cool perspective moving forward,” said Bouris. “I think we are going to change the way we do this,” she said.