OK, Zoomer: How UND uses Zoom, other technologies to keep in touch

Across UND, virtual forums are the new social spaces and places to make connections

Brad Rundquist

Brad Rundquist, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, is one of many in the UND community learning the capabilities of Zoom not only as a meeting tool, but a social venue. UND archival image.

Before Spring Break, Brad Rundquist, dean of the UND College of Arts & Sciences, had never been in a Zoom meeting. Considering the fact that Zoom’s daily usage nationwide went up 300 percent in March alone, he probably was not alone.

But as its dramatic growth suggests, Zoom is now a part of everyday life for administrators, faculty, staff and students alike. And it’s just one of the tools that people across UND are making the most of as faculty, staff and students reconnect the social ties that “physical distancing” has split.

The Zoom Lunches that Dean Rundquist organized are an example. “During that Spring Break week, I was thinking about ways that I could keep in contact with faculty, staff and academic advisors,” Rundquist said. “I wanted to share new developments, answer questions, listen to concerns and generally stay connected.

“Once I started using Zoom, I realized that it was pretty simple to use, and that it could be useful for unstructured discussions.”

Zoom Lunches at the College of Arts & Sciences were the result. These free-flowing sessions let staff and faculty speak with the dean, and each other, to check in and discuss matters related to the College.

Avenue of learning

Since the first Zoom Lunch a month ago, the dean has hosted them twice a week for around 15-20 participants, on average. Rundquist said each session yields a great discussion that mimics conversations happening across the “table.”

Brad Rundquist

“I get a mental boost out of seeing people and hearing how things are going, and I think others feel the same way,” he said. “It’s a nice way to support each other during a downright difficult time.”

The impromptu forums are an avenue of learning for the College’s leader, as he gets to hear how composition directors, for instance, have developed methods to teach writing online, and how faculty and students in Communication Sciences & Disorders, as well as Clinical Psychology, are working to provide services remotely.

“It’s not uncommon for me to leave one of the lunches with several questions from faculty and staff that I don’t know the answers to,” Rundquist remarked. “I do my best to find the answers, and to share them as soon as possible. I obviously learn from that, too.”

He’s now intent on mixing some focused topics into the lineup. The dean wants to hear from researchers on how they’re operating in compliance with health and safety policies and procedures, and he’s scheduled a lunch for staff only.

Since Spring Break, when Rundquist first hopped on Zoom, the College has not slowed after going remote. “The lunches will continue to be a way for me to share up-to-date developments,” he said.

Strengthening connections

As a former chair of what is now the Department of Teaching, Leadership & Professional Practice, Gail Ingwalson knew the importance of morale for her colleagues in the College of Education & Human Development.

Gail Ingwalson

“I found that one of the most important things I could do, in that position, was whatever I could to help people feel like they’re important to us, that we’re a family and that we’re all going to work through this together,” Ingwalson said.

So, in light of all of the College’s official business and faculty meetings happening on Zoom, she decided to create a virtual social hour – no business, limited “shop talk” and overall a chance to reconnect.

The first social hour was hosted Friday, April 10, after business hours. Close to 20 people participated, which was a sign of encouragement to Ingwalson to schedule more.

“We wanted it to be open to faculty and staff to find out what everyone else is doing,” Ingwalson said. “Many are disconnected from a lot of their families right now, so if we can do something through Zoom, to be able to bring us all together, it’s a nice opportunity to approach life outside of academia.”

People talked about having kids learning at home, what they’re doing to keep healthy and even got a group together to bring things to someone self-quarantining at the time.

“It was a really nice chat, and people appreciated it,” Ingwalson said.

For someone like Ingwalson, who’s nearing the end of a 30-plus-year career at UND, not going to the office every day has been an odd experience. She missed seeing the people with whom she most often socialized and shared connections.

“I think that’s such a critically important part of being at UND,” Ingwalson said. “And when we do things like this, it can draw everybody together – it strengthens those connections.”

The associate professor also helped establish a committee in the College to engage students, which has developed ideas to interact over the popular video app Tik Tok. Ingwalson said the main idea is to communicate that the education college will continue delivering high-quality education and support students however they can.

“I think they’ll get a kick out of it,” she laughed.

A screenshot from Ernst & Young’s Zoom session with accounting students shows one of the styles firms used during UND Accountancy’s first virtual field trip last week. Image courtesy of Kate Campbell.

New territory

At the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration, in the words of Kate Campbell, Zoom has been where “tradition meets innovation.”

Katherine Campbell

This past week, the professor and chair of the Department of Accountancy, along with the College’s Pancratz Career Development Center, hosted the first virtual field trip for the College’s accounting students.

For decades, the department and student-led Accounting Club have organized spring field trips for dozens of students to tour public accounting firms in Minneapolis; network with alumni; and learn more about the industry. It’s an experience that puts students in touch with some of the biggest accounting employers.

“We were lucky because accounting firms have made big investments in technology, and they were able to transition to remote work smoothly,” Campbell said. “So they were all jumping at the opportunity to take part.”

On April 23 and 24, the department hosted 10 firms in Zoom sessions for students to join. According to Campbell, each firm had its own approach to the virtual venue. One group hosted trivia on Kahoot!, a quiz app; another had someone in the office space with a camera, giving a virtual tour of where they would normally be working.

Students were able to submit questions and talk to recruiters throughout.

Kathy Lund

Kathy Lund, director of the Pancratz Center, said the endeavor was new territory for both the College and the participating accounting firms.

“I think we’re breaking new ground and perhaps setting a trend for what others may eventually do, as well,” she said. “It was wonderful to see the opportunity for students to still connect with each other as well as all of these amazing firms.”

Campbell said that the eagerness on the part of the employers may have to do with the fact the employment market is as robust as ever, meaning there are plenty of opportunities for UND’s accountants-in-training. Also, UND alumni have a strong presence in recruiting teams.

“Every internship commitment has been honored and every full-time offer has been honored, they’re just shifting online,” Campbell said. “The resilience of that job market is incredible.”

Given Grand Forks’ remote location, virtual gatherings could play a bigger role in the future, Campbell said.

“It’s a great way for employers to maintain their profile with students, and they’re still trying to figure things out in this space, too.”