Pandemic-inspired Discord server a lasting success with UML students

Ariel Shramko and Nilaish Sen met and nearly 60 other students online during the COVID-19 pandemic through the Office of Multicultural Affairs Virtual Student Success Summit, held just before classes started at fall 2020.

They wanted to stay in touch with the friends they made during the week-long program that introduces new students to college resources – and with each other. But with the campus almost closed, they didn’t know when they would cross paths again.

So Shramko and Sen, both students at Honors College, and another friend from the summit, Adil Faisal, decided to start a server on Discord, a popular group chat app that allows people to communicate by voice, video or text. . Then they invited the other summit students to meet virtually and talk about their classes and their challenges.
Almost everyone joined. Soon Shramko and Sen invited students to their online classes, and their original group of friends did too. Participation on the server, doubled Rendezvous Riverhawk, grew up quickly.

“We have become an online meeting place for people to make friends,” says Shramko. “Everyone on the Discord server has always been very kind and welcoming.”

Both quickly expanded their reach and provided resources they learned about at the Student Success Summit, including information on how to request fee waivers, add and drop courses, and find courses. individuals.

Photo by K. Webster

Sen and Shramko finally met in person a year after the Discord server started up, when the campus completely reopened.

“We decided to expand it when we realized it was a wonderful resource for us,” Sen says. “We liked meeting a lot of new people, like you do in college, so we wanted to share it with as many people as possible.”

They also posted links to Discord servers run by professors and students in biology, chemistry, math, engineering, and computer science. And they searched for UML student clubs and organizations with Discord servers that wanted to share event links and posts, so students could connect with others who shared their interests.

“During the pandemic, students struggled with virtual events,” says Sen. “Discord servers have paved this way to connect informally” and on their own schedules.

Shramko, a major in environmental engineering, and Sen, a major in biology with an option in bioinformatics, also noticed that some of their classmates were having difficulty in their chemistry labs. They offered to jump on Discord and help them out for an hour every Friday.

Soon, Riverhawk Rendezvous was hosting study groups in several science, math, and engineering courses, including one started by Shramko for his Honors Physics I section.

Things snowballed from there. Shramko and Sen say about 3,500 students logged on in fall 2020 – some just once or twice, to visit a club or get a question answered – while the number of full-time members has increased from 500 in the fall to 1,200 in the spring.

Shramko and Sen enlisted trusted friends as moderators; they have clear rules against posting racist, sexist and other discriminatory or offensive comments and content. When they noticed that members of the virtual community were stressed, they promoted academic mental health resources.

Leslie Wong, UML Dean for Equity and Inclusion, with students Ariel Shramko and Nilaish Sen
Photo by K. Webster
Equity and Inclusion Dean Leslie Wong, left, says the Office of Multicultural Affairs provides support to Shramko and Sen, when requested.

Equity and Inclusion Dean Leslie Wong, who also heads the Office of Multicultural Affairs, says staff provide support and advice to Riverhawk Rendezvous hosts when they ask – but the waiter is entirely student-led. She is proud of Shramko and Sen and the other students who continue to provide assistance to new and continuing students, even as the campus fully reopened this fall.

Has this reopening reduced student interest in Riverhawk Rendezvous? Not at all, say Shramko and Sen. Their membership stands at 1,475 and their goal is to serve 2,000 students by the end of the school year.

“People use it to make up for lost time and organize dates,” Sen explains. “Now you can just set up a meet and you will meet 20 new people in one day. “

Riverhawk Rendezvous members can post their class schedules, making it easy to find study partners and form instant or ongoing study groups, Sen explains. And Shramko and Sen have also rolled out a Discord feature that provides a hub where members can see all of the other UML-related Discord servers.

This fall, sophomores as well as freshmen were invited to attend the Engagement Fair in person, and Shramko and Sen took the opportunity to establish Discord partnerships with more organizations. students.

They also had the opportunity to meet each other and many of Riverhawk Rendezvous’s friends in person for the first time – and put names to faces, Shramko says.

“When the professor first mentioned my name in Calculus III, all heads were turned because they knew my name from the waiter,” she laughs.