In auto giant Henry Ford’s office hung a sign that read “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
It took me a while to understand this quote and how it applied to the work we do within Student Affairs. Now that I understand it, the quote is a constant reminder that the best laid plans, no matter how thoughtful and eloquent, will fail if your campus culture doesn’t allow for them.
That brings us to the topic at hand: how do you create a campus community where co-curricular involvement matters? How do you show the massive impact co-curricular involvement can have on your student body? Your best laid plans for embracing the importance of involvement will fail unless your campus culture allows for them.
A cultural shift does not happen in isolation and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a combination of sound strategy, ample resources, time, and specific community partners. And even with all of that, you still have to work in an environment where you can fail, rebuild, and fail again. And more importantly, you have to have the ability to fail without fear of repercussion so you can eventually succeed.
To begin, you need a thoughtful strategy:
- Do you have data that backs up the importance of involvement?
- Can you correlate involvement to retention, persistence, and eventual 4-year graduation rates?
- Can you correlate involvement with students receiving jobs within 6 months of graduation?
- Can you correlate involvement with recent alumni who give back to the institution?
A strong assessment plan will give you the data to help you tell your story to the faculty and administrative partners you need. With data in hand, you can start looking at the concrete resources you need. Creating a culture of co-curricular involvement means offices are financially supported and properly staffed so they can carry out their mission. It means student organizations have physical space, proper equipment, and financial resources. It means faculty and staff advisors are given the time from their job to mentor and guide students in this journey.
You can’t execute this strategy without time. You’re not going to be successful in a year, much less a semester. Creating a culture of involvement is a never-ending venture. Giving yourself a deadline will set you up for failure. Patience is required for long-term success.
Finally, recognize and train your partners in creating this community of co-curricular involvement:
- Students who can eloquently communicate why co-curricular involvement matters
- Inspired faculty/staff student organization advisors who are eager to mentor and teach
- Academic advisors and faculty members that are knowledgeable about which student organizations correlate with which classes
- Administrators that understand a financial backbone is required if student organizations will be successful in creating a meaningful product
Creating a culture where everyone understands the importance of co-curricular involvement doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly won’t happen if it’s only one person working to achieve this. By creating a thoughtful strategy, identifying the resources you need, being realistic about the time it takes to change culture, and thoughtfully identifying and gathering allies, you are setting yourself up for success.
We’re lucky at Emerson. Co-curricular involvement and classroom integration are a part of our everyday activity but I’m sure it wasn’t always this way. My job isn’t making it happen. My job is to ensure involvement remains an active part of our community. You can’t stop assessing your programs. You can’t stop telling qualitative stories of success. You can’t lose your seat at the table with faculty and administration.
You see, we’re lucky. The culture at Emerson College tells us to create. We just have to sustain and nurture that culture now.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kedrick Nicholas on Assessment of Student Programming