Students in South Dakota State University’s Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College have called it a close-knit community or another family. Despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the honors college are still trying to keep those connections going.
From 11 a.m. until noon weekdays, the college is holding “Honors Hour.” The live Zoom chat does not have an agenda, according to Rebecca Bott-Knutson, dean of the Fishback Honors College.
“The goal behind ‘Honors Hour’ is to take an hour each day to facilitate the community in a different way,” said Camille Massmann, a graduate assistant in the college. The Cold Spring, Minnesota, native graduated from SDSU in 2019 after majoring in biochemistry and biotechnology and adding a minor in communication studies. She is pursuing a master’s degree in biological sciences, specializing in microbiology.
“The topic can be anything and everything; we look at it as another chance to get to know everyone better,” she continued. “A really big part of the honors college is the community or the family aspect that comes from meeting and interacting with people. The switch to being online has thrown a wrench in that community aspect.”
The community draw is so strong that Massmann participated in “Honors Hour” the week starting March 23 despite also conducting work in a research lab.
“Before we ended the call, another student told me she never would have seen a research lab if I hadn’t Zoomed. It’s nice to be able to share life a little bit more on a personal level,” Massmann said.
In addition to “Honors Hour,” the Fishback Honors College is also holding online fitness events as part of its commitment to set aside time for mental, physical and emotional health. The events are intended to show the impact exercise can have on mental health and how to stay healthy in these stressful times.
Ava Torres, an entrepreneurial studies major from Des Moines, Iowa, held a yoga class while Natalie Swanson, an exercise science major from Vermillion, led a fitness and creative class with Massmann. Torres and Swanson also teach classes at the SDSU Wellness Center.
“I start all of my classes by setting an intention for the practice. With our current situation, I wanted to set an intention of enjoying the little moments and finding good in these hard times, aiding in stress relief,” Torres said. “The honors community and administration are incredible at providing resources for students to continue to feel connected. These events were another example of that and although we didn't have a massive participation (the first week), we had great discussion and got to reconnect with the honors community, which was the real purpose. Our hopes are to continue to reach out and build awareness of these events.”
While Torres and Swanson admitted attendance was not what they wanted for the first week, they will continue offering the events.
“I think the more we can make personal connections with friends and encourage them to come, the better our turnout will be,” said Swanson, who said she will teach exercise classes to anyone whenever and wherever. “I have learned that, no matter what event you're holding, virtual or otherwise, you have to connect with others to improve turnout. Personally asking people to come is probably going to be the most effective strategy to get them there.
“The students in the (Fishback) Honors College are some of my best friends ... they're family,” she continued. “Staying connected to them means staying connected to the community that has shaped me.”