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Student organizations persevere through pandemic

12/15/2020 1:34:59 PM

Concrete Canoe team
Concrete Canoe team

One of the best ways for CEE students to make friends in the department and learn things outside the classroom is through registered student organizations (RSOs). But during a semester in which many aspects of student life have been curtailed due to COVID-19 concerns, there was every chance that RSO activity would suffer. It turns out that in spite of the challenges presented by the pandemic, CEE RSOs are finding ways to move forward safely. 

There are 15 active student organizations this year, and groups like Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge are operating much as usual, albeit with Personal Protective Equipment and online meetings replacing some in-person gatherings. Caroline Kulach, a Concrete Canoe project manager, said that the group – which has 50 active members this year, including 15 freshmen – enforces social distancing, requires masks, disinfects equipment before meetings, limits meeting attendance to achieve effective social distancing and checks COVID-19 test status before meetings.

“We are happy with the decision to meet in person,” Kulach said. “We are seeing people who return regularly because they enjoy paddling or working with tools. Members are connecting with each other and learning new skills. And as for captains, we are able to test our experience and leadership on a new challenge and on a new set of members.”

Steel Bridge team
Steel Bridge team

Like their Concrete Canoe counterparts, the Steel Bridge team is doing the majority of their design work online and fabrication in person. The group has 20 members but, for safety, only three people are allowed in the shop at one time. Masks are required, and each Steel Bridge member received their own gloves and safety glasses for the year to avoid virus transmission. 

Both groups are preparing for regional competitions in April 2021, although it is still unclear whether those will be held in person or in a virtual space. 

Other RSOs are also finding ways to conduct their business, network and have fun. For example, the American Concrete Institute (ACI) student chapter is hosting guest speakers virtually rather than on campus, and they plan to participate in events like Engineering Open House and the ACI national conference remotely. The Geotechnical Engineering Society Organization (GESO) kicked off the year with a virtual welcome event that served as a meet-and-greet for students and have supplemented their regular online group meetings with two outdoor social events – a picnic in the park and a golf outing. 

Overall, the desire to welcome in new students and continue the traditions of their groups has outweighed the inconvenience of following safety guidelines for in-person gatherings and the limitations of virtual interactions. For Scott Young, head captain of the Steel Bridge team, the extra effort to keep the group active this semester is worth it.

“The other captains and I firmly believe that the extracurricular projects like Steel Bridge, Concrete Canoe, etc., are one of the best parts of civil engineering at UIUC,” Young said. “It gives freshmen a practical project that they are able to be involved in besides their normal classes and an opportunity for everyone to make friends and meet other people. Despite extenuating circumstances, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive this year.” 

Playing frisbee at the GESO picnic allows for socially distanced fun.
Playing frisbee at the GESO picnic allows for socially distanced fun.