The UNC chapter of the American Mock World Health Organization planned for months to host an international in-person conference in April.
But after the spread of the coronavirus led to the closure of UNC's campus, the group switched the format and theme of the event — and met over Zoom on Saturday, April 18, for the 2020 AMWHO COVID-19 Virtual Summit.
"At first, we thought it could potentially be an event just for our club and UNC students, but then we decided to open it up for all of the international conference registrants and anyone else who was interested in coming,” Meredith Dockery, co-director of campus affairs for UNC AMWHO, said.
The chapter planned to host the AMWHO 2020 international conference for refugee migrant health, Dockery said, but after UNC’s abrupt closure, the executive team changed the theme to the COVID-19 pandemic and worked to bring the experience online.
Dockery said AMWHO breaks students into groups to discuss sub-themes. These groups write a working paper with resolutions to their respective themes, and then those are sent to the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
Some of this year's sub-themes included research and development, economic impact, vulnerable populations and mental health.
“People were definitely very receptive, and we actually had more international registrants for this virtual platform than we did for our actual conference,” Anisha Khanna, UNC AMWHO internal co-director and chapter director for AMWHO Inc., said. “Which makes sense, because you didn’t have to pay for a plane ticket to come to Chapel Hill or anything.”
UNC's AMWHO executive team spent months planning and preparing for an in-person event, Khanna said, but worked to set up the virtual summit in just a couple of weeks.
“I had never really had much experience with coordinating a meeting that big on Zoom," Khanna said "...But having to actually create a platform that was supposed to manage like over 100 registrants, which was pretty insane for such a short amount of time. It was a lot of troubleshooting in creating a test platform and figuring out how to manage technical difficulties if it came during a conference."
Khanna said she's satisfied with the outcome of the virtual summit and believes it could be an example for other clubs planning to meet during these unprecedented times.
“It was really cool," senior Hannah Rice said. "Honestly, it felt like a conference. You just weren't seeing the people physically in front of you, but it felt like I was actually participating in something legitimate, so it was really neat.”
Rice participated in the mental health sub-theme. In a Zoom breakout room, she discussed creating a broader mental health safety net and expanding access to telemedicine and to telehealth services like online therapy.
Rice said she's hopeful for the future of virtual collaboration.
"Because who knows when the next in-person conference with 100 people will be?" she said.
Dockery said she's glad the summit could have a positive impact at such a time.
“It just gives a lot of students a sense of purpose in this time that is very uncertain, but there is something we can do about it in the future,” she said.
Applications to join UNC AMWHO’s executive team will come out soon, Khanna said, and she encourages students to apply and look out for future conferences.
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