The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for some students to form social interactions, particularly freshmen.
To combat this issue, Jordan Windham, junior in political science, started an organization called Get Plugged In. GPI is centered around combatting isolation that the pandemic has caused many people to experience.
“It all started when we came back in the fall,” Windham said. “My friends and I were expressing our concern for the new freshman class and how something needed to be done to help them find their community here at Auburn. Freshman year is hard enough already and they needed the opportunity to get connected to the Auburn Family.”
Windham said that she did not originally come back to campus expecting to start an organization, but she started GPI when she said she saw that no similar club existed. She said she wanted freshmen to find their place at Auburn.
“I had started a study group for freshmen in my class, and one girl walked in and said, ‘This is the first time I have left my dorm in three days,’” Windham said. “It was at that moment where I realized someone needed to do something, and I thought, ‘I guess it’s going to have to be me.’”
Windham said she started calling her friends that night to tell them that she was wanting to start something to address the problem of people not getting to meet others. She said she wanted to help Auburn address this issue, and she and her friends decided that starting an organization to help people connect to the Auburn community was a great way to fix it.
“I was homeschooled, so I knew absolutely no one at Auburn when I came,” Windham said. “I was sensitive to the first-year experiences because they were so important to me since I did not have that network of people that I knew already when I was a freshman. It was really easy to empathize with these freshmen, and watching them go through this and struggle with it was something I just could not leave alone.”
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GPI started out by recruiting leaders from across campus to hold small group sessions, Windham said. The first thing the club did was read recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and campus guidelines so that the club was abiding by the rules and regulations set in place.
“The small group counselors [pitched] a cool event to do in the Auburn and Opelika area, usually around campus,” Windham said. “This [helped] the group get to know different parts of Auburn while starting to feel like Auburn can be their new home.”
The small group model helped people get to meet in person while staying safe, socially distanced and wearing masks.
“My freshman year was terrifying, even with all of the opportunities to go meet new people,” Windham said. “There were no shortage of opportunities [for] people to meet, but it was still terrifying. Seeing the campus shut down and all of the opportunities shut down with it, I thought that freshman year is already hard enough, yet this year it’s even harder.”
Windham said there are always people who do not find their friend groups for the first couple of weeks, and she did not want people to fall through the cracks. So, she said she wanted to create opportunities for these people to make friends and get plugged in.
“The Auburn Family welcomed us with open arms. I emailed professors I had that would shout out GPI in their Zoom classes,” Windham said. “The Honors College even put us in their newsletter. It was humbling to see the whole Auburn family from advisors to professors to peers get together to help build this organization.”
All years and colleges are welcome to join GPI. The club now has over one hundred members, two staff advisors and a leadership team of 14 people. Since GPI has a wide range of people, the club accommodates this with a wide range of activities. The club has gone hiking, shopped downtown, held bonfires and gone bowling.
“We have a Zoom group, too, so that people who are quarantining, sick or are having to socially isolate can still have interaction,” Windham said. “We do trivia nights and some other fun activities to help them stay involved.”
The club has more recently begun attending events each week hosted by other student organizations over its previous small group model because of challenges for counselors who had to work around club members' schedules in planning GPI's own events. A counselor will text in the club’s GroupMe chat to see if anyone wants to go to the event as a group.
“I would like to say a big thank you to the Auburn Family, everyone has been so [respectful] of what we had to say and what we wanted to contribute,” Windham said. “We are so grateful for your love and support. The opportunity to pay forward the support and encouragement that Auburn has given us has been a humbling opportunity. We are so grateful to be a part of the Auburn Family.”
Windham encouraged students interested in serving as small group counselors for the fall 2021 semester to email email@example.com.
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