The Iowa City Foreign Relations Council (ICFRC) possesses a unique partnership with the University of Iowa’s Honors Program. With all of the networking events and trivia nights the ICFRC hosts exclusively for Honors students, the opportunities through this partnership are near-boundless. However, as with all other elements of daily life, the pandemic has disrupted the activities of the ICFRC and the Honors Program, especially when it comes to the guest speakers and lectures that the council organizes. To learn more about how this relationship has been tested in such extreme circumstances, I spoke to Mason Koelm, the Honors Program’s contact with the ICFRC, and ICFRC co-directors Megan Phillips and Alexandra Hernández-Pardo.
“We had to adapt our events to virtual formats,” Koelm said, echoing other pandemic-era changes to our everyday life. “The flexibility has been well received by our members. Having ICFRC as an opportunity for students to take a break from coursework, or even just put on in the background while they study is a great resource in a time where we can’t make our connection as much as we want to.”
Transitioning to a virtual format may even enhance the quality of the offered events. “In the past, bringing in high-profile speakers has been a cost barrier… with Zoom, it’s super easy. We’ve been able to get some really cool people to speak over the past year,” Philips pointed out.
The recent changes appear to be well-received by the organizers, speakers, and attendees, with ICFRC’s future programs likely to continue in a hybrid format. “We are eager to get back into the old space, but we will incorporate the strengths of virtual programs into our future programs. Expect hybrid programs, where you can stream it live, or show up in person,” Koelm explained. Such events appear to be popular: Phillips highlighted a special program with returning speaker Dr. Hans House, who, in February last year, warned about the spread of Covid-19 across the globe and returned later to do a follow-up Question & Answer session with students. “It was one of our last in-person programs, and that generated a ton of interest. It was one of our biggest programs ever,” Philips recalled while reflecting on the initial seminar
However, that’s not to say that events are all focused on narrow topics. ICFRC’s events are laid-back and accessible, with Koelm highlighting a diverse selection of lectures ranging from “Chinese film [to] engineering professors creating adaptive solutions to public health crises and prominent female figures in ancient Roman politics.” Even during difficult times, the variety and intellectual rigor of ICFRC’s events make them an appealing option for curious students to learn and explore. Hernández-Pardo put it best: “Surprisingly fun for everyone!”
Finch Davis is a first-year student from Delray Beach, Florida, majoring in English and creative writing. He hopes to qualify for Navy officer training after college and finally finish his first novel.