On Tuesday, January 24th, a school-wide email was sent out from Director of Student Engagement and Leadership David Lewis about a new online community called The Husky Hub, introducing a brand new platform to USM with the plan of connecting people across all majors and locations to help everyone find commonalities with their fellow peers.
CampusGroups, the private community platform company that The Husky Hub software is built by, was started back in 2005 by Yorick Ser while he was a student at New York University. CampusGroups has since garnered attention as a genuine community platform software and according to the CampusGroups website, is currently being used by over 150 schools across the world which includes Yale, MIT and USC.
The Husky Hub platform is meant as a way of communication for faculty and students to get connected to clubs and events that circulate through our three separate campuses. To make an account, an individual must first either go to their myCampus homepage, download the CampusGroups app and look up University of Southern Maine, or scan The Husky Hub QR code that will be going around campus. Once an account is created, all within just the homepage of The Husky Hub, a student can join a group, suggest an event, see what the Husky Line bus schedule is, and look into what events are happening on campus. That isn’t even half of what is offered on the homepage, and just scratches the surface of what this new platform can offer.
This ambitious plan to bring the USM community closer together has been in the works long before the January 24th email, and even when it was first publicly announced at the November 14th Student Senate meeting. According to David Lewis, the idea that would later become The Husky Hub started back during the 2021-2022 academic year, when classes began to move back in-person after COVID had moved them all online. It was then that he realized that the student clubs and organizations were severely impacted by COVID. “We had about 100 different student groups prior to the pandemic. Going into last academic year, we were at about 30,” according to Lewis. This came from the fact that the pandemic caused a lot of groups not being able to create events, and students who held high positions within clubs graduated causing a ripple effect that ultimately led to these clubs fading away.
It was then that Lewis, along with the former Vice-Provost of Student Affairs Damien Madena, began researching the different possibilities that would help alleviate the issue at hand. After coming across CampusGroups, they soon contacted the University of Maine, who was also intrigued in the use of the software. From there, Lewis and his team did demos of the CampusGroups software, and soon decided that there is potential in what this could bring to the table. They brought it to the Student Senate and their groups to get their feedback on what this software could do to enhance the groups abilities and presence in the USM community. From there, it took until November of 2022 to sign the respective contracts and get the go-ahead to put the use of this software into motion.
Now, less than a month into both the Spring 2023 semester and the official launch of The Husky Hub, students and staff are beginning to see the potential a platform like this could bring to the schools’ clubs and community at large. “It’s going to be really revolutionary for the campus, I think,” said Student Body President Brianna Demaso. “All of the student groups that are run by students will have access to put all their information out there, but also staff has access to it, like Residential Life and Orientation, can do different programs on there. SEAL [Student Engagement and Leadership] can do different programs as well.”
Student Body Vice President Justice Michaud believes that this software will take the hassle out of contacting people who are either interested in joining a group, or simply just want more information on a group: “We honestly do have a hard time finding the perfect way to communicate with our cabinet, so I think this will make it easier to connect and find groups that you can become a part of. I’ve been asked before, ‘You’re Student Body Vice President, how do I get involved in a group?’ I can’t wait to just say, ‘Go on Husky Hub and find it there,’ because it’s such a hard process to actually sign up for things if you’re not on this.”
One of the main goals behind the implementation of this software is to turn things from being deemed a hassle, to being simplistic. At the software training back in January, a majority of the club leaders, Student Senate, and some staff members were in attendance and were shown step-by-step how to set up a personal profile, a club profile, how to upload club documents, and the ins-and-outs of how to use the software. An important thing to note is that because all of these people were in attendance, they were able to create the clubs in the software, and input “officers” into the club pages, who can easily invite and add people to the group; which means, for example, if a student showed interest in the American Sign Language (ASL) club, they wouldn’t be sending a request to join their club down an empty well, they’d get a response from someone who is actually involved in the club.
It’s also worth noting that the January 16th training was cut short due to the snowstorm coming in that early afternoon, luckily most of the important aspects of the training were completed, one of which being a presentation to demonstrate tools for clubs to keep track of their expenses in a much easier fashion than before. Chair of the Student Senate Chance Gagne stated that the software, “will help clubs budget stuff along the lines of creating a spreadsheet, making a checkbook of the different costs and expenses, and teaching event management.” Brianna Demaso mentioned how Assistant Director of SEAL Christine O’Brian, “provided a ledger for different student clubs and organizations to keep track of their money and it was a cool thing to look at, because ours is very different from hers so it was neat to see.” The software isn’t meant to be a digital wallet or a place where the club’s finances are held, but it does help the respective members of the club stay on the same page at all times when it comes to some of the most important operations within the club.
