Students of the "UMich Respect Blackberry Club" pitch their club to fellow students attending Festifall in the Diag Thursday. Kate Hua/Daily. Buy this photo.

Festifall returned to the University of Michigan this week with student organizations lining the streets of campus hoping to recruit the next class of promising students. 

Festifall began Tuesday on North Campus in the late afternoon before moving to Central Campus on Thursday for afternoon and evening sessions on the Diag and Ingalls Mall. 

This week’s festivities marked the second in-person student org recruitment event since classes were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Last year, Festifall was conducted fully in person while Winterfest, the winter semester equivalent, was held virtually due to the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19. 

Over the two days, Festifall, organized by the Center for Campus Involvement (CCI), hosted over 750 student organizations, community vendors and campus departments seeking to engage and recruit students.

Devon Vaughn, program manager for student development in CCI, estimated that about 9,000 people, primarily students, attended Festifall on Central Campus, and about 3,000 people attended Festifall on North Campus. Vaughn said the in-person format allowed organizations to connect with students.

“Fully virtual (events) are such a challenge. You don’t have those moments of connection and face to face contact. Last year, we came back for the first time, and it was great, but there was a lot of hesitation,” Vaughn said. “This year, it felt a lot closer to what we saw in 2019 and 2018. The attendance was beyond what (the CCI) expected.”

Vaughn spoke on some of the more difficult aspects of Festifall and how the CCI plans to mitigate the challenges of such a large event. 

“I think really great connections are being made,” Vaughn said. “There are challenges, like (Festifall) is overwhelming. It’s huge. One of the things we’ve tried to do is offer a one-on-one appointment after Festifall for those who could use that kind of space.”

LSA freshman Maddison Linker attended Festifall on Thursday and shared her thoughts on the event. 

“I was a little overwhelmed at first because it seemed like a lot of people, but now that I’m here, it feels a lot better, and I’m very excited to be learning about all these organizations,” Linker said. “I love it. Other than the free items, I would say I’m really excited about joining the volunteering clubs and even some of the more random clubs. I’m looking for fun things to do outside of class.”

With a return to normal life on campus, many organizations felt this semester’s Festifall differed from the mid-pandemic. Public Health senior Meghna Singh is the president and programming  chair of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at the University (AFSP-UM). The organization’s table was scattered with pins, stickers, flyers and candy on Thursday in the Diag. Singh talked about AFSP-UM’s recruitment process this semester.

“The energy is what’s different,” Singh said. “There’s definitely more people walking around checking out tables, versus a virtual environment, which we’ve done multiple times. It’s just not as successful. I’m glad to see people are excited and wanting to get back involved again.”

Engineering junior Nicole Baalbaki is the Director of Finance for the Syrian Student Association. She discussed the association’s tactics for recruiting new members at Festifall.

“I think just playing some good Arabic music, Syrian music, teaching people about our culture, and who we are,” Baalbaki said. “Just being ourselves, showing what our culture is.”

While some Festifall participants said they are planning for a primarily in-person semester, many said they will use online meetings in the early stages of membership. 

LSA junior Deniz Kirca, outreach chair of the Neuroscience Student Association (NSA),, explained that while his organization is conducting many in-person events this year, the NSA is still using a hybrid format. 

“I think we’ll still have a mix of Zoom and in-person stuff, but I think that the Zoom stuff will mostly just be out of convenience,” Kirca said. “We found out that some things like mass meetings are kind of nice to do over zoom. In general, we will have more in-person events.”

LSA sophomore Lucas Solomon, president of Michigan Youth Sports Initiative (MYSI), said his club saw an exponential growth. MYSI is less than one year old but had interest from over 125 students at Festifall. 

“It was a great day for me and for the club, and I think we took the next step forward to helping underprivileged youth in the area,” Solomon said. “Festifall gave (MYSI) a really good opportunity to continue to put the club forward. It really worked towards creating more change in the community. I’m very thankful for that opportunity.”

Daily Staff Reporter Carlin Pendell can be reached at cpendell@umich.edu.