Creating a Vibrant Campus Life Experience Online

By 
Katie Gibson
May 13, 2020

Berklee’s Campus Life staff and student leaders have found new ways to engage the campus community online during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Berklee student Vivienne hosts a popular cooking show on Facebook.
Image by Julie Dunn

In a typical semester, Berklee’s Center for Campus Life sponsors dozens of on-site events, as well as giving student clubs space, support, and funding to run their own programming. But in the wake of Berklee’s campus closure following the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, staff members are finding creative ways to engage students online.

“Spoiler alert: We’re still learning,” says Rosemary Dowling, director of Campus Life. “But we’ve had some great engagement from students, and we’ve also had some really helpful feedback.” Dowling and her colleagues have used that feedback to shape their offerings for students this spring, and to plan for the summer, when most of Berklee’s classes and programs will be online.

“We’ve learned a few important things,” says Dowling, citing student feedback from surveys and individualized check-ins. One is that since students are taking classes via Zoom, they’re on screens much more often than usual, so when it’s time to relax, they sometimes want to turn the computer off. Another lesson is that time zones matter: Some students waking up at odd hours to attend their classes on Boston time would rather not attend events in what might be the middle of the night for them. 

We don’t want to overwhelm students, and we understand that not everyone needs the same things. But we’re asking: What can we do to supplement the academic experience?

—Rosemary Dowling, director of Campus Life

“Students are also more likely to attend student-led events, so we’ve tapped our student leaders and their creativity,” Dowling says. Students are leading their peers in activities such as yoga classes, bullet journaling, and baking tutorials (a popular one is a cooking hour hosted by a student who goes by the drag queen name Vivienne).

Importantly, some of these events don’t require students to interact directly via their screens. They can have the event on in the background while they do a tactile, physical task or while they exercise. For students who are craving virtual face-to-face contact, weekly themed Zoom calls offer a chance for conversation with other students around topics such as travel misadventures or childhood memories. 

“We’ve seen a lot of engagement via social media,” says Dowling, citing the daily themes on the Campus Life Instagram account, which invite students to share photos of their pets, recommend films to one another, or contribute to a collaborative “Tunesday” playlist. Many student clubs are still active, hosting virtual events and speakers, and the staff is providing support, including online open office hours.

As the summer approaches, Dowling’s team is thinking about how to engage students who will be attending Berklee classes remotely. The team will use a mixture of prerecorded orientation sessions from departments across campus and live Q&A sessions, so students and families can get the information they need and ask questions. Students and families will be placed into groups determined by time zone, and meet online with their leaders each day. The groups will provide a space to build connection with others participating in Berklee's remote summer programs.

“We don’t want to overwhelm students,” says Dowling, “and we understand that not everyone needs the same things. But we’re asking: What can we do to supplement the academic experience?” That holds true for spring and summer semesters, and for commencement week, as graduating students were invited to submit photos and videos of themselves in commencement regalia, and celebrate their accomplishments. 

To see more of Berklee’s virtual Campus Life offerings, check out the Berklee Campus Life Instagram and Facebook pages, and the website

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