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Clubs get new online home with Presence

Brandeis student clubs have a new (online) home. Presence—a new online club platform launched in late August by the Department of Student Activities (DSA)—offers a variety of new functions for student clubs, including centrally locating club information, forms and hosting events, said Director of Student Activities Dennis Hicks.

DSA and the Brandeis Student Union have been working together since December 2018 to find a new host site for clubs, said Hicks, which were decentralized in listservs, Google sites and social media.

“It allows continuity for clubs,” Hicks said. “They can store all their documents and forms on this site [and] you won’t need to share google docs and all that and folders. It’s just all updated and maintained in one place,” Hicks continued. “Prior to this… there were bits and pieces all over, but we’re trying to put it all in one space.”

Presence offers one-stop shopping for club needs, said Hicks. Students can even search for the type of club they’d be interested in, making it easier for students to navigate Brandeis’ over 200 student clubs and organizations. The department started training student club leaders Wednesday on using the platform at their annual club conference.

 “We did not have a solid platform,” said Hicks. “Essentially all you would ever see is a club listing with a little blurb and all that and you might have an email address—but that’s it,” he continued. “There’s a lot of different ways you can do searches now through events—whereas if you go to the Brandeis events page you see the event, you see the date, but you don’t see more than that.”

DSA is providing the funding for Presence, at an annual cost of $12,000 a year. The price of another platform, Engage, said Hicks—who had worked with the platform at his previous institution, George Mason University—was around $30,000 a year.

“I came from a school that used Engage, so I was a little bit more familiar [with it], but their prices went way up,” said Hicks. “And I think prices was definitely a deciding factor as well as some of the features that we got.”

One of the features Hicks was excited about was being able to swipe IDs at events to get data on student attendees. The anonymized data, said Hicks, includes attendees’ class years and allows the Department of Student Activities to know exactly how many students attend events and send surveys about events directly to them.

“It’s given us data we’ve never had before: accurate data,” said Hicks. “We can start to see the ebb and flow of types of events.”

Presence also has the capability to host club elections, said Hicks, who hopes to roll out the feature after all clubs have joined. Clubs can also interact with university departments on the platform—for example, to get design approval for club apparel and stickers, said Hicks.

Another feature Hicks pointed to was badging—to be integrated after all clubs have migrated to Presence—which would create badges that students can achieve by getting involved with certain events on campus, said Hicks, who gave the example of a “leadership” or “social justice” badge.

“It encourages you to check out different kinds of events,” said Hicks, who is working to create a co-curricular transcript for the fall semester of 2020 that will show a student’s involvement in clubs and events on campus. There is nothing like it at Brandeis currently, said Hicks.

Hicks is excited for the Presence app to be released on the Apple App Store and the Google Play store eventually, said Hicks, though the company needs to get approval from the App Store first.

Presence is used by universities around the country, including California State University-Los Angeles, the University of Texas-Dallas and Tulsa Community College, according to the company’s website.

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