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Remote Possibilities: River Hawks Find Ways to Connect and Keep in Touch

Zoom Study Sessions and Club Meetings, Discord Hangouts Help Students Build Bonds

Sarah Curley and Khadija Mir talk on Zoom
First-year business students Sarah Curley, left, and Khadija Mir haven't met in person, but they've become good friends while learning remotely.

By Ed Brennen

First-year business students Sarah Curley and Khadija Mir have become good friends since meeting last year during the UML Launch! Summer Program. They take several of the same classes, they study together whenever they can, and they both joined the Joy Tong Women in Business student organization.

Now they look forward to actually meeting face to face someday.

“I feel like I already know her really well, even though we haven’t met in person,” says Curley, whose friendship with Mir has had to grow over Zoom chats and text messages as she takes classes from home in Salem, Massachusetts, this year because of the pandemic.

Mir, who is likewise learning remotely from home in Bedford, New Hampshire, says Curley is “the one constant friend I’ve been talking to nonstop” since meeting during the virtual orientation program last summer.

“When we do get to campus, I hope we can get coffee and go to the library,” Mir says. “We talk about that a lot.”

Almost one full year into the pandemic, UML students continue to find new ways to connect with one another and build friendships remotely. Whether it’s attending club meetings on Zoom, staying in shape with virtual fitness sessions, building a computer model of campus on Minecraft, or just hanging out on a Discord server, there’s no shortage of ways for River Hawks to keep in touch while remaining socially distanced.

The latest way is Study Connect, which the university introduced this spring for students who want to do homework and cram for exams with classmates. Hosted by the Centers for Learning, Advising and Student Success (CLASS) and the River Hawk Scholars Academy, Study Connect offers college-specific, two-hour study sessions that students can sign up for on Zoom.

Discord Servers

Danielle Le and Andrew Parker met on campus in fall 2019 as freshmen in the Francis College of Engineering and quickly struck up a friendship. 
Danielle Le and Andrew Parker talk on Zoom
Sophomore engineering students Danielle Le and Andrew Parker created the Discord server "Ultraviolet Mission Launch" as a place for all UML students to hang out online.

When the pandemic sent students home last spring, Le and Parker wanted a fun way to keep in touch. They both used the popular voice, video and text chat app Discord for gaming, so they decided to create their own Discord server, or group, where they could share funny pictures and talk about quarantine life with friends. They called their server “Ultraviolet Mission Launch,” or UML for short.

“Discord feels like a combination of Facebook Messenger, Zoom and Skype, while being like a website,” explains Parker, now a sophomore chemical engineering major from Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. “Depending how tech-savvy you are, you can do some really creative things with it, like creating cool bots.”

Le, an electrical engineering major from Medford, Massachusetts, had already belonged to a Discord server for UML computer and electrical engineering majors that was more focused on academics. While that server was great for discussing specific courses, Le says she wanted to create something for the entire university community.

“I am more of a social bug. I feed off people and I’m always networking,” she says. “Once COVID hit, I was alone in my bubble and it became really difficult for me. That’s why Andrew and I collaborated to create this community.”

Their Ultraviolet Mission Launch server gradually gained members over the summer, and last fall they started promoting it to everyone they could during their classes on Zoom. This semester, the server is approaching 450 members, including students from South Campus majors such as graphic design, exercise science and sound recording technology.

“It’s the largest campus-wide server that I know of,” Parker says.

He and Le are the server’s main moderators, welcoming newcomers, answering questions and posting rules of conduct.

“We really want people to feel welcomed and not intimidated. Our motto is ‘Have fun,’” says Le, who has the Discord app open on her computer practically all day. “I look forward to seeing people doing homework, posting funny memes or sharing fun articles.”

While their server is geared toward students, Parker says anyone — faculty, staff, even parents — are welcome to join. Kavitha Chandra, associate dean of undergraduate affairs for Francis College, is a member.

“I can sympathize with freshmen who don’t know anyone,” Parker says. “When you’re on campus, students usually talk for a few minutes after class or walk somewhere together. We don’t have that right now. Our goal with the server is to make sure people don’t feel as alone.”

Student Organizations

Senior environmental science major Evelynn Cousey remembers when she first met fellow Kennedy College of Sciences students Evan Paige and Erin McGuire.

“We were taking the same lab, and they put the three E’s together,” Cousey says.

They became friends — and eventually leaders of the Society of Environmental Scientists (SES), a student organization focused on environmental, geological and atmospheric issues. Cousey and Paige are the club’s co-presidents this year, and McGuire is secretary.
“It’s great for people’s mental health if they at least check in and have conversations.” -SES Secretary Erin McGuire

Like all UML student organizations, SES has had to meet virtually during the pandemic. They’ve hosted guest speakers and movie nights on Zoom, and this semester they plan to host a virtual baking night and a virtual yoga session. The group also talks about current events at each meeting.

“We want to create a safe space during all of this,” says Cousey, a native of Broomfield, Colorado. “It’s not a huge commitment, but we want to keep engaged with everyone.”

While building membership is challenging right now, Cousey was thrilled to see three new members attend the first meeting of the spring semester.

“Even though quantity-wise we don’t have as many people, the quality time we get to spend with all the members makes you feel good,” says McGuire, a senior environmental geoscience major from Mason, New Hampshire. “It’s great for people’s mental health if they at least check in and have conversations.”

For the UML student chapter of the American Meteorological Society, meeting virtually this year has been beneficial in at least one way.

According to club president Eric Roy, the group had planned to host a series of guest speakers on campus this year — including WFXT meteorologist and UML alum Shiri Spear ’07 and John Cangialosi from the National Hurricane Center.

“Because we’re online, we’ve been able to have people from all over the country come and talk about their work in the field,” says Roy, a junior from Lowell who is double-majoring in meteorology and math. “We can just send them a Zoom link and call it a day.”

Roy says the club’s monthly meetings are also a chance for students to hang out and talk about what went right and wrong with recent forecasts.

“Being in college is a chance to meet people with similar interests to you. When you’re remote it’s a little more difficult,” he says. “We’re trying to make the club that kind of place.”