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CSULB students sweat it out at home for a chance at free tuition

By Monica Vigil & Victor Rodriguez

Long Beach State has many elements that set the school apart from other universities: a 190-foot tall blue pyramid, a life-sized statue of the Kung-Fu Panda and a campaign that will pay a student’s tuition for the price of 50 days of sweat. 

A young woman stands in the middle of two children while holding a big pink check for $3,417
Last year’s Condition for Tuition winner Rachel Thomson, middle, holds her check center stage with Brody Owen, left, and Piper Owen, right. Ralston Dacanay/ Daily Forty-Niner

Owen’s Condition for Tuition, which drew thousands of students each year, came to an abrupt halt in March when the Student Recreation and Wellness Center closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the transition to virtual instruction.

With the realization that OCFT would have to either exist online or not at all, Associated Students, Inc. officials chose to experiment with a virtual version of the program, one has so far drawn just a fraction of the former participants.

“We pretty quickly decided to figure out how to flip the switch back on,” said James Ahumada, former ASI senior communications manager.

Founded in 2011 by Joshua and Tessa Owen and their family, the scholarship program has since attracted thousands of students each year to participate in the campaign. 

Before the recreation center closed, OCFT was at the height of its popularity and was on track to having the highest yield of finishers to date, according to Leiana Swanson, membership services and outreach coordinator at the SRWC.

For the 2020-21 academic year, the program has seen 84 participants as of Oct. 19. Last December, it saw more than 6,000. 

If the current participants complete the challenge with no other student entries, each finisher has a 10-times greater chance of winning compared to 2019.

Prior to the transition online, the competition required participants to visit the SRWC and spend 30 minutes engaging in any physical activity in order to earn one point. Students able to collect a total of 50 points by the end of the academic year would be entered into a raffle for a chance to have their tuition for the following fall semester paid for.

After transitioning online in April, however, OCFT decided to waive the 30-minute rule and change the method of logging activity points.

Current participants must now take a photo of themselves mid- or post-workout and submit the photo, their name and student ID number through a survey on the ASI Recreation website to log a point.

Unlike the old process, the new one is not automatic. Swanson is in charge of checking every submission, confirming the photo and recording each point into the system.

“I thought thousands of people were going to be submitting their point every day,” Swanson said. “There were maybe like 100 point submissions at the most per day.”

Denise Martinez, a second-year computer science major, has been an OCFT participant for two semesters and said even though she supports the online version, she prefers collecting her points in person. She said she struggled with finding affordable exercise equipment for months.

“I was using freaking plastic bags full of clothes as weights,” Martinez said.

Due to the sudden closure of the gym, the number of students who completed the program in the spring took a significant dip compared to the 2018-19 academic year’s rate of 17%. There were 6,795 participants, but only 780 finished the program. 

Ahumada said he suspected the low engagement is due to students’ lack of awareness of the program, especially during a time with fewer face-to-face events and students on campus. Instead of OCFT receiving exposure during the traditional in-person Student Orientation, Advising and Registration, incoming students attended an online version that touched on the program.

“SOAR is usually a really big opportunity for us to promote, but [this year’s] wasn’t the same,” Ahumada said. “I’m sure that hurt some of the marketing that we would usually have.”

While the SRWC has been using social media and newsletters to promote OCFT, student participation only seemed to pick up during the week of Oct. 5 as ASI began to reach out to more students. 

In an effort to increase recruitment, ASI sent out a post BeachBoard under Beach Guides, a group geared toward first-year students.

Within a week of the notification going live, Swanson said ASI received 20 new sign-ups.

“It may not seem like a lot… but a fourth of our sign-ups came from the post,” she said. “BeachBoard might be the best way to start communicating.”

Even though engagement is not where she hoped it would be, Swanson said she thinks a virtual option to participate in OCFT is worth considering for the future, even after in-person learning resumes. 

“What if some of the students who are participating now didn’t before because they only came to campus at night, or didn’t really have time to come work out at the recreation center?” she said. “This online version can cater to anyone.” 

Rachel Gunther, a fourth-year art history major, said they felt unable to complete the program as a commuter student who lives over an hour from campus and showed support for the online option.

“I tried [OCFT] in fall 2019 but stopped when I realized as a commuter…I would never hit 50 [points] in a semester,” Gunther said. “When we transitioned online… it didn’t occur to me that it would actually have been feasible to try.”

Tessa Owen, wife of the late Joshua Owen, said she is grateful to see the program adapting to the online world.

“Even virtually, if our scholarship gives just one student motivation to start or keep their bodies healthy, it is a success,” she said.  

Students can sign up for OCFT by logging their first point at asirecreation.org/owens-condition-for-tuition.

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