At the close of each semester, the SHARC Professional Development Program (PDP) hosts a celebration and awards event to honor the achievements of PDP members who have successfully completed Levels 1, 2, or 3 of the program, as well as to highlight important accomplishments of the PDP’s various working groups.

This December, we continued this special tradition, but with a twist, enlisting a professional online teambuilding organization, TeamBuilding.com to facilitate the End-of-the-Fall PDP ceremony.

Featuring two cheerful hosts, Brooke and Paris, and two crabby cartoon characters, “Krampus” and “Baby New Year,” the organization led PDP members on a virtual “Kindness Quest” consisting of a series of activities and games designed to spread kindness, lift spirits, and strengthen the bonds of collegiality amongst the PDP team.

With 26 PDP members present, the ceremony began with the TeamBuilding.com hosts inviting everyone into a central Zoom room to explain that we were on a mission to raise the world’s “kindness quotient” amidst the suffering of the pandemic.

Our first task was to help out the cantankerous Krampus, a half-demon/half-goat whose capacity for hospitality makes the boogieman look like Santa Clause.  Brooke and Paris split the PDP attendees into five separate “crews,” each in distinct Zoom breakout rooms.

With the hosts selecting the members for each crew, PDP members were intermixed with members involved in different working groups, allowing people who might not be well acquainted to get to know one another better.  Each crew selected a name; collectively, we became the Cool Crew, Thee SHARC Kindness Quest Crew, Shakespeare’s Cheesecake, CRAMS, and Star Zone.

Then, crewmembers were asked to share with their crew their favorite holidays as well as one thing in their lives for which they are grateful. Then, the crews were returned to the main central room, and invited to describe what they had learned with the larger group.

The spirit of kindness and gratitude was earth-shattering for Krampus; his “kindness quotient” spiked 3000%!  By exhibiting a spirit of welcoming, gratitude, and positivity, the PDP team becomes strong enough to lift up the people in our community who are hurting.

For the second part of the ceremony, Brooke and Paris pushed us further, urging us to assist poor “Baby New Year,” whose spilling tears required no explanation beyond her tiara reading, “2020.”  This time, the crews were hustled back into breakout rooms, and prompted to complete a “Do-Gooder Dash”: provided with a list of 25 “do-gooder” tasks, the crews had seven minutes to carry out as many of the tasks as possible.

The SHARC Director, Dr. Bob Cook wrote a haiku for the PDP Director, Dr. Rob Leeman, spinning an image of his colleague taking in a cool breeze while laboring diligently for the program.  Dr. Rob Leeman wrote a haiku for the PDP Coordinator, Dr. Christine Frank, expressing his appreciation that, even during the pandemic, she remained a shining example of “learning betterment.”

The SHARC Data Analyst, Zhi Zhou taught her crew how to convey in Chinese the universally salient sentiment, “I am grateful.”  So many do-gooder deeds couldn’t keep from brightening even “Baby New Year.” When next we saw her, her tears had dried, a sunshine was rising behind her, and she sported an updated tiara, this time reading “2021.”

With an attitude of compassion, the PDP team somehow made it through an amazingly difficult year, with all trainees continuing to progress in their academic and professional goals, and in their capacity for teamwork under any conditions.

As the ceremony concluded, the TeamBuilding.com hosts had the PDP team complete one final activity, involving genuine community engagement, and then turned the floor over to Drs. Leeman and Frank to allow them to announce the awardees.

Drs. Leeman and Frank announced enthusiastically that five new trainees had crossed the finish line of the PDP Level I and thus won a SHARC T-shirt: Carly Crump, Caroline Deaterly, Jason DeFelice, Christina Parisi, and Ray Xia.  They also announced that four trainees had made it to the end of PDP Level II and won a SHARC cooler: Mark Britton, Dr. Sabina Nduaguba, Veronica Richards, and Ruba Sajdeya.

Apart from those accomplishments, several other PDP members were recognized for making important contributions to their various working groups and awarded with a gift box containing a SHARC coffee mug, first-aid kit, pen, and stickers.  Alex Li, Ruba Sajdeya, and Dr. Yiyang Liu were recognized for their contributions to the Data Team working group, Dr. Krishna Vaddiparti for the Community Engagement working group, Drs. Angel Algarin and James Gigliello for the Stigma working group, and Akemi Wijayabahu for the SHARC Writing Group.

As for the final activity that the TeamBuilding.com hosts had the PDP team complete, Brooke and Paris returned the crews to their breakout rooms and had us all design virtual “caring cards” for actual senior community members in an assisted living home.

With colors and fun designs, the novel cards came together, and our “kindness quest” was complete.  We are so grateful for the many opportunities available to us at the University of Florida and in the SHARC PDP to grow professionally and develop careers which can have a meaningful impact, and we strive for the humility to admit that we haven’t achieved our accomplishments on our own.