ANS chapter stays strong despite pandemic, preps for national conference

11/9/2021 Phillip Kisubika

Written by Phillip Kisubika

ANS chapter stays strong despite pandemic, preps for national conference

Taking classes during a pandemic is tough. Try adding running a student organization to the mix. Like most, if not all, student organizations on the UIUC campus, the American Nuclear Society had to follow careful COVID-19 guidelines during the 2020-21 school year and met mostly online and kept things virtual.

“We had to adapt a lot of our events to be online so everyone could stay safe,” current chapter president Anna Balla said. “I think, in comparison to a lot of student organizations, we remained really strong. We had decent recruitment last year, created an entire Discord server (we didn’t have one before), which brought a little gaming to our chapter.

“(We) kept (weekly) happy hours, but virtually, so we could see each other on a regular basis, and we did a lot of advocacy instead of our normal outreach stuff.”

Earlier this year, as more and more people were able to get vaccinated and meeting rules were relaxed, ANS members were able to meet in person with increased regularity. “We could still see each other, wear masks, and meet safely while keeping our community going,” vice-president Dilan Kurukulasuriya said. “I think a good sense of community keeps everybody going. We’re good about making things happen, whether it’s social events or outreach events.”

For this ANS chapter, “making things happen” not only includes advocating for the recent energy bill signed into the Illinois state legislature that helped three nuclear power plants stay open; it also means placing second in this year’s Samuel Glasstone Award, which honors the top student chapters in the country. UIUC took first place last year and has been a top-three chapter in five of the last 10 years.

“The award isn’t meant to go to the same chapter every year, so it’s good to see it bounce around a little bit,” graduate student Jeremy Mettler said. “We’ve gotten it our fair share.”

A big part of the reason the chapter continues to thrive is because of the camaraderie shared among its members and the warm atmosphere they try to put forward.

“In spite of being a large group of friends, we’re not a clique,” graduate student Sam Dotson said. “We’re very welcoming to new students or people who haven’t participated in the past. We actively seek out people to join.”

“If you’re in one of the larger ANS chapters, you might be one of 200 people,” Balla said. “(In this chapter), we’re all friends with each other. That really helps. Everyone really wants to be together.”

That togetherness will have a big opportunity to show itself this coming spring, when UIUC hosts the ANS National Student Conference. The chapter originally won the bid to host the 2021 conference, but that was pushed back a year when the 2020 conference (hosted by North Carolina State University) was delayed until this year.

The 2022 conference will be the first in-person student conference since 2019, and planning has gone well so far. “Things are smoothly as they can be when you have one foot in and one foot out of the pandemic,” Mettler said. “I’m feeling fairly optimistic about it, I think it’ll be a lot of fun. The chapter has remained strong, and everyone is even more engaged than I thought they might be and ready to host an in-person conference. The younger students have a lot of energy and are really excited, and I think they’re going to make it a huge success.”

Mettler also noted that because the last in-person conference was almost three years ago, most current students have never had that experience. “Because people’s time in college is short, we’re at a point now where most of the people who would come to our conference have never been to an ANS conference in person” he said. “The only people who have done that now are seniors who did it in their freshman year. I’m really ready to have an in-person event again and see people from all across the country and I think other people are as well.”

One advantage to having virtual events for most of the last two years is that the UIUC chapter will be including virtual options for those who will be unable to travel to campus.

“No matter what we do, (we hope) people will be really happy about it and it’ll be awesome,” Dotson said.

“We tell people it’s the best experience of your life, and younger (ANS members) have been chomping at the bit to get in on that,” Balla said.

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This story was published November 9, 2021.