University of Connecticut clubs have seen an explosion in engagement since UConn’s involvement fair earlier this month. Two clubs in particular, the Outing Club and Moon Club have seen rapid growth from years prior, quintupling in size, according to members of the Outing and Moon clubs.
The Outing Club is an outlet for students to explore the outdoors and make friends on weekly sponsored nature trips. Howard Ding, the president of the Outing Club, spoke about the recent growth of the club and how this growth has affected the club and himself.
“When I picked up the club, we were looking at four to five hundred people and since the involvement fair and the beginning of the school year and getting back into the groove of things, we’ve just seen it climb and climb and climb all the way to, now we’re at about 977,” Ding said. “We’re still getting a few people every day.”
Ding believed that after the COVID-19 pandemic had pushed everyone indoors, outdooring became a new social outlet for many.
“The influx of people being interested in the outdoors is incredible, coming from COVID especially because everyone is stuck indoors and wondering what we can do and we’ll say, why don’t you go outside and go explore that way?” Ding said. “It’s incredible the amount of people that are going outdoors and trying to explore.”
Ding expanded on why he believes the Outing Club has seen such an explosion of membership, ranging from so many new students on campus for the first time to grassroots recruitment.
“If you think about it in terms of clubs and organizations, we essentially have two years of ‘first years’ looking to get out there and we do have the name of Outing Club —we’re one of the oldest clubs on campus, but we also have a lot of word of mouth too, whether it be brothers, sisters who are in Outing Club right now, or friends and friends of friends who say, ‘Hey! so-and-so does Outing Club and they love to go skiing, and I want to go on a ski trip or I want to hike Mt. Washington,” Ding said. “We really have the whole spectrum of people who want to run the gambit, so we really want to cater to them.”
Ding also attributed the club’s success to its returning members and their energy in trying to lift the club off the ground after a year of COVID-19.
“We had such a passionate membership coming back from 2019 — we had such energy levels that naturally just compounds upon itself, where everyone, whether its transfer students coming from out-of-state back to in-state, or new students, we’ve really seen an exponential rise,” Ding said.
Ding also reflected on his role as president of the Outing Club and how it has changed after more than doubling in size.
“Things have changed a lot for me, I think it’s almost become a second full-time job. Being a student is technically my first priority, but it’s almost like the Outing Club has taken over my whole world, and I don’t mind that,” Ding said. “Especially being ethnic as well, I am ethnically Chinese, it is very interesting to see as well because we are, let’s be honest, one of the most Caucasian groups on campus, and since things have been slowing down now, I can finally start to think about how to approach diversity in the outdoors and equity for all.”
Ding said that it has been challenging trying to accommodate all the new members and manage all the new interest, but he is looking forward to the future of the club and excited to see the new trips that members will embark on.
“We want to accommodate as many people as we can, for example our Mt. Washington weekend. This was the weekend before the involvement fair for context. We still had 72 members climb Mt. Washington and everyone summited,” Ding said. “Over the weekend we had over 120 people go on trips. Between our three main trips, beginner hiking, beginner climbing and Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire we had 120 people plus a small trip on Tuesday to see the sunrise.”
Moon Club meets at every month to appreciate the full moon. Their last meeting saw Insomnia cookies and live music as well as a crowd of people. Nicola Wilk, the Vice President and Social Media manager of the Moon Club, said the recent September meeting was about five times larger than their last in person meeting.
“The last meeting we had 500 people show up, which was insane. That would be at least five times greater than our last meeting and I feel like the reason that happened was the moon rock, social media, and everyone wanting to get back into doing things on campus,” Wilk said.
She expanded and said why she believes Moon Club has attracted so much traction over the past month, crediting a need for community following the pandemic.
“After COVID-19, when not many people were allowed on campus and so many people had to just stay online, you realize how much you actually need other people around you to talk to. And I also feel so many sophomores that weren’t around last year really didn’t get that freshmen experience with clubs so they’re probably more likely to join clubs this year,” Wild said.
She also reflected on how Moon Club has changed following its explosion in membership and the new challenges the club faces.
“It has become very different, because although we realized there were going to be a lot more people than usual because we had RSVPs for cookies, just seeing that sheer amount of people in one place was mind-blowing so we’re going to have to figure out how to make it more manageable but it’s really exciting to see,” Wilk said.
Joseph Briody, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and executive director of Student Activities, said that he is not surprised by the explosion in club participation on campus and that he has heard similar stories across campus.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if student involvement is up across campus — in both student organizations and university programs. Our data from the spring showed strong student interest in reconnecting and getting involved after a long, and distant pandemic,” Briody said. “Honestly, a number of colleagues and students have mentioned to me the incredible level of energy and student activity on campus during the past month. It’s just great to have students back on campus, getting involved and reconnecting in healthy ways.”