Like billions of people around the world, workers at the Hunt Institute continue to adjust to the new normal of working and learning from home as part of social distancing. Despite physical separation, student leaders engage in new innovative methods to stay connected and increase impact. The Hunt Institute’s Gabi Gonzales, an Undergraduate Research Analyst at the Hunt Institute, channeled her at-home energy into creating new groups to stay in contact with friends, family, and peers miles away.

Gonzales and her brother stay positive and Pony Up when moving out of her dorm. Both attend SMU and, until now, have lived right across the Boulevard from each other

Gonzales and her brother stay positive and Pony Up when moving out of her dorm. Both attend SMU and, until now, have lived right across the Boulevard from each other

“I knew it was super important to me to continue to build a sense of community. Especially during social distancing, community is important to my friends as well,” Gonzales said. “This physical space we have created is good for our country and world, but it cannot also cause community and relationship distancing.” Health experts have repeatedly credited social distancing and enforcement of other self-isolation efforts with flattening the infection curve of COVID-19.

Gonzales was having dinner at home with family when her father made an off-hand comment about creating a socially distant book club. She used social media to create a poll gauging interest for the idea among friends and colleagues. In the end, Gonzales received more than enough support to launch her FaceTime book club.

“We ended up being a group of 15, some college students, some recent grads, spread across the county and world,” Gonzales said. “What we found after talking was not only did this book club allow us to build a community away from Dallas, it allowed us to connect to people we may have never met. And now have a common thread with them. Creating groups like this not only gives us the chance to foster old connections but create new ones as well – and that’s something we can always strive for!”

Seeing the success of her book club, Gonzales wants to expand the number of people she could virtually connect and introduce over a different shared interest. While on campus, Gonzales regularly attended group studio classes, pushing herself with an instructor’s guidance and connecting with friends in the process. Gonzales saw this staple feature of her morning routine as another opportunity to build community.

Gonzales and her mother supported local businesses together

Gonzales and her mother supported local businesses together

“I’ve been leading small group yoga sessions with some of my usual workout buddies,” Gonzales said. Combining her drive to stay physically healthy with her understanding of the importance of mental health during this trying time, Gonzales finds the virtual classes as a fantastic way for participants to stay energized and engaged while working and learning from home. “Bringing in a little yoga time to shake off some of the stress of the news, stretch out the back that’s been hunched over the computer all day, and strengthening our social networks are good ways to make sure we stay healthy and positive as we make our communal adjustment to this temporary normal.”

With the spirit of community in mind, the Hunt Institute encourages everyone to stay positive by connecting to family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors during this time of social distancing. Gabi Gonzales is one of several student workers at The Institute supporting her community, and we celebrate her and her colleagues’ efforts to help their neighbors.

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