By students, for students: Club Cardinal recreates Stanford campus virtually

Aug. 21, 2020, 3:45 p.m.

In the virtual Club Cardinal, a recreation of parts of Stanford’s campus, you can read books at Green Library, buy boba at TAP or decorate your dorm room. Launched Aug. 1, the online platform is helping to prevent the lack of community engagement and student socialization observed during the remote spring quarter from continuing into the fall

Club Cardinal boasts numerous recreations of campus locations, customizable avatars for students and professors, personal dorm rooms and multiple social interaction and chat features. A week after its launch, 2,109 different users had logged onto the platform from more than 66 different countries.

Michelle Qin ’23, WenXin Dong ’23, Allison Zhang ’23, Sreya Halder ’23 and Azhia Harris ’20 are the minds behind Club Cardinal. They first started working on the project through the Women in Computer Science (WiCS) Innovation and Mentorship Program. Qin expressed the team’s desire to create opportunities for socialization that have been largely unavailable due to COVID-19, particularly to combat the lack of community engagement and student socialization they observed during the remote spring quarter. 

“In this remote environment we want people to experience university life again, not only to see other students, but the entire Stanford community,” Qin said. “We also wanted to give people the opportunity to see campus again, especially if they’re not able to get to campus because they’re outside of California.”

The idea to create a virtual college campus was originally brought up while several Stanford students brainstormed submissions for the MIT COVID-19 Hackathon, an event focused on creating solutions to the most pressing issues created by the coronavirus pandemic.  

While they didn’t end up submitting that idea for the Hackathon, the WiCS group began to seriously explore and develop the virtual campus program when spring quarter began. Inspiration for the platform’s features — and its name — came largely from Club Penguin, an online multiplayer game that was massively popular throughout the early 2000s. 

The sophomore class presidents, the Tree Huggers, chose to use Club Cardinal as the virtual platform for a grade-wide reunion on Aug. 15 and 16 to reconnect and reintroduce more social elements to the virtual Stanford experience. 

“Because we never got that crucial spring quarter, the class of 2023’s ability to really branch out and meet people beyond their freshman dorm was more limited,” class of 2023 co-president Ali Cohen said. “Club Cardinal presents this exciting opportunity to meet new people, in a place that has much of the same nostalgia and feel of campus.”

Since its launch, Club Cardinal has not only become incredibly popular among the student population, but has also become an invaluable tool to the Office of Student Engagement. 

“We’ve also been talking closely with the Office of Student Engagement; they’re really excited about this platform and they’ve said a lot of good things about how this will help to save student engagement, especially during this really tough time of virtual programming,” Qin said. 

“They’re looking to redirect some school virtual programs onto the platform.”

Some of these virtual programs will also be greatly student-driven and directed to promote greater engagement with campus resources and student forums. 

“We’re pumped about engaging social events like concerts, hangouts and competitions,” Cohen said. “While we’re hosting resource panels this weekend, we plan to do even more in partnering with on-campus resource centers like the SARA [Office of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse] office, FLI [First-Gen and/or Low Income] office, and other community centers.” 

National health and safety guidelines in light of the current pandemic have made socialization among incoming Stanford frosh incredibly difficult, and many of these students have never even been on campus. With the University walking back its plan to bring freshmen, sophomores and new transfers back to campus in the fall, they’ll have to wait even longer to see Stanford physically. Club Cardinal now serves as a mode of communication and interaction for those frosh, striving to cultivate a casual environment where people feel comfortable “walking” up to strangers and striking up a conversation. 

“We wanted to have a casual atmosphere so you get to experience bumping into someone on campus and making friends with strangers,” Halder said. “We’ve gotten a lot of comments from incoming freshmen, especially those who were there on launch day, specifically telling us that they were really grateful for having this platform because they’ve never visited campus before.” 

Among the many messages of thanks and encouragement the team has received through their Instagram, one incoming freshman said, “[I] really appreciate u guys setting this up! As an incoming frosh that’s never been to campus before, this means a lot.” 

As many other universities have made the decision to move to exclusively remote learning plans, Club Cardinal’s creators have received messages from other university students who share an interest in making virtual campus experiences. 

“On our list of next steps for Club Cardinal is to expand and create this network for colleges and universities, and we’ve actually gotten messages from students at Harvard, specifically, who want to jump on this and do a collaboration,” Halder said. 

Contact Kate Sibery at ksibery ‘at’ gmail.com.

Kate Sibery is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.

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