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Campus leaders can promote student engagement and leadership in programming boards and government bodies by clearly defining roles and understanding student motivations.

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Participating in campus organizations can help students gain personal development skills and boost their feelings of belonging on campus, leading to higher retention and persistence. Effectively run student organizations can also support student flourishing and creativity on campus.

To best manage and support student organizations, campus leaders should consider these four strategies, developed by student leadership expert Dave Kelly and presented at a recent Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities (APCA) webinar.

  1. Clearly identify roles and responsibilities.

The best student organizations are well organized, with tasks assigned and delegated to the various student leaders, whether that’s the president, vice president, secretary, treasurer or committee chair.

Having a clear management structure provides clarity and direction for learners and creates a level of responsibility among the group’s officers.

Advisers should know their role in the organization, as well, which is to advise and not to lead, Kelly emphasizes. “I shouldn’t have to make that statement but I’ve found that, as I do adviser trainings all over the country, I have to remind advisers that the organizations are student-run but adviser-guided.”

Advisers should provide ideas and suggestions while allowing students to make mistakes, so long as the mistakes do not lead to the financial bankruptcy of the club. It is also the responsibility of the adviser to properly manage the executive board, including training, following institutional policies and encouraging involvement of all members.

  1. Establish a transition plan.

Transitions should begin as early as possible, as much as a year in advance, Kelly says.

To ensure a successful and seamless transition, advisers and student leaders should create a physical place like a binder to include documents like by-laws, sample meeting minutes or a budget. This establishes precedent and ensures important papers don’t get lost in junk emails down the road.

Advisers can also consider the role of a transition leadership retreat. The retreat can take place in person or virtually and should incorporate goal-setting, team builders, a review of roles and good content.

  1. Understand motivation of members.

Each student will have their own reasons for joining or participating in a group. Campus leaders, including student leaders, can best tap into members’ motivations by:

  • Identifying the goal. Setting metrics for what the group is trying to accomplish will unify all efforts and members.
  • Determining who fits what need. Not every task will require all members, and narrowing the scope of involvement can create more focus and reduce the amount of work needed to get all hands on deck.
  • Finding the “hot button.” The hot button, as Kelly calls it, is anything that excites a student, whether that’s the opportunity to lead, personal interests or specific expertise on a subject.
  • Asking for help. Some students will never volunteer for a position, and others are waiting to be asked. Officers may have to perform outreach to tap into individual member motivations.
  1. Consider the role of legacy.

Older students and alumni can play a large role in supporting student leaders as they find their place in an organization. Predecessors can give insight into the good and bad elements of a job and goals they didn’t get to accomplish to pass along to the next leader.

In an ideal world, student leaders would have their predecessors’ email, phone number or social media accounts so they can meet throughout the year as a resource.

Advisers can step in here by having a copy of all materials used by student leaders to pass along in the event of a break in transition (such as remote instruction due to a pandemic). Alumni can also serve as a sounding board of ideas about how the organization used to function and how that can be adapted for present needs.

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