Taking minds online for a remote semester

Posted on September 21, 2020

With all campus activities being moved to remote platforms, Queen’s Engineering clubs have been working non-stop to accommodate for the new reality of the world. One such club is the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s QMIND, Canada’s largest undergraduate AI and machine learning organization. Their model – to pair students with corporate sponsors looking for bright minds to execute AI projects on their behalf – is inherently online in some respects. But other parts of the program: training, recruiting student volunteers, and more – has been heavily dependent on a physical, on-campus presence.

The executive team behind QMIND began considering the possibility that remote delivery of the club would be necessary early on in the initial COVID-19 lockdown. To make the transition to remote delivery of the club as smoothly as possible, QMIND took some extra measures over the summer. “For working with students, we have provided additional training to our Project Managers and Team Leads for fostering a sense of community and leading effective meetings even if they do have to be online,” says Fakid Hossain, the club’s Managing Director of Operations. “It’s of the upmost importance to the QMIND team to ensure students feel the same sense of community as they would on campus.”“Although we were hopeful from the start, we knew if we wanted to get the most out of QMIND for the upcoming school year it would take additional planning and training to ensure it all went smoothly, regardless of whether it had to be done online,” says Eugene Choi, QMIND’s Managing Director of Development.

QMIND Picture of students

QMIND team members greet students at a pre-COVID event in the 2019-20 school year

One of the cornerstones of the year for the group is their group-training session, Camp QMIND. In previous years, this was held as a set of lectures to provide members with an introduction to AI: one of the things not possible during a remote semester. “To drive engagement this year, we have transitioned to a Hackathon-style event where QMIND Members learn through interactive lectures and then apply what they learned to a coding challenge,” says Choi. “This will allow students to stay excited and engaged throughout the virtual event.”

Despite the obstacles put in place due to the pandemic, the QMIND executive team has been preparing for the best possible transition to a remote term, along with many other Queen’s Engineering and Queen’s clubs. QMIND is currently recruiting, with the hope that its preparations will keep the club growing. “We’ve sextupled our member base after only a few years in operation,” Hossain says. “We hope to keep growing and building the club – even in these challenging circumstances – to give motivated students a chance to learn about and get hands-on experience with AI.”