SRU professor gets creative to ‘Gather’ people for graduate program fair


Screen shot of game

A screenshot of what virtual attendees will see at the Student Affairs in Higher Education Graduate Programs Fair, Nov. 13, which will include more than 50 colleges and universities recruiting student affairs in higher education graduate students.

Oct. 29, 2021

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Stacy Jacob gets rather animated when it comes to finding new ways to simulate an in-person experience in an online setting. While Jacob, a Slippery Rock University associate professor of counseling and development, is excited about organizing a virtual college fair, she is also interacting in the space as an avatar that looks like a character from a role-playing video game.

After growing tired of staring at talking heads on Zoom meetings that can last for hours, Jacob decided to use an app called Gather to host the Student Affairs in Higher Education Graduate Programs Fair, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Nov. 13. Presented by SRU's student affairs in higher education program, this fair will include more than 55 schools recruiting students to enroll in their similar programs.

"There have been a couple of college fairs on Zoom, but they haven't been really dynamic events," Jacob said. "That's what I'm creating in Gather, an event where students will stay longer, and really invest themselves in it and engage in it."



Jacob has laid out the floor plan and built conference halls, breakout rooms and lounges in which attendees can navigate online by moving an avatar of themselves throughout the virtual environment. Only in certain segments are audio and video queued through a pop-up window, such as when avatars move close to one another, they are standing on the same carpet or one of them approaches a microphone from a lectern at the front of a room.

"This creates a more natural college fair," Jacob said. "You can walk up to a college's table and on the table, there is a document that glows yellow. All you have to do is click on it and it opens up a brochure about that school's program. We also have tables created with activities, such as fishbowl or guessing games, and other little things embedded so students have a place to go between sessions and meet people more organically. We want them to have those 'shoulder tap' moments."

Since it launched in May 2020, the Gather platform has brought millions of people together in customizable, interactable spaces, for everything from virtual offices and conferences to birthday parties and wedding receptions.

Described by the Wall Street Journal, Gather is "what you get when you smash together a 1990s-era videogame and Zoom."

Jacob is hoping that it will be a smashing success for SRU and the 55 other schools featured at the Student Affairs in Higher Education Graduate Programs Fair. Learn more about the fair and SRU's student affairs in higher education program on the SRU website or by watching this YouTube video

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