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One McCormick Lecture Highlights Pandemic-related Adjustment of Student Activities

Ellen Worsdall discussed how McCormick has supported student involvement amidst COVID-19 regulations

Ellen Worsdall and two student leaders shared examples of how student organizations have successfully navigated the challenges presented by the pandemic and adapted their activities to the rapidly changing conditions of the past year.

Feeling a sense of community and belonging is important for anyone in any group, whether it’s as small as a family or as large as an engineering school at a major university. During the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining those bonds became even more crucial, with student organizations playing a prominent role.

Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Ellen Worsdall shared examples of how student organizations have successfully navigated the challenges and adapted activities to the rapidly changing conditions of the past year in her One McCormick lecture on Wednesday, April 28. The McCormick School of Engineering maintained its involvement and connection through a robust infrastructure of student-led organizations — even as the pandemic threatened to disrupt these pathways. 

Ellen Worsdall

Worsdall oversees 28 student groups and serves as the faculty adviser for five. She discussed how greater involvement with campus life has been associated with higher academic achievement, student satisfaction with college, and persistence toward graduation.

She credited student leaders, whom she called “amazing individuals,” for their volunteer work that kept their respective organizations on the right path. The pandemic created challenges for recruiting and onboarding new members, maintaining student activities, and implementing outreach.

Still, the student leaders made sure those obstacles were overcome. Virtual recruiting events drew interested students, onboarding was expanded to sending materials kits to new members, and outreach was redesigned to create engaging digital content.

“Their achievements, especially this past year, are a real testament to the initiative and passion our students have for their organizations,” Worsdall said. “Their leadership is really making a difference in building community, fostering student involvement, and combating feelings of isolation among McCormick students. 

Julio M. Ottino

“Given the extraordinary difficulties that students are navigating, it is really inspiring seeing them apply their problem-solving to the current realities and achieving success.”

Worsdall’s lecture included a Q&A session with two student leaders: Daniel Lopez, Northwestern Formula Racing’s chief engineer; and Bill Yen, co-president of the Northwestern chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World.

Yen, a second-year student in civil and environmental engineering, sees how valuable group participation has been for first-year students, who have had opportunities to get to know upperclassmen and learn what it’s like to go through classes at Northwestern. Personally, Yen said being part of a student group has given him a reason to reach out and talk to people during the pandemic.

“I don’t think I would’ve had as much interaction as I have right now if I weren’t running a student group,” Yen said.

Lopez agreed. On a base level, extra-curricular participation has given him something to do.

“Being in quarantine for months, almost a full year, just being in my apartment, got a little boring,” said Lopez, a fourth-year student studying mechanical engineering. “Even in a normal year, I think student groups are a great way to have something to always be doing. I always love that, and I’m glad it was able to continue over the pandemic.”

Julio M. Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering, noted the “seemingly unending succession of excellent leadership” in student groups, and recognized Worsdall’s efforts.

“It’s how our students remain connected, and this is especially true in the time we are living in during the pandemic,” Ottino said. “It’s super important for students to feel that they are part of a community that allows them to be integrated within our shared network of McCormick.”

The next One McCormick event is scheduled for Wednesday, May 12, and will feature the Personal Academic Tactical Help (PATH) program. Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Engineering Joseph Holtgreive will deliver that lecture.