Not Forsaking Fun
New approaches to student activities foster community connections
by Brooke Thames
Among the health and safety terms that permeated students’ daily lives on campus this fall, there was one three- letter word that Bucknell staff worked to make even more ubiquitous: fun.

“You could look at this situation a million different ways, but many of us have chosen to see it as a chance to find exciting, new ideas to keep students engaged and supported,” says Sabrina Shankar, assistant director of student activities.

Shankar oversees Bucknell’s 7th Street Studio & Makerspace, a hub for extracurricular arts that was one of many on-campus spaces challenged to reimagine its events and activities. Rather than sitting shoulder-to-shoulder making crafts with community art supplies, students used individually packaged materials at outdoor pop-up sessions and weekend night events. Crafts ranged from simple pleasures, such as mug painting and bullet journaling, to laser-cutting Bucknell- themed door decor.

The new model is one Shankar has wanted to implement for more than a year but never found the time and resources, until physical-distancing requirements made it necessary. It also offered a way for students in University- mandated quarantine and isolation to maintain a lifeline to campus, as each week Shankar’s team delivered individual DIY art kits to students’ doors.

“It’s hard enough having to navigate this strange version of college life, and spending time isolated from the campus community only adds to that stress,” she says. “Everything student activities coordinators are doing now is aimed at giving all students a sense of belonging and connection.”

Outdoor activities illustration
For Molly Burkholder, assistant director of Campus Activities & Programs, that meant designing campus- wide events to replace those canceled due to the pandemic. In lieu of the signature Fall Fest, an early-September country fair featured goat yoga at the MacDonald Commons, caramel apples at the Uptown event space and pumpkin painting in the art studio.

“Creating safe, consistent environments for fun is something we’re deeply committed to,” Burkholder says. “It’s so important that our students have opportunities they can rely on for relaxing and enjoying their time here, especially now.”

Those experiences also extended off campus — to the trails and rivers bordering Bucknell — with almost daily wilderness excursions led and organized by the Bucknell Center for Sustainability & the Environment (BCSE). Typically reserved for labs and a limited number of science courses, the trips — which included kayaking on the Susquehanna River and fireside chats at nearby field stations — were open to any student seeking leisure in what often feels like a whirlwind of uncertainty.

“That immersive residential experience is one of the core strengths of Bucknell that students truly value,” says BCSE Faculty Director Peter Jansson, electrical engineering. “There’s nothing more worthwhile for us than helping them find those moments of beauty, joy and connection.”