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Zoom Social Hours

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A couple of weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, I received a group email from a doctoral classmate of mine. She wrote that it had been great for us to get together in January at Penn for our reunion, and since all of us had a few weeks of Zoom meeting experiences, she suggested a social hour Zoom call for the next Thursday evening at 8:30ET.

The first weekly call was March 26. I don’t remember how many attended that call, but on the calls that I have attended, I think the number of participants has ranged from 4-14 out of a cohort of 20. On December 17, we held our 39th consecutive weekly call. Given that Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fall on Thursday this year, we decided to cancel those two meetings. Our classmate and organizer quickly amended and resent the meeting invitation to restart in January.

Before the Zoom calls, I think I might have heard from any one of my Penn classmates every other month. All of us are good friends, but we scattered across the country after graduation. Penn holds an alumni conference each January at which our cohort attendance was generally good, but none of that indicated to me that we could hold a weekly ad hoc call for 39 consecutive weeks.

During these past weeks, we’ve toasted to members celebrating birthdays, promotions, and new jobs. We’ve grieved with members losing spouses, parents, and loved ones, and we’ve sent out our get well wishes to others.

When we started the program at Penn, all of us worked in higher education, and that’s mostly still the case. We continue to share experiences and discuss broader matters like the COVID impact on colleges and universities. The conversations are collegial, range from light-hearted to serious, and usually bounce back and forth with whatever topic someone wants to introduce for the week’s call, unrehearsed and unscripted.

A recent non-serious discussion involved our preferences for organizing our personal collections of books (a number of people had bookshelves in the background on that call). I know now that some non-librarians organize their books by Library of Congress number, some alphabetically by author by topic, some just alphabetically, some by book height, and one by color of the book spine (it appears to be one of the latest trends). I guess there’s room for people who don’t have an organization scheme, but no one spoke to that point-of-view on the call.

While the Penn call is my primary example of a group of people using Zoom for connecting socially in addition to work, it’s not my only example. Over the summer, a Duke fraternity brother organized a Zoom call with members of our fraternity for which he had email addresses. Since the first call, we’ve had two additional calls and have picked up a few added participants as the word spreads about the opportunity to reconnect with college friends.

I also participated in a Friday afternoon Happy Hour Zoom call with the marketing group at APUS to celebrate my retirement in August. It was my understanding that they get together every other week or so. My Executive Assistant at APUS told me about a similar Zoom call Happy Hour with her peer EA’s just to keep up with each other while the office has been closed and work from home policies have been in place. It’s great to hear about experiences like this that transcend the work-only utilization of the teleconference tool.

When I decided to write this piece, I thought I would add a quote or two from a notable authority on the benefit of using Zoom for social gatherings. For my Google search, I used the phrase “using Zoom for social gatherings” and received 14,900,000 results. The five most popular (based on the order of their listing) appear to involve tips for hosting a Zoom party. Number six is a post from March 16 on Zoom’s blog titled, “Ideas for Creating a Sense of Culture, Community Amid Social Distancing and Work-From-Home Mandates.” Mostly good ideas, and I guess I had my nose to the grindstone too much to not read this article until now.

I’m optimistic about the vaccines being able to reduce the number of COVID-19 infections in the United States and across the globe. I’m guessing that we won’t see a noticeable, risk-free approach to social distancing until the Fall of 2021 at the earliest.

So, until then, if you haven’t taken advantage of a social gathering via Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Adobe Connect, try it. I think you’ll find it to be a pleasant diversion from the tedium of working from home in quarters that were likely never designed to work as well as your professional offices. Cheers!

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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