Keeping students engaged is the name of the Higher Ed game these days, which is one of the many reasons that student affairs professionals contribute countless hours to planning events that keep students connected to campus, engaged in their community, and ultimately retained and successful. After all, retention, persistence and graduation rates have become an integral part of what drives our measureable outcomes and assessment in student affairs.
It is a tall order for any one department to be solely responsible for keeping our students engaged. Keeping up with current trends, being actively involved through social media, and offering programs at all hours of the day, night and weekend to keep students connected is too much for anyone to do alone. We need to call in some reinforcements before it’s too late! We need to take our own advice and ask for help! We need to make engagement everyone’s business!
As someone who is responsible for orientation and new student programs, I understand the overwhelming feeling that comes with planning orientation programs. When others on campus are winding down and preparing for much needed summer vacations, I am just gearing up for what is always a very busy summer of overnight orientation sessions for an incoming class of approximately 1,000 students. Luckily for me, I am part of an amazingly supportive Student Activities staff who operates under the mantra that it’s “all hands on deck” until orientation is over. But what do we do #afterorientation?
Orientation programs serve to introduce students to the resources and services available on our campuses, but once that message is delivered, we have an obligation to continue to offer ways in which students can engage and stay connected. On my campus, we have given our club and organizations fair a boost by offering more opportunities for students to connect with not only campus groups but also community organizations at this annual event. We not only provide an opportunity for student organizations to showcase themselves and solicit new members, but we also invite community partners who work with our Center for Community Engagement to share information about their businesses and the opportunities they provide for community service in our local area. This recent collaboration has expanded and enhanced the offerings for students. Our organizations fair, a familiar, age-old event to anyone in student affairs, needed a new twist, and inviting others to partake in the opportunity has been an excellent addition.
This traditional event has always been offered in partnership with the President’s office. Our University President hosts the event every year, where students can listen to great music, eat a wonderful barbeque dinner (as a substitute for the dining hall, courtesy of Chartwells, our campus food services provider), and network with staff, faculty, and students. The event is attended by many members of the campus community. Its central location and vibrant atmosphere invites both new and current students to meet student organization members of over 75 student organizations. The event is also supported by faculty club advisors and many members of the administration and staff, as well as the President and extended administrative cabinet. It’s an event no one wants to miss!
Involving so many departments in our President’s Picnic and Student Activities Fair not only exposes our students to additional involvement opportunities, but showcases a positive and welcoming environment while bringing many different offices together for one common goal: encouraging our students to engage in their campus community! The organizations fair, which typically happens the second week of the fall semester, is only the beginning of additional collaborations across campus, especially in the first six weeks, that strive to keep students connected.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by the need to maintain a campus culture of involvement, remember that your colleagues are your best asset to successful collaborations in support of retaining students. It doesn’t always take new events and tons of resources to get the job done. We can utilize our common goal of retaining students to extend the olive branch to our partners across departments, in and outside of student affairs. After all, conquering the uphill battle of engaging students truly takes a village.
This post is part of our #AfterOrientation series, which focuses on what various institutions do when the buzz and bustle of orientation dies down. We will learn about programs, events, and initiatives that continue the support and excitement for the new students as they start their higher education adventure. For more information, check out the intro post by Juhi Bhatt. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!