Never underestimate the power of the Miami coffee break to bring people together—even during quarantine.
Much as they used to do on campus, FIU staff, faculty, alumni and others have found a way to share a sliver of the afternoon with one another over a cortadito, albeit via the internet.
Vice President for Engagement Saif Ishoof and his behind-the-scenes baristas serve up the brew at around 3 p.m.—Miami’s traditional hour for a caffeinated boost—as part of their now-regular 305 Cafecito Chat.
An average of 300 take to Zoom and Facebook Live weekdays for the laid-back 45-minute klatch that in the past month has featured university experts, cultural leaders, elected officials and others who share information and advice, commiserate with the masses and even offer a bit of levity in the midst of collective uncertainty.
All the while, viewers remain an active part of the mix as Ishoof peppers the conversation with on-screen polls and shout-outs by name to those who tune in, and chat and messaging functions allow for questions and comments in real time.
“Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation,” says Ishoof, who in his role at the university helps create partnerships with local industry and organizations to solve problems affecting the region. A self-described “connector” who takes pleasure in grabbing some joe in person with colleagues whenever possible, he has traded the usual takeaway cups for a blue FIU mug with enough java to go the distance. (With the last sip, he ends the webcast.)
“We know that positivity might not be the cure to COVID-19,” Ishoof told viewers recently, but like a warm beverage “it certainly helps to soothe our souls during this restless time.” To that end, he regularly calls out medical first responders and others on the front lines, including FIU Police Chief Alexander Casas and President Mark B. Rosenberg, as well those who continue to keep the residence halls and food services running for students with no other housing alternative. He regularly references inspirational quotes and in one episode even went so far as to share his cell number should anyone need a text exchange when the going gets rough. “I may not have a therapeutic answer,” he said, “but I’m more than happy to respond to folks.”
Just as happens during any typical time-out for cafe con leche and croquetas, small talk begins the encounter. “What's your favorite local restaurant for takeout?” or “What are you drinking?” Ishoof often asks the featured guests—he in his home, they in theirs—before jumping into heavy topics that reflect the country's unprecedented situation.
Social work Professor Victoria Gray discussed mental health challenges related to fears and loneliness brought about by the pandemic; City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, an alumnus, spoke about his own bout with COVID-19 and ways local government is working to safeguard citizens; SGA President Sabrina Rosell addressed how students are navigating remote learning and staying motivated during the disruption.
Also covered in recent weeks: the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management's program to help independently owned restaurants and bars pay staff during the forced business closures; efforts by the Frost Art Museum to help families incorporate creativity into their quarantine; a College of Business professor’s best practices for working remotely in teams; an education professor’s suggestions for helping youngsters learn remotely at home; and even an FIU-themed meme competition.
Sanyo Mathew calls 305 Cafecito Chat “the best part of my day” and tries not to miss it even as he juggles a schedule packed with remote meetings. As senior director of the Graham Center—through which, in normal times, thousands of students and university employees pass daily to grab a bite, buy books, get a haircut or congregate for pep rallies around the communal “pit”—he understands better than most the human craving for contact.
“At the Graham Center, we strive so hard to be that common ground, home away from home, our hub on campus,” Mathew says. “We miss the whole culture and ambiance that we try to create.”
In the midst of that loss, he appreciates the chance to gather online in an emotionally meaningful way.
“Now more than ever, we need that,” Mathew says of the digital coffee break. “We’re all social beings, and we thrive on that.”
His colleague Ayxa Vecino, an events manager at the Graham Center, likewise finds the online respite welcome after weeks of being away from FIU: “We’re all yearning for that connection.”
Here’s looking forward to the world's biggest colada on campus in the near future.
Catch 305 Cafecito Chat on Facebook Live.