Skip to main content

News & events

A formal education

By Brooke Fisher

Across the College of Engineering, department dances grow in popularity and number post-COVID.

Four Polaroid photos of students smiling at the camera during the engineering formals, set against a purple and yellow ripped paper background

From dancing to dining, engineering students are eager to get back in the rhythm of socializing. While several engineering departments have historically held winter and spring formals, the number of events increased this year — and record attendance was reported.

“A lot of people were itching to get together at social gatherings, thus we had a huge turnout last year and this year,” says undergraduate Andy Shaw from Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE).

I didn’t have a prom and I know several other people in my cohort who didn’t have one as well. That was part of my motivation for getting an event like this out there.”
— Jana Escoton, CEE student

In the wake of COVID-19 — after missed high school proms and a lack of social events spanning two years — students are especially eager to socialize with their classmates.

“I didn’t have a prom and I know several other people in my cohort who didn’t have one as well. That was part of my motivation for getting an event like this out there,” says undergraduate Jana Escoton, who helped organize the first formal in Civil & Environmental Engineering (CEE). “We were pretty excited to get all dressed up.”

Although a few departments held events last year, and even had strong turnouts, this year things felt much more back to normal, say the event organizers.

“We hosted an event last year, but due to COVID we had to have masks and didn't provide dinner,” says Vidisha Gupta, an undergraduate in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “We've noticed higher attendance across the board this year at department activities.”

Polaroid photos collage of group of students smiling to the camera

A first-time formal

Civil & Environmental Engineering

Building things from the ground up is a familiar and welcome challenge in CEE. While students enjoy a variety of social events, from quarterly department mixers to student club activities, two undergraduates noticed that something was missing: a proper formal. 

“We have department mixers, but to dress up for a formal feels a bit more special,” explains undergraduate Nancy Le, who joined forces with Jana Escoton to organize CEE’s first-ever spring formal. “I’m hoping it will be an annual event.”

The duo was inspired to organize the department’s inaugural formal after learning that a handful of engineering departments hosted annual dances. After a few “What if we start one, too?” conversations, they jumped right in. Held at south campus’s Vista Café on April 22, the organizers capitalized off the Earth Day theme and decorated with spring-themed vines and flowers. After inviting the entire CEE community, attendance reached more than 120 — which included plus ones and even a handful of faculty. Attendees enjoyed catered food and drinks, dancing and games.

“We achieved our goal in terms of bringing the department together — there were a lot of people there,” Escoton says. “We had a chance to find out more similarities about one another other than what we are studying. Building that sense of community is important post-COVID.” 

Polaroid photos collage of group of students smiling to the camera, event decor and students dining at the event

A twist on a ‘Starry Night’

Human Centered Design & Engineering

Students naturally enjoy optimizing the user experience in HCDE. This year’s formal boasted a theme with a clever twist, a chocolate fountain and a DJ to get people dancing.

“The starry night theme is a play on Van Gogh’s painting and also outer space,” explains undergraduate Andy Shaw, a member of the HCDE student association that coordinated the event. “We centered the decorations around that and had star balloons, moon balloons and covered the tables in space stuff. We also had a projector behind the DJ, with an animation of outer space constantly on a loop.”

Held in the Denny Room at Oak Hall on March 17, the annual event was attended by 120 people, including significant others and friends. Although HCDE didn’t have a formal during COVID, they started up again last year in 2022. This year’s attendees enjoyed food and drinks, dancing, and photographs with “starry night” inspired decor.

“Our department is small, but last year we had about the same attendance,” says Shaw about the strong turnout. “This year we got a lot of people dancing — the DJ had all the hits you’d expect at a dance as well as Spotify’s Top 50 playlist. We also had some electronic music, with a lot of bass drops.”

Polaroid photos collage of students smiling to the camera

A winter tradition

Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering

For more than 20 years, the Allen School has held a Winter Ball. While the tradition harkens back several decades, the students didn’t miss an opportunity to showcase some of the latest technology, particularly a 360 video booth.

“Between two to four people stand on an elevated platform and a camera spins around them, capturing a slow-motion video,” explains Vidisha Gupta, an undergraduate who collaborated with 20 other students and academic advisers to coordinate the cutting-edge event. 

With an attendance of more than 500 people, the “Masquerade Ball” themed formal was held at UW Tower on February 24. Open to all members of the Allen School, attendees enjoyed a DJ, photo booth and catered Thai food. New this year, a “Most Fitted” contest was held to determine the best-dressed attendees — those dressed according to the theme and in other standout attire. Winners were decided based on the loudest cheers from the crowd.

“Winter Ball 2023 was the most successful and popular departmental social to date. We had about 100 more attendees than last year,” says Gupta. “Personally, I noticed a huge difference in energy and enthusiasm this year. There's less nervousness around socializing and students seem to be excited to meet new people.”

Polaroid photo collage of members of the planning committee and event volunteers of the ME, BioE and ECE formal

One dance, three departments

Mechanical Engineering, Bioengineering and Electrical & Computer Engineering

Engineering’s ability to bring students together across disciplines isn’t limited to coursework and research — it also extends to social functions. Undergraduates from three student organizations joined forces this year to host a Casino Royale-themed winter formal, after the classic James Bond spy film.

“Along with the spy movie theme, some people were especially fancy and dressed up,” says undergraduate Hannah Nguyen, who helped organize the event on behalf of the UW chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. “We also had some casino games, although no real betting was allowed.” 

Held at UW Tower on March 4, the event was attended by up to 300 students and plus ones. Attendees enjoyed food and drinks, a DJ and two games: roulette and black jack. Guests used raffle tickets to place bets, and prizes were raffled off at the end of the night.

Helping to organize the event together with ASME were the student chapters of Biomedical Engineering Society and the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers. The collaborative nature of the event meant sharing planning and prep work, from securing the venue to decorations. 

“It definitely helps with attendance,” Nguyen says about the collaboration. “We hit capacity on RSVPs a week before the formal. Thankfully, we also had some at-door ticket sales.”

Polaroid photos collage of students during the A&A Space Ball

A lofty undertaking: Space Ball

Aeronautics & Astronautics

The last engineering formal of the year was certainly not the least. After a pause during COVID, the Aeronautics & Astronautics department brought back its annual Space Ball, which saw sky-high attendance. 

“Turnout to this event, as well as to our bowling night and barbecue night, was high. We have also received feedback asking for more events such as these,” says Thomas George, a member of the UW chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics, which organized and hosted the event. 

Held in the UW Tower on June 2, the event was attended by 128 students and guests, as well as a handful of faculty. Attendees enjoyed food, drinks and dessert as well as socializing and dancing. Toward the end of the evening, awards were announced, which were voted on by students prior to the event. The awards included most hours spent in Guggenheim Hall and a “most turbulent” award to honor the “chaotic energy and high ratio of inertial to viscous forces of its recipient,” explains George. Fittingly, the event also included a paper airplane contest.

“The contest required a combination of distance and accuracy,” says George. “There was a small hoop and the goal was to make it into the hoop from about 30 feet away.”

Student organizations

In addition to hosting events and activities, engineering student organizations give students an opportunity to connect with other students, meet engineering researchers and professionals, and work on hands-on engineering project.

Learn more

Originally published June 20, 2023