SSAP Symposium goes virtual, uses gamification to engage attendees

March 23, 2021

When the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Stewardship Science Academic Programs (SSAP) Symposium went from in-person to virtual, Stephanie Sherwood and her team focused on making the move as seamless as possible.

“We wanted everything we would normally do live and on-site work just as well virtually,” said Stephanie Sherwood, ORISE peer review manager. That included meet-and-greet events for attendees, space for 17 exhibit booths, and rooms for breakouts and plenary sessions.

Attendees are mostly sponsors, students, postdoctoral researchers and scientists who participate in the various SSAP research participation programs, include the Stewardship Science Academic Alliances (SSAA) Program, the High Energy Density Laboratory Plasmas (HEDLP) Program, the National Laser Users' Facility (NLUF) Program, and the Predictive Science Academic Alliance Program (PSAAP). 

The symposium encourages student and postdoctoral researcher involvement and interaction with the scientific community, especially the NNSA National Laboratories. One of the symposium’s highlights has always been the poster session, where students and postdoctoral researchers have the opportunity to share their research projects. During the virtual event, students and postdoc researchers were given five minutes each to talk about their projects.

ORISE has managed the SSAP Symposium for several years. This year’s event was originally scheduled to take place in New Mexico, and Sherwood said they had to adjust the virtual schedule to accommodate the time differences.

“We started at 10 a.m. every day and ended around 5 p.m., except for the night of the meet and greet,” she said.

Sherwood and her team used a mobile app called Crowd Compass that could be used on mobile devices or laptops. In addition to housing all of the information you might expect for a conference, like the agenda, information on breakouts and speakers, and handouts, the app also gamified the event. Attendees earned points for visiting booths, accessing breakout and plenary sessions, participating in the meet-and-greet, attending poster sessions and more. Participants will receive event swag based on the number of points they earned.

“I’m expecting several boxes of promotional items that will be mailed out to participants,” Sherwood said.

About 300 people attended the virtual event, which is on par with attendance for the in-person conference. Sherwood said attendees have been very complimentary.

“We achieved what we set out to do my making the virtual event feel as much like the in-person event as possible,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of compliments on the app because people could find everything they needed in one place, and the gaming aspect made it fun.”

Future symposia may be hybrid of virtual and in-person events, and planners are already considering using the app as well.

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The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asset that is dedicated to enabling critical scientific, research, and health initiatives of the department and its laboratory system by providing world class expertise in STEM workforce development, scientific and technical reviews, and the evaluation of radiation exposure and environmental contamination.

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