As University of Michigan students continue with online and hybrid learning in the 2021 winter semester, the Center for Campus Involvement is facilitating the first virtual Winterfest to help students find organizations that match their interests. 

The event — to be held on the event website Career Fair Plus — will occur over the course of five days beginning Feb. 1. Each session will occur from 6-8 p.m. and will feature a designated student organization category. Prior to the event, students will be able to access profiles of participating organizations which contain social media links and necessary information for prospective members.

Josh Lee, CCI’s program manager of student development, said he is confident that this year’s Winterfest will foster a sense of community among students. He said many students have felt disconnected from others at the University, mainly because of the remote environment of most classes, events and clubs.

“I think the fall was a crazy time,” Lee said. “There were things that were changing so often, and I think especially when Festifall happened, it was right when people were moving in, and the semester was starting, and it really got buried under a mountain of all the other stuff that was happening. But what we’ve heard throughout fall is that students were really struggling with this and feeling isolated, especially the people who are not on campus right now.”

Engineering senior David Baek, president of the Michigan Mars Rover Team, said the team decided to participate in Winterfest this semester to give people a chance to show interest if they weren’t able to in the fall. 

“Regardless of how our team is doing and what our actual needs are, we always open up in terms of recruitment,” Baek said. “So we always allow new students to join, and we always make some effort to bring them up to speed, even if it is later in the year.”

Baek said the virtual environment has hindered the number of new people signing up but noted it hasn’t affected enthusiasm members have for the club after joining. He said he is hoping to see a similar level of enthusiasm this weekend, even if only a few new members join. 

“The number of people that seemed to be interested is less, but the people that end up sticking around are about the same amount,” Baek said of this year’s Festifall recruitment. “Regardless of barriers such as no in-person (Festifall) because of COVID, they still make those efforts to join a team.”

Though Winterfest is not in-person, students and organization members will still be able to have one-on-one interactions. Each organization will have a link to a Zoom meeting where prospective members can ask questions or learn more about specific clubs. 

For LSA senior Jessie Williams, vice president of Arts Chorale, this system allows members and other students to talk more intimately than they would be able to during a crowded and overwhelming in-person Winterfest or Festifall. 

“Just taking away the element of the crowd (at Winterfest and Festifall), you’re not necessarily competing for resources with other organizations,” Williams said. “It can be tricky to narrow folks into your organization specifically, whereas when they’re in your Zoom room, you’re talking to them one-on-one and there’s not a lot of distractions. So I definitely think it allows for more interaction.”

Williams said she believes the organization of the event into different categories on separate days will guide prospective members to the types of clubs they are looking for. 

After being separated from each other for so long, Lee said he believes that discovering community is especially difficult this year. He is confident that the variety of student organizations will provide each student with this much needed connection.

“The work that our student orgs are doing is more important now than maybe it’s ever been because they fill a need,” Lee said. “A community of your peers fills a need socially that no amount of Zoom calls for your classes can possibly fill.”

Daily Staff Reporters Safura Syed and Sarah Stolar can be reached at safura@umich.edu and sstolar@umich.edu.

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