CAB reinvents schedule amid COVID-19


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In a world affected by COVID-19, organizations like CAB have had to alter the way they conduct public events.

DYLAN HAASE, Guest Columnist

Movie nights, crafts and live entertainment are all staples in the world of college programming. However, in light of social distancing requirements, UNI’s Campus Activities Board knew fall events were going to look a lot different.

While this break from routine may sound nerve-wracking, Event Management Director Helen Beyer indicated limitations have allowed CAB to redefine its organization in a positive way.

“COVID-19 was the perfect opportunity to (restructure),” she said. “It gave us room to play and experiment (with) what we wanted to change.”

Planning for fall began early. The new executive team was assembled for the 2020-21 school year in the spring and Zoom meetings began soon afterward.

In those meetings, the executive team identified aspects of college event planning they wanted to avoid.

“We’ve seen that campus activities boards nationwide are somewhat stuck in a rut of doing ‘pre-built events’ where you pay a company to show up on campus and do everything,” said Isaiah Finan, Director of Operations.

Finan indicated the team decided to do more “home-grown” events in an effort to increase engagement on campus. This strategy was seen as a benefit during an uncertain semester. Ethan Schutterle, Co-Creative Content Director, said that by limiting the amount of outside agencies involved, sudden cancellations would affect less people.

The “home-grown” events focus, coupled with COVID-19 restrictions, meant team members had to get creative when brainstorming events. Unlike in previous years, members had a say in every event instead of being put on specific committees.

Inspiration came from past events team members felt they could feasibly move online if necessary. One such event was an act from comedian Reem Edan. She was initially scheduled to perform in person at the end of the spring semester. When that was canceled, she was asked to perform over Zoom in the fall.

Popular media also served as a jumping off point. The reality competition show “Nailed It!” inspired a grab-and-go event in the fall. Students picked up supplies needed to decorate a cookie at the Student Life Office the day of the event. They then logged into a Zoom session where an instructor shared decoration tips. Students could submit photos of their cookie over social media and vote on which one was their favorite.

This event template proved to be an important building block when planning CAB events during the semester. The group brainstormed other grab-and-go events which could have an instruction session on Zoom. A “Sip N Paint” event was held in a similar vein, with students picking up art supplies ahead of the event and then logging in to hear from the lead artist at Cedar Valley Art and Wine.

Beyer said having students register for events well ahead of time was important for the event planners. The team was unsure of how many people would be interested in these new events and they wanted to make sure to have the proper amount of supplies for each activity.

CAB also committed to holding a few in-person events in the fall in order to encourage safe community interaction. One event was a drive-in showing of the 2017 film “Baby Driver” put on in conjunction with Gallagher Bluedorn. Students were given pre-packaged snack boxes upon entry and encouraged to remain in their car during the presentation.

According to Alyssa Anderson, Social Change and CommUNIty Director, team members were especially cautious when planning the in-person Fall Fest toward the end of the semester. Students were spread out in the Maucker Union Ballroom as they carved and decorated pumpkins. Live music was brought in as well, a rarity in today’s time.

Positive feedback from the event has encouraged CAB as they begin to look forward to the rest of the year.

“It’s heavily inspired us to find more ways we can have safe, in-person events in the late spring,” Harmony Wilson, Event Management Director, said. “We want our peers to have fun things to do, but we also want everyone to stay safe.”

The organization plans to host multiple in-person movie screenings with limited seatings, as well as “Panther Hot Ones,” in the Maucker Union Ballroom. Other events will be held in a virtual format.

“CAB is also in charge of most of the programming for Homecoming,” said Finan. “We hope to do a few bigger events with that.”

Keeping events accessible and engaging is a key aspect of CAB event planning. “We know what students on campus love to do,” said Beyer. “They love being around their friends and having a good time. Our job is to find events where they can have both.”

The results have been encouraging so far. The student organizers were impressed by turnout in the fall and encouraged by the positive feedback to new activities. One student who attended multiple events is Emmalee Fannon, a senior studying elementary education and communication sciences and disorders. She praised the way CAB has adapted to the new circumstances. In particular, she enjoyed the “Nailed It!” event, in which she was impressed by the large portions of cookies, frosting and food coloring. Her favorite event of the fall, however, was the “Baby Driver” drive-in movie.

“The atmosphere and experience is so fun,” she said. “I love watching movies, but I haven’t felt comfortable going to theaters recently. It was nice to have the ‘movie theatre experience’ from the comfort of your own car.”

Praise like this makes the challenges of event planning worth it for CAB members. “The feedback has made a huge impact on us,” Beyer said. “It lets us and the university know that… we can still do fun and interactive things together while keeping each other safe.”