The largest student organization on campus, Dance Marathon at the University of Michigan (DMUM), was just weeks away from its annual event, VictorThon, on March 28, when U-M President Mark Schlissel canceled in-person classes due to COVID-19.
Sydney Jose, ’20, then the executive director of DMUM, was not surprised. She and her team had, in fact, anticipated that development and already canceled VictorThon the previous day. The event — which involves hundreds of attendees standing on their feet and dancing continuously for 24 hours in the Indoor Track Building — could not safely take place given the pandemic. Instead, within days, Jose and her team turned VictorThon into a virtual event that did not just proceed but successfully raised more than $280,000 for the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Michigan Alumnus gleaned the following in a conversation with Jose.
> JOSE SAYS CANCELING THE IN-PERSON VictorThon was “heartbreaking,” after watching her fellow students work on the event for a full year. Not only did they organize speakers and performances by student groups, they also solicited sponsors (this year’s lineup included Dominoes, Kroger, and Delta). But her team quickly pivoted with the support of the Michigan Medicine Office of Development. She and her tech team sorted out streaming options and turned VictorThon into a virtual event, complete with a digital lineup of prerecorded content. “I learned a lot about adaptability. I could not be any prouder of my team,” she says, adding that they had endless Zoom meetings. “Everyone moved ahead quickly with no hesitation to serve the community.”
> THOUGH JOSE STAYED IN HER OFF-CAMPUS HOUSING with her roommate until the end of the academic year, she says looking out her window and seeing no one on the normally busy streets was difficult. She hopes there will be a way to return and celebrate her graduation in the future. In the meantime, she thinks DMUM learned some important lessons for the future. “One thing we noticed is how engaged our alumni were when we brought them into VictorThon digitally.”
> JOSE, WHO MAJORED IN SOCIOLOGY with a minor in writing, grew up in Lake Isabella, Michigan, a small village in the middle of the state with a population of less than 2,000. Despite her high school consolidating students from 11 other similarly small towns, her graduating class consisted of only 120 seniors. Of those, Jose was the only one to matriculate to U-M. Ann Arbor, however, was familiar territory for Jose, who as a child regularly visited her aunt (a U-M alumna) and uncle at their home near campus.
> LIVING ON NORTH CAMPUS HER FRESHMAN YEAR, Jose quickly fell in with a group of U-M friends who, like her, had attended the Michigan Student Leadership Summer Camp program at Albion College for a week every year during high school. The program — operated by the Michigan Association of Student Councils and Honor Societies — “showed me a world outside of my small town. I figured out my strengths there and learned who I was,” she says of the camp, which 600 students from across the state attend each summer. “They taught us about social justice and facilitating. But we also just did fun camp stuff like singing in the dining halls.” It was one of these students who encouraged her to join DMUM her freshmen year.
> AS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF DMUM, which started on campus in 1997, Jose oversaw more than 100 students on 20 different committees. The various committees handle everything from development and sponsorship to alumni engagement and coordinating the many K-12 schools in Michigan whose mini VictorThons contribute to the cause. Jose rose to the top role her senior year, after having held a committee chair position her sophomore year and a director position overseeing six committees her junior year. She was also an intern in U-M’s Development Student Internship Program last summer. And though job hunting is difficult right now, she hopes to pursue a career in sales and development.