Music booms as curious first-year students wander through rows of tables set out in the sun. Painted butcher paper signs and taped-down sign-up sheets flutter in the breeze. Juniors and seniors call to their peers, excited to see each other, excited for a new year and new clubs. These fall festivities are the hallmark of Cobber Expo, Concordia College’s student organization fair. The expo will be held on Sept. 12, from 3 to 5 p.m., but students won’t find it popping off beneath the shade of the bell tower. This year, due to ongoing COVID-19 precautions, Cobber Expo is going online.
Elizabeth Hart, the Student Organizations and Programing Coordinator in the office of Student Engagement, says they made the decision to move Cobber Expo online because it is a large gathering of people. This would make it difficult to ensure social distancing and proper mask usage. Hart, who is organizing the expo, recognizes that many people wanted to have the expo hosted in person, but it wasn’t the safest option available.
“Looking at other campuses and how quickly they had to fall back on their in-person plans we just want to keep everybody here as long as possible, and as safely as possible,” Hart says, “So one way we can do that is have Cobber Expo on a virtual platform rather than in person.”
The virtual platform the expo will take place on is called Airmeet. Launched in 2019, Airmeet was built to host online networking events, like Cobber Expo. However, even with a platform that seems tailor to the expo’s needs, moving it online will still pose problems.
Lizzy Peterson, president of the Gaming Club, is one student organization leader concerned about adapting to Airmeet. For past expos, Gaming Club would set up their table with popular games and gaming materials for potential members to peruse, and even offer to play quick card games to give a taste of what club activities are like. With Airmeet, however, they won’t be able to demonstrate their club in the same capacity.
“I’m a little worried that it’s not going to show all that we have in our club anymore,” Peterson says, “but still hopeful, and I’m still thinking that games kind of speak for themselves.”
Like Peterson, leaders of other student organizations are also staying optimistic about having Cobber Expo online this year. The Student Government Association usually hosts a table during the expo to talk to first-year and returning students about what the association is, what it does and how it can help be a voice for the student body. Though they will lose the face-to-face component of an in-person expo, the SGA leadership is still excited about reaching students over the new online format.
“I think it’s really important for us to be there in the first place, and for us to let the students know what we do because not a lot of people know what we do,” Rio Permenter, director of communications for the SGA, says.
Organizing Cobber Expo online may also be a chance for student leaders to exercise their ingenuity.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to get creative and learn how to connect with people still intentionally over a screen, because that can be really difficult,” Sophie Newcomb, president of the SGA, says. Unfortunately, it’s not an opportunity everyone is entirely prepared for, or even aware of.
Just over a week out from Cobber Expo, SGA leadership had not received any word from the office of Student Engagement about Cobber Expo being moved online, nor had they heard if it was even being held this year. Peterson, on the other hand, received an email mentioning the expo’s move to Airmeet, but she says the information was sandwiched within information about training and student organization meetings.
First year students also seem to be out of the loop concerning Cobber Expo. First-year student Collin Stillday says he’s heard about it, but he doesn’t know what the event is. After learning about the expo, Stillday expressed strong interest in attending, even with it taking place online.
“I would definitely join the Cobber Expo. I would want to get involved in Concordia as much as I can while I’m here,” he says.
This is the kind of enthusiasm Hart hopes the Cobber Expo can live up to.
“I’m really hoping it gives a little bit of a glimpse as to what an important aspect of the Cobber community is about,” Hart says, “and that’s being a leader, finding your community, feeling welcomed, and being involved in some way and giving back to the campus or greater F-M community.”