MISSOULA – University of Montana students returning for spring semester will be welcomed by a host of free activities designed to safely foster connection and engagement – two elements the COVID-19 pandemic has nearly erased for students.
Most activities will be held outside with mask requirements and social distancing measures.
What can normally be a bleak month on campus has been transformed into a “Winter wonderland of events,” according organizers with the University Center, Facilities Services and the Office for Student Success – who have worked for months planning safe activities specifically for students to enjoy themselves in community and campus.
“The pandemic has affected every one our lives, including our UM students,” said Sarah Swager, UM vice provost of student success. “We are all longing for community and connection, and we want to be able to safely offer the full University experience to students as much as we can this year.”
Offerings include a once-in-generation opportunity to ice skate on the University’s Oval. The ice rink will remain as long as cold temperatures permit, and students are welcome to skate every day. Ice rink rules, public skate times and the ice rink calendar are posted at http://www.umt.edu/uc/ice-rink/.
Students can also Nordic ski on the UM Golf Course, with planned Nordic tours by UM students and equipment available through campus rentals.
Every Tuesday on campus from noon to 1 p.m., snacks and hot chocolate will be available to students on the Oval with live music provided by local musicians. Propane fire pits and Adirondack chairs also are available for students throughout the day.
For those looking to connect in a warmer space, UM partnered with the Roxy Theatre in downtown Missoula, a walkable distance from the UM campus, to host free movie nights exclusively for students. A remote crafting hour also is planned, with crafting supplies provided.
Swager said students who are engaged with their campus community and develop connections are more likely to stay in school and persist to graduation.
“It’s an important time to find smart and safe ways to connect and experience what makes winter at UM and Missoula so unique and special,” she said. “As much as we’re able, we want to deliver on why our students chose an in-person experience at UM.”
Swager’s office worked closely with University Center Director Adrianne Smith and the UC’s Student Involvement Network to create safe events for students.
“We thought and thought about what welcoming students back in winter would look like this year,” Smith said. “We took guidance from the Missoula City-County Health Department and wanted the majority of events to be outside for safety – but also because it’s a natural pairing with this beautiful place we live, and we want to share that and promote that to our students.”
Smith said this won’t be the first time UM students have skated on campus, but she hopes the winter events will spark a lifetime of memories for today’s students.
“Our students need each other right now, and so do our faculty and our staff and our greater UM family,” she said. “We want everyone to stay safe and healthy but still have an opportunity to connect in-person and remember that a supportive, active community is here.”
More student events will be offered throughout the semester, including virtual scavenger hunts, remote workouts and outdoor concerts. Students must log in and register for events through Griz Hub, the University’s central platform for students to join organizations and discover events on campus and in Missoula.