Building a Community Online: My Experience with FASS

Building a Community Online: My Experience with FASS

By: Shahvir Sarkary
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To me, creativity is the use of the knowledge and intelligence I have acquired and having fun with it. From the outside, a well-functioning team or organization always looks seamless and easy to operate, but I believe it is the sign of good leadership and management. This had become my goal from the moment I grasped the opportunity to work as the Events Assistant for the largest faculty of SFU, Arts and Social Sciences (FASS). In my Co-op, I received multiple opportunities to do a variety of projects and work with some of the most creative and fun-going minds at Simon Fraser University (SFU). One of my highlights was onboarding an outstanding team, for a contract of 8 months, who would change how we saw Welcome Day and carry FASS on its shoulders to help new students feel comfortable and welcomed at SFU. I would like to share a few more of my takeaways and the professional experience I have gained during my time with the team through this article.

Recruitment and Training

There were tons of pre-planning activities in this role and months of organization and careful delegation of smaller projects to get where we got. As part of my first project, I had to recruit a volunteer team that would be working alongside me, the student coordinator, and my colleagues to connect students and increase their engagement throughout the faculty. I took the time to do some analysis of students who had previously volunteered by reading notes that were created by my coordinator and previous colleagues in order to form a list of potential recruits who are fit for the unique role that we offered. The task here was essentially the heavy research aspect, which I enjoyed a lot, as I had to find individuals that not only fit the description but were incredibly passionate about building this community for thousands of incoming students. Pre-pandemic, it started with me meeting volunteers who had participated before and were inclined to join us again. As we redefined how things would operate in 2020 for Welcome Day, my goal was to hire experienced and dedicated volunteers but also to headhunt undiscovered individuals who would bring value to this program and could grow within this role and what it would become once everything moved online. The entire team was not built before COVID-19 and the pandemic was at our doorstep, so we continued by moving the last bits of the recruitment process online with a week full of interviews on zoom. This experience had almost given me a new set of eyes for talent recruitment in a virtual world.

In total, I reached out to over 300 previous volunteers and headhunted over 70 individuals from our database to narrow it down and form the team that was later called “FASS Senior Welcome Leaders – Peer Mentors” consisting of 48 volunteers.

Virtual Team Building

Zoom call with multiple people, smiling When you put together 48 individuals with different sets of personalities and skills in a team, it sounds very challenging to get them to know each other so they can work together and bring the same positive energy day in and day out. The important part is to find commonality through their overall goals or something that will unite them. It was certainly a task, but we used what I like to call the STAR (strengths, teamwork, alignment, results) team building strategy to create connections in smaller groups within the team and then interconnect these groups on projects, so they have the opportunity to align their interests and work together as a bigger unit. There were virtual social events that I put together for the team alongside weekly teambuilding activities during the first fifteen minutes of every meeting.  I applied this strategy for the first few weeks, after which we collected a goal sheet with questionnaires that helped us gain deeper insights into how we could bring certain individuals together to work on future projects and use their skills as an asset. Over the course of the next few months, feedback and reflection were the foundation of how every year this program got better, year after year and will continue to do.

Marketing and Promoting Student Engagement

To state the obvious, in an online world, Zoom & Eventbrite were almost a necessity for event planning and daily activities. Alongside the program coordinator (my supervisor), we managed to develop and host several pieces of training sessions for our team. These platforms were used to organize and host 100% of our virtual events as we moved forward, and our team started hosting them in smaller groups of 5-7 new students. As my role progressed, I was open to a variety of projects. My scope started expanding to collaborate with the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) & FASS Representatives in SFU to host panel sessions that helped new students meet with experienced executives within the faculty and get ready to head start their semester. My role in this project was to help them with recruiting these panelists or executives who were experienced and well informed in their field. During these panel sessions as we were looking for panelists who could lead these sessions, I utilized my network to include strong and diligent individuals who could provide good quality information and content that is important for these panels. On the backend of many of my projects was marketing and promotion on social media to get high participation, spread the word, use designing software for aesthetic touch and incorporate that in targeted emails outreach. During my time, with the help of my colleagues and my coordinator, we boosted our total social outreach by over 30% on Instagram and Facebook. This was through better promotion strategies and increasing the quality of engagement by bringing in more contributors who would create that content every week and engage students on our platform.

Gratitude and Fulfillment!

Zoom window with four people, all smiling: Shahvir and his coworkersIn the end, it is important to convey and express that I have felt inspired every day with all the efforts and dedication our volunteers put into building a community that continues to thrive and standing with them toe to toe to see all our efforts pay off was very heartwarming. Transitioning over 3000 students into our community over a few months and helping them feel comfortable is not an easy task, and my team never failed to inspire me by coming up with new ideas and giving their absolute best every single day. On the backend of these initiatives, there was never any obligation or pressure to do everything perfectly, and instead, I was allowed to make mistakes and have room to grow out of them. It felt like a successful Co-op and there is so much that I take away as a set of new skills in recruiting and talent acquisition that I got to master during my time at Arts Central.

Beyond the Article 

Posted on February 04, 2021