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Zoom-unions and social wellness

Former members of the University Program Board gathered online for a reunion hosted by Nicole Bianchii and Meghan Escamilla.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines reunion as: a reuniting of persons after separation.

For the past six months everyone across the globe has been encouraged to maintain six feet of physical separation. That separation has come with a host of impacts, good and bad. A promising new direction for alumni engagement has grown out of the new ways we connect with others.

Alumni, students, and staff across the Division of Student Affairs are using this moment in time to invite the past in with Zoom reunions. Amanda Papinchock ’13, M.S. ’15, Barb Dallinger ’81, M.S. ’01, and Nicole Bianchi ’17 were the first volunteers to adopt and lead the virtual reunion format. Starting in May, they called together their circle of Redbirds, who were feeling unsettled, to remind them, “We care.”

Bianchi shared, “I think it came at the perfect time. Most of us seemed to have been stuck working from home during the pandemic and the virtual reunion certainly boosted moral!”

Having worked in hospitality for thirty years, Dallinger was accustomed to the structured, formal nature of concerts, weddings, and reunions that have transpired at the Bone Student Center. A Zoom reunion excited her because she was not bound by traditional reservation timelines or geography. “The best part of a Zoom reunion was the ability to cross time zones. They were as far west as Vancouver Island & Alaska across the United States and the Atlantic Ocean to London and Israel.  Noon here at Illinois State seemed perfect; not too early for the folks out west nor too late for Europe & the Middle East.  Seeing partners, children, pets was great, but the smile on their faces and the light in their eyes was what I’ll never forget,” said Barb.

Steve and Sandi Adams Legacy Hall of Fame inductee, Erik Tomlin ’02, is one alumnus living abroad who has reconnected with Illinois State during the pandemic. “It’s difficult trying to stay connected whilst living in England because I can’t really get to grips with the physical changes that are happening on campus, such as the new Bone Student Center. However, I do love that I’m still connected to the people there that made my experience so rich and rewarding, he commented.”

Alumni who joined Dallinger for the July reunion said they were touched hearing the voices of those they might only interact with by means of social media. Exchanging life updates over Zoom proved to be quite cathartic.

Tomlin added, “Many of the people she [Barb] connected were people I hadn’t heard from or seen in years, so it was just so great to catch up with them and see how they are doing. They were inspiring role models and friends back in college, and they continue to inspire me nearly 20 years later!”

The aim of all three reunions was simple – demonstrate care and spark a spirit of joy. The shape of each reunion mirrored the culture and traditions of the volunteer’s affinity group. For the campus programming alumni, trivia and prizes were a necessity. Bianchi put her educator skills to work, organizing a Kahoot with University Program Board trivia.

Former members of the Student Wellness Ambassador Team gathered online for a reunion hosted by Amanda Papinchock and Jim Almeda.

Student Wellness Ambassador Team (SWAT) advisor and alumna, Papinchock said, “It was more than reuniting with former ISU alum. It was reuniting a family that Jim Almeda has built for decades, established in a strong foundation of empathy, trust, and support. The SWAT Reunion could not have come at a better time, when many members shared the impact COVID-19 has had on them. The support and empathy we shared for one another during our Zoom Reunion is exactly what has always been encouraged during our SWAT retreats.”

Nicole Jones ’16 echoed Papinchock saying, “The reunion brought back tons of great memories and made me even more grateful for my time spent at ISU and the friendships I made while there.”

Optimizing social interaction during this summer of separation is proving to be beneficial for alumni. If the pandemic is nudging you to connect virtually with other Redbirds, fill out this interest form to let Alumni Engagement staff know you are considering being a Zoom reunion volunteer.