COVID-19 has been an unwelcome guest for our entire nation. It has caused us to do things differently and think creatively to stay connected. In that regard, the University of Mount Olive’s RLS 320 Program Planning and Leadership class recently partnered with the NC Whirligig Festival to help create a series of virtual events for this year’s festival.
According to RLS instructor Julie Beck, the class is typically divided into six groups with three to four students per group. Each group then partners with various organizations to plan, promote, conduct, and evaluate an event. At the conclusion, the students develop portfolios about their experience. However, because of the uncertainty of COVID-19, the class had to punt and regroup.
Theresa Mathis, Chairperson of the NC Whirligig Festival was also having to refocus their annual event. She contacted Beck to see if her students would be interested in helping to plan for this year’s virtual Whirligig Festival. “None of us had been involved in planning a virtual event before,” said Beck. “However, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for our students to get their feet wet trying out a new platform for planning events. The experience also reinforced the fact that event planners must be flexible and adaptable.”
In its 16th year, the NC Whirligig Festival is held in the fall of the year to celebrate the Vollis Simpson whirligigs. The festival is unique mix of whirligigs, arts and crafts, food, music, and family entertainment that typically brings approximately 30,000 visitors to Wilson. However, because of COVID-19, this year’s event had to move to a virtual platform, and thus the collaboration with UMO’s RLS students began.
During the initial planning phase, Mathis met with the 18 RLS students on three separate occasions via ZOOM. She then traveled to UMO to meet with students face-to-face to make final arrangements. The students were divided into groups, and each group was assigned an activity/competition based on a list from festival coordinators. The students were tasked with creating rules for the various competitions and determining how each activity would be conducted online.
Using a game-based learning platform called Kahoot, one group created a trivia event featuring questions about the Whirligig Park and downtown Wilson. Another group filmed a dance competition video featuring a UMO student. Additional activities included a chalk art contest, bingo, photography contest, and a food contest.
By all accounts, the event, which was held the first weekend in November, was a success. “We had so much positive feedback about the weekend of activities,” said Mathis. “We are always looking for ways to expand our outreach. By teaming up with the students from UMO, who are more tuned into social media, we utilized their creativity and intuition to better reach our virtual audience. We are so thankful to Julie Beck and the entire RLS for helping us find new ways to celebrate and come together as a community.”
The UMO students agreed. Jarrod Ferguson of Auckland, New Zealand said, “Going into this class I was unsure if we would be able to gain any real hands-on experience, but I was pleasantly surprised with our efforts.”
“This process definitely broadened our mindset on event planning,” said Faith Herman of Maiden, NC. “We had to think outside the box and develop a game plan to engage virtual attendees in different and innovative ways. I am so glad we were able to give virtual event planning a ‘whirl.’ It was a lot of fun, but also a process that we were proud to be part of.