On February 29, Belinda Buscher, C’92, was attending a Volunteer Leadership Summit on campus when her phone buzzed. It was a notification of the first confirmed COVID-19 death in the U.S., in a suburb of her hometown of Seattle.
As Co-President of the Penn Club of Seattle, she had been looking forward to the Penn to You event scheduled for March 5. Now, the future was less certain.
“We were so excited to have an event like Penn to You in Seattle,” Buscher says. “Cancelling it was the right choice, but it was still disappointing, like all the air being let out of a big balloon.”
The Club devised an ingenious response. Instead of a direct audience with faculty, the Club encouraged alumni to delve into lectures available on the Penn Alumni website, select a few favorites, and begin online discussions on those topics. It wasn’t exactly Penn to You, but it shared the spirit of connecting alumni with lifelong learning opportunities powered by Penn’s academic strengths.
All over the world, Penn’s regional alumni clubs have risen to the challenge of remaining active and engaged in a time of social distancing. Whether educational or entertaining, virtual programming is helping alumni learn new things, connect with one another, share experiences, and help each other remain resilient in the face of the global pandemic.
These alumni events run the gamut from discussing the science and economic impact of COVID-19 to presentations on wellness, pop culture and media, gender studies, and more. Buscher notes that these virtual engagement events offer a solution to a longstanding concern for regional clubs.
“We have seen people who never attended an event in person take part online,” Buscher says. “Anytime we can engage with someone new makes us incredibly happy,” Buscher says.
Regional club boards are using teleconferencing platforms to hold meetings, with some members noting increased participation in cases where distance or work and family obligations had affected attendance in the past. Club presidents are also connecting to share best practices and lessons learned from their virtual events—and of course, sharing stories and memories of dear old Penn.
“People are being highly creative about how they are connecting and engaging with one another,” Buscher says. “It absolutely warms my heart.”
Thanks to technology that enables engagement across vast distances, some regional clubs are extending invitations to alumni beyond their home regions. That includes the Penn & Wharton Club of Singapore, which is inviting alumni across Asia to participate in webinars and quiz nights, while also promoting events hosted by Penn.
“We have already seen a great response to these virtual events,” says John Tsai, G’01, WG’01, President of the Penn & Wharton Club of Singapore. “And they’ll only get better with more practice.”
This experience may prove useful if people remain apprehensive about public gatherings in the future. “For some alumni, the only way they stay connected to Penn is through their regional clubs. Offering virtual programming keeps those connections going,” Buscher says.
People are so happy to connect with one another and have that shared Penn bond. That’s the sort of feeling we hope to create with our live events, so it has been great to see that spirit continue even in a time of crisis.”Belinda Buscher, C’92
No matter where you are in the world, a Penn connection is only a click away. To learn about upcoming events, check out the calendar on the Penn Alumni website. And be sure to connect with your local alumni club if you want to share your ideas, your talents, or your Penn pride.