On April 3, 2020, Campus Rec Magazine hosted its first COVID-19 Virtual Roundtable with the hope to help campus recreation professionals navigate through this unprecedented time.
Panelists included Cyndi Costanzo, the executive director of UConn Recreation at the University of Connecticut (UConn); Janes Dreamweaver, the director of Fitness-Wellness at Truman State University; Stephen Kampf, the director for Recreation and Wellness at Bowling Green State University (BGSU); and Mike Warren, the director of Recreation and Wellness at Purdue University
Below are some of the top takeaways from the roundtable, including the panelists’ current thoughts and three large themes from the discussion:
If Kampf has learned anything over the past several weeks, it’s been communication is key. Keeping staff updated and staying positive has been essential. And it’s been through a variety of virtual ways — WebEx, Cisco Jabber, OneDrive, etc. “This technology has always been here, but now there’s a true need to use this a lot more and to learn more about it,” he said.
Plus, he said professional development is highly important at this time; and so is the debate on whether to credit or refund membership, programs, etc.
Finally, some of the virtual fitness offerings at BGSU include fitness challenges, a book club, peer education and a 5K dog walk.
Warren said in less than a week, they had 10 out of 11 of their virtual programs up and running, a feat he applauds his staff for. “I’m proud we took our conventional ways of doing business and really met Gen Z where they are at, which is technology. Our encouragement was really to find virtual ways to complement what we do.”
The department has created cooking demonstrations, virtual personal training, offers Les Mills on demand, etc. And it couldn’t have been done without the team. “I guess my encouragement is to really come back to your people and take care of your people and give them the resources and tools to do it,” said Warren.
BONUS: Here are the programs Purdue University is offering virtually.
One of the biggest areas of concern for Dreamweaver right now is with keeping staff busy. Especially with students, he is trying to find tasks and jobs for students to be accomplishing while offsite. As long as it’s tracked properly, they can create content from home and be paid for it.
Plus, while staff were still allowed on campus, the custodial team did a deep clean of the facility. This included emptying storage closets, wiping down walls, etc.
A big question Costanzo had to answer initially was how does UConn Recreation fit into the larger university expectations at this time.
But now, it’s been about staff. Yes, virtual fitness programs are key, but staff connection is paramount. With a large staff, the big question now is how do they stay connected? A large part of being able to answer that has been Microsoft Teams, but Costanzo continues to ask the question every day.
“It’s become very concerning to me about how strategically we stay connected as a staff,” she said.
BGSU: Currently, Kampf is working to develop appropriate language. He noted it sounds like many rec centers are refunding intramurals completely. His hope is to credit Group X first with an opportunity to refund later. And in terms of membership, they are looking into offering credit, but can’t decide until it’s known how long the facility won’t be operating.
Purdue: The key, said Warren, is communicating what you can as soon as you can. With over 900 refunds processed in a week, he has done his best to encourage staff to reach out to members personally, asking them how they are doing and letting them know of the virtual offerings available. “Hopefully, we can use some of the virtual programs to prevent refunds,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure as many of those members as possible come back to the new normal.”
Truman State: Dreamweaver said he’s had it easy due to having free classes and offerings. However, they have been reaching out about refunds on personal training, locker rentals, etc. It’s a time when students might need that disposable income, he said.
UConn: Memberships were frozen and the staff reimbursed programs they knew couldn’t be credited. Costanzo said their goal is to come back clean, meaning they want to start member lockers over, reimburse programs, etc. when the facilities open back up. “It’s a fine balance,” she said. “We are all somewhat dependent on the revenue we generate, but we also want to be fair in our business practices.”
2. Virtual Fitness Classes
BGSU: Having your own instructors is key. Kampf said while they offer Les Mills and Body Pump classes, it’s important to keep the instructors your students love visual and upfront virtually. With six classes a week and growing, he said they are always looking for innovative ways to engage students online, whether that’s through an online 5K dog walk or fitness challenges.
Purdue: While Purdue is offering classes through companies like Les Mills, Warren said they also partnered with the music school on campus for video production of classes. Students want to see the faces they are used to. So, consider live classes and offering your own creations, like Purdue’s Cooking Class with Kevin. “We’re excited to offer our own virtual offerings because we don’t know how long this is going to be going on,” he said.
Truman State: Dreamweaver also echoed the importance of having your own instructors making an appearance. Despite not having the best equipment or video, that is what students want. He also shared they have pushed the Down Dog yoga app to their community.
UConn: Costanzo had nothing but praise for her fitness team and how they have launched virtual and live classes. But, she too noted participants want to connect with their group fitness instructors. Plus, coming soon is another program: U Kindness, a collective of professionals at the university coming together to help support some of the international students stuck on campus who are living in isolation.
BGSU: Kampf had been seeing a decline in Group X class attendance prior to COVID-19. In fact, he would walk around the rec center and see students on their phones, doing a fitness class. So, he’s using this opportunity to develop the virtual realm of BGSU recreation in hopes to provide virtual classes long term. He noted this is a prime time to learn how to do it and do it well.
Purdue: Looking ahead, Warren said virtual fitness can definitely complement and add to campus recreation. He hopes offering virtual classes would get people comfortable in their living room, and then they would show up in the real class. In fact, he said it’s up to the industry leaders to push the social connection abilities campus rec provides. One way to do this is to help trainers develop personal relationships with their class participants.
Truman State: While the rec center can create content virtually, in the end it doesn’t have the same effect in Dreamweaver’s opinion. “The in-person interactions hold something different we are all craving,” he said.
UConn: Costanzo echoed some of the other panelists when she said virtual offerings are a complement. “It’s so important we are engaging our communities right now, but I think we need to remind ourselves what we are really good at,” she said. “We are really good at connecting people, and we are really good at bringing people to our centers.”