Archery? Bhangra? Conservativism? Join the club.

Hundreds of ways to get involved at McMaster University
The McMaster Gospel Choir (Jessica Darmanin)

Teresa Ziegler is listening to a pitch from two enthusiastic third-year students who want her to join yet another club. Classes haven’t even started and she’s already committed to the strength and conditioning club, a medical club, a few volunteer groups and the rowing club, whose members are showing off 12-foot oars in neon t-shirts that read “Beat the freshman 15.”

How will she handle it all? “I’m just going to go them all and find out what I’m most passionate about,” says the first-year Kinesiology major.

Ziegler’s got the right approach to McMaster University’s Clubsfest, the annual outdoor fair where representatives from the school’s roughly 325 campus groups spend four hours recruiting members. It’s a frenzied competition for names and e-mail address where a capella ballads from the Gospel Choir compete with pop tunes from a Chinese culture club while representatives from the Disney Dreams Club try to entice women away from the Catholic Students Association’s table.

Vanessa Lau at Clubsfest (Jessica Darmanin)

Clubs days like these, held on campuses across Canada this month, are also a rare opportunity for students to see how much their schools offer outside of classes and bravely sign up for a extracurriculars where they’ll learn about themselves, make friends and pick up skills employers now demand alongside degrees.

Megan Schlorff and Christina New, both in health sciences, are trying to sell Ziegler on McMaster Arts For Children, which places students in after-school programs to teach arts and crafts.

“I thought volunteering for an hour a day would just add to the stress but the kids totally lessen it,” says New. She loves seeing their sense of accomplishment when they complete their artwork.

Schlorff says it helped her get out of “the McMaster bubble” and into the Hamilton community. The placement forced her to learn how to take the bus downtown, a challenge for a small-town girl.

Both women are considering careers working with kids, so Arts for Children is a resume booster.

At the next table over, Bashi Ali, a third-year social psychology major in a dress shirt and necktie, is being grilled about the McMaster Conservatives’ positions on social issues. “We’re not like the Republicans,” he says. “We don’t have views on gay marriage or abortion. It’s more about paying down the deficit and safer streets.” The interrogator takes a pamphlet and leaves.

Clubsfest crowds (Jessica Darmanin)

Chris Coome, president of the club, says it promotes liberty and personal responsibility through pub nights, guest speakers and debates. It’s also leadership training that may prepare him for where he plans to go next: law school. He says he looks forward to building up the club and challenging prevailing notions of what his party stands for. Last year, their table was parked right beside the Campus Communist League which led to interesting discussions, he says.

Arpa Modi, a second-year Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour student, is here representing the McMaster School of Bhangra, which offers free lessons in the traditional Punjabi artform. Members then show off their new moves at coffee houses and football half-time shows.

“No experience necessary,” she tells a student, handing her a leaflet. A year ago, Modi had no experience; now she’s on a competitive team. “The people became like my family,” she says.

Modi may have some competition in David Learmonth, an engineer there to promote the McMaster Renaissance Dancers and the Society for Creative Anachronism. Some students think his blue and gold costume (a doublet with paneled breeches, he says) is awesome. Others avert their eyes.

“[The Renaissance Dance Club] tends to draw people who like engineering, math and Dungeons and Dragons,” he says, but it also attracts people interested in theatre, history and music. “It’s kind of dancing for engineers because it’s all just patterns,” he says, offering a demonstration.

The Society for Creative Anachronism is an off-campus club that recreates scenes from the Middle Ages. More people seem to be interested this year than were last year, says Learmonth, attributing the increase to the prominence of archery in recent TV shows and films like The Hunger Games.

After four hours, he’s collected roughly 80 names and e-mail addresses. “This year we did well.”