COVID-19 Lessons Learned in 2020

COVID-19 lessons

COVID-19 lessons in closing and reopening, online programming, and engaging students were all learned in 2020. Ashley Demshki reflects on the past year and its takeaways.

This past year in campus rec has been abnormal to say the least.

We spent a majority of it with our facilities closed, turning quickly to the virtual world and learning how to best serve our students from afar. While some were able to reopen eventually, there was a learning curve involved for everyone. From adopting Zoom classes to figuring out how to create a facility reservation system, we have all seen how our industry has turned upside down. As the new year begins, I wanted to reflect on the wild year we just had and the COVID-19 lessons I’ve learned.

Unexpected Closures Taught COVID-19 Lessons

That one hit us hard. From operating at full capacity one day to total shutdown the next, we were all taken aback when our facilities shut their doors. This also came with its own set of marketing and communication challenges — everything from informing students about the closure, to figuring out how to answer long-term and short-term questions. With help from our departments, other communication professionals on campus and even student workers, we were all able to get the word out, answer questions in a timely manner and continue to figure out the best messaging for us in our ever-changing situations.

Navigating Online Programming

Once closed, we had to ask: “How do we get our members their services?” Figuring out the apps best for us, website services and more was also no easy feat. In the short term, we were able to partner with fitness apps like FitOn and Wellbeats to provide students with discounted and/or free services until we could produce something we were proud of. Thankfully, that did not take long. Our teams hopped onto Zoom, filmed short workouts for our Instagram and not long after, we were able to create an at-home YouTube fitness series. These were all elements we were not utilizing prior to the closure, and to say it has expanded our horizon of offerings would be an understatement. This type of fitness has forever changed how we offer workout services and allowed us to tap into more creativity than before.

Engaging Students and Members

Online services presented a new challenge: engaging students and members and keeping them engaged. Without any physical contact or activity, we had to come up with new ways to keep the conversation going, spark continual interest, and support their fitness and academic goals. A few ways we did this was, of course, by offering virtual fitness classes. This was a great way to keep our students engaged and support their physical fitness.

During this time, we also knew how important it was to support mental well-being, too. We not only offered workshops and classes from our program areas, but also as a marketing team we wanted to take it a step further. We wanted to show our students they are not alone in how they are feeling, what they are going through and even new activities for them to try. We gathered our marketing student employees and asked them to create a YouTube and IGTV series focused on their lives in quarantine. They did not disappoint. From filming themselves completing challenges like baking without a recipe and showcasing some of their hobbies to even reviewing YouTube workout classes, our students went above and beyond to showcase their everyday lives which was relatable to others.

We also tried our best to stay relevant during this time. And guess what was trending? TikTok. We dipped our toes in the platform and while we have yet to go viral, it’s a fun project for our student-staff and lets us keep up on quick fitness trends, pop culture and more.

COVID-19 Lessons in Reopening

Lastly, this year we figured out how to support our department in reopening. At first it didn’t seem so hard, but as county and state rules continued to change, the challenge was evident. How do we keep everyone safe while keeping up with guidelines? Our department staff met weekly to create a plan that made sense, and in the end, while our facility still has not fully reopened, a lot of centers across the country have made the jump.

From reservation systems to moving equipment outside to even figuring out what sections of the gym we can open, those are all accomplishments in themselves. The resiliency we have all shown over the past couple months speaks volumes to the passion and dedication we have toward not only our jobs but also the student body and members we serve. The ability to adapt quickly when needed is something I know I will take with me into the 2021 academic year.

As I learned new things this year, I was happy to have the ability to share them with the Campus Rec community. Here are all the things I was taught this year:

As we venture into the new year, I hope some of my insight over 2020 will help you successfully navigate our new world and connect with your students. What will 2021 hold? While we can all guess and make assumptions based on consumer habits, we continue to hope for the best and create a welcoming environment for our students and members.

Image courtesy of American University

Ashley Demshki serves as the outreach coordinator at the University of California, Riverside Recreation Department. Ashley received her B.A. in public relations and advertising from Chapman University in Orange, California. She began her career in the fashion industry, working on editorial and ecommerce shoots. Moving to focus on public relations, Ashley worked with numerous nonprofit and government agencies to help empower community organizations and the members they serve. She is passionate about student development and how recreation contributes to academic, physical and social success.

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