Koos Mohamed, a student who is a TRIO Peer Leader and Mentor, the President of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), and a member of the Black Students Union (BSU) talked about when she first came across the new software by saying: “As peer leaders, we meet every other week and someone brought up the app, and they went through it with us, and it was really cool to see all the organizations because I’m also part of BSU and MSA, and it was easier for people. Instead of constantly sending emails. It was easier for them to just find the club, and if they wanted they could go and sign right up.” Mohamed also mentioned the complexity of communicating through her emails and how easily The Husky Hub could fix that: “You’re answering emails all week long and so they kind of get lost, whereas, if you have a separate app for a bunch of things like that, it helps with my work.”
The Queer Straight Alliance, a club that was once inactive due to the pandemic, is now an active club again, and has restored its 47 year-history as an organization, by being active. Bryan Spaulding, a key member within the Queer Straight Alliance stated that The Husky Hub, “is a huge resource for us, because we were doing everything by hand with sign-ups, and we have a huge both residential and commuter population. It’s going to be a huge game-changer for communication to get our events out there, and be able to interact with students of all ranges.” Spaulding and the club’s hope for the new software is being able to connect with the students who don’t live on campus: “Our hope is to get that missing part of the community that we don’t have. We do a really good job in reaching out to the residential students because they’re here, and they’re always present, but I definitely think that engaging with the commuter students and getting them involved, and not having them feel left out is important.”
Ryan Mustapha, the Student Senate Clerk and an important member of USM’s Rugby Club, talked about how this new software will help reach a wider audience to bring in new members. “Let’s be real. Rugby, that’s not a popular sport here. You can’t just pop it on TV, really. I think the software will be a place if people are interested in watching a couple clips, see what the communication is with practices; and from a coaching standpoint, it will help people who are new to the sport give a nice easy intro for what you need to know. You can put film there, techniques, workout plans, and more. There is a lot this software can do, especially for sports.”
For this semester, The Husky Hub is being distributed as a “soft launch,” which is something that David Lewis and SEAL are very open about. He states: “We haven’t opened up all the different pieces of this, we haven’t offered everything The Husky Hub and CampusGroups is going to be able to offer you. We’re trying it at about a 50% to 75% level, and we’re seeing how it works. Then this semester into the summer, we’re going to build up the rest, and hopefully offer even more to the student clubs and organizations so that they can get bigger and better.” The plans according to Lewis is to use the crucial features of CampusGroups now to see what works, and what doesn’t, while also getting the clubs and upperclassmen involved as soon as possible, and once the new students come to USM in the Fall of 2023, that is when he hopes things will be in full swing with both the productivity of the app, and the usage by the students and staff of the community.
Another situation this app will encounter is the greater population of commuter and online students, compared to the number of students who live on campus. According to the USM Admissions and Enrollment Management and the Board of Visitors Fall Enrollment Update on October 21, 2022, the total number of students at USM is 7,318 students. The Gorham Campus this semester, according to the previously stated document, is currently housing around 1,300 students at 109% capacity, which means that approximately 82% of the USM student population are commuter and online students. It makes sense; the Gorham Campus only offers a certain amount of students a living space, and with the new Portland Commons opening in June of 2023, that will be offering 577 students a place to dorm, but the difference between on-campus and off-campus students will still leave the off-campus students with the much higher percentage. The Husky Hub will help each and every student and staff member to become involved in their own way with their own commonalities, no matter what their schedules are. Even for on-campus students who want to see what USM has to offer but they don’t know where to look; now they have a place to turn to.
The lives we lead here at USM are not the same as it was before the pandemic, and especially not during the pandemic. The residual effects that occurred almost three years ago are still felt today. One of the pieces that broke apart and hasn’t been put back in place, is USM’s sense of community. The Student Engagement and Leadership team did not create The Husky Hub to bring back a sense of community; they are building a real community.
For more information, contact the Student Engagement and Leadership office through this link or stop by their offices (Gorham: Brooks Student Center 119; Portland: Abromson 216).