Sigma Delta Pi, Student Engagement and Changing Paradigms in the Wake of Covid-19

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By Mark P. Del Mastro

March 2020 caught everyone by surprise with a global pandemic that forced most in higher education to execute an urgent pivot and manage an unprecedented array of activities remotely.  Necessity was/is indeed the mother of invention as we all learned not only to become masters of Zoom, but also to engage our students creatively and effectively and despite the many limitations we all faced when our “normal,” comfortable and mostly reliable in-person realities disappeared.

For Sigma Delta Pi, the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society, March 2020 coincided with the final stretch of what was supposed to be a 19-month celebration that had begun on January 1, 2019 to commemorate our organization’s centennial (1919-2019). However, the pandemic derailed Sigma Delta Pi’s carefully planned, face-to-face programming, and we had to rethink our traditional paradigms, many of which were reinforced by organizational by-laws and policies.  Yet, these challenges were great opportunities that ultimately benefitted the Society and our members.

Since Sigma Delta Pi was first founded on November 14, 2019, all initiations of new members were required to be done in person, but with the first global pandemic in almost as many years as the Society’s centennial, that 100-year-old paradigm had to change.  On Thursday, March 12, 2020, Sigma Delta Pi announced to all its chapters a historic shift in its century-old practice: until further notice, the induction of new members would be permitted via video. That “until further notice” eventually became standard operation that continues today, and in addition to the provisions for remote initiation ceremonies, Sigma Delta Pi also organized several national events via Zoom to maintain engagement with its members, and sustain various award programs already in progress at that time. In fact, such transitions allowed many more of our members to participate in events that previously had been restricted by challenges related to travel and finances. Nevertheless, with remote national events, the only “cost” was someone’s time.

Through the e-learning exercise, and observing Sigma Delta Pi’s transitions at the national level, our chapters quickly jumped on board with their own local e-programming to sustain engagement with their own local members. But with social media to advertise these remote events, chapters could open up their own activities to greater access for their own members and those nationwide.  The pandemic had allowed our Society to become more accessible than ever, and students eligible for membership who previously had been unable to attend the required in-person induction ceremonies, could now become members remotely.

We all often hear our colleagues say that when we finally overcome the pandemic, nothing will go back to the way it was before March 2020, as if that were a bad thing.  The “necessity” of our responsiveness to Covid-19 has generated radical yet important and arguably needed changes to traditional paradigms that would have never taken place unless we had been forced to do so.  Yes, the pandemic has created tragic hardships for many, but it has also allowed us all to rethink how we do what we do, and in many cases, doing it better for the benefit of all involved.  Such changes have certainly improved how Sigma Delta Pi does its own business, and it certainly has refined and improved the work of us all.

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