Remaining Socially Connected while Physically Distanced

Students and Big Red Barn staff participate in online origami night

By Katya Hrichak

How do you make friends and connect with other students if you can’t meet in person?

For Jen Forbes, director of the Big Red Barn Graduate and Professional Student Center (the Barn), the graduate community always meant warm evenings at the Barn where students got together for trivia, chocolate tasting, TGIF happy hour, and many other events. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, finding new ways to build community and host fun events was a difficult problem frequently discussed at staff meetings.

“We wanted to find a way to build a community, even though we couldn’t meet in person,” Forbes said. The Barn staff brainstormed how to make remote events feel even more physical and how to bring new and returning students together, even if they are studying miles apart.

Students spend hours every day on Zoom. Events needed to move beyond a Zoom conversation and include tactile or physical components. One recent event, Origami Night, was led by first-year developmental psychology doctoral student Owen Morgan, who is completing his semester remotely from Maryland.


“It was great to connect with other students over a non-academic activity, especially origami,” he said. “As origami is a somewhat niche interest, it can be hard to find other people to fold with. Online events are especially useful for cases like this.”

Having visited campus just once, Morgan views this year’s remote Barn programs as a great way to meet other students and get involved with the Cornell community.

Aside from origami, past remote events have included Cornell and Pokémon themed trivia nights, game nights offered in English and Mandarin, DIY T-shirt bags and paper beads, and interactive wellness programs. Upcoming events include more origami, game nights, a cooking class, and painting.

“Our hope was for students to find ways to connect with the Barn even though we can’t meet in person,” said Forbes. “This way, when we reopen, it will feel like a continuation of the programming we already started.”

Stay up to date with upcoming Barn programs by visiting the Big Red Barn webpage and Graduate School events calendar, following the Barn on Instagram (@BRBCornell), and making sure you’re subscribed to the weekly Big Red Barn newsletter (BRB News from If you are not receiving the newsletter, email Forbes ( to be added to the list.