NIU STEM Café explores virtual connections in a time of physical distancing

“The pandemic has created a world in which our basic human needs for belonging and connection have been difficult to quench,” says Suzanne Degges-White, chair and professor of counseling and counselor education at NIU. “We’ve had to become accustomed to social distancing, fewer get-togethers and anxiety about the risk of an airborne disease.”

Suzanne Degges-White

However, Degges-White notes that – thanks to online games, video conferencing software and other technologies – families and friends can still nurture deep and meaningful bonds even when separated by physical distance.

At the next NIU STEM Café, Degges-White will join DePaul University Media Studies Professor Paul Booth (who is also an NIU alumnus) to discuss the ways in which board games, watch parties and other fun virtual activities can provide bonding and a sense of spontaneous togetherness. Participants will learn about the benefits of board gaming in a digital age and get tips for creating meaningful social interactions through virtual gatherings. The free online STEM Café will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. Registration is required at go.niu.edu/boardgames.

“I’m especially pleased to offer this STEM Café right before the holidays,” says STEM Café organizer Judith Dymond. “Many of us won’t be able to see our loved ones in person, so these tips for building virtual connections – especially through board games – are very timely.”

Paul Booth

Booth – who earned his M.A. in communication from NIU before completing his Ph.D. at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – will talk about the rise in board gaming as a hobby during the digital age. He’ll discuss why board games have become more popular recently, focusing specifically on the results of some recent research where he surveyed nearly 1,000 board game players about their experiences in the hobby.

“I want people to come away with a deeper appreciation for the thoughtfulness and intention that goes into the creation of contemporary board games, and the positive benefits of board gaming in the digital age,” Booth says. “I think people will be surprised by the sheer variety of board games that are available and the shifting demographics of who plays games today – specifically, Millennials and Generation Z game players.”

Degges-White will explore how family game nights can serve to bring families together and strengthen bonds – even if the games played are virtual. She’ll also discuss how fun virtual gatherings, such as games, karaoke and watch parties, can decrease feelings of isolation and strengthen connections between family and friends who are separated by distance.

Degges-White will draw on her decades of experience as a licensed counselor focused on family and relationship counseling, as well as her nearly 20 years as a counselor educator, teaching courses in family counseling and counseling children and adolescents.

Degges-White and Booth agree that there are many benefits to board gaming, which they’ll address in their talks. “Strategy games and team-based games can build cohesion for families while providing entertainment and distraction from stressors,” says Degges-White. “I will also explore the ways in which these games can help family members and youth learn to set goals, build strategies and persist in the face of challenges.”

Registration and more information available at go.niu.edu/boardgames.

Northern Illinois University STEM Cafés are sponsored by NIU STEAM and are designed to increase public awareness of the critical role that STEM fields play in our everyday lives. For more information, contact Judith Dymond, Ed.D. at 815-753-4751 or email [email protected].

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