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Campus leaders can play a critical role in connecting students to on-campus clubs and activities and, in turn, likeminded peers who support students’ development.
A majority of students participate in college extracurricular activities to meet new people and make friends (70 percent), according to a fall 2023 Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse. However, 31 percent of students who do not participate in extracurricular activities on campus say it’s because they are not aware of activities or events.
To promote community building and on-campus involvement, the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (UM-TC) Carlson School of Management has launched engagement coaching for students. All incoming students in the school receive one-on-one advising from older peers in a required first-year course, but anyone can opt into professional advising, helping them explore and join student organizations at the university.
The background: Returning to campus after remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, university leaders saw gaps in participation in clubs and organizations as student leaders struggled to recruit, engage and retain members, says Lisa Novack, director of student life and career design.
The Student Life and Career Design office launched a pilot program in 2021-22 for students to sign up for individual appointments for campus engagement help. The program modeled career coaching sessions but pertained more to students’ college experiences and leadership goals.
Prior to launching the coaching, staff had consultations with campus stakeholders, including Academic Advising, to understand the services offered by each group, ensuring coaches were equipped to refer students to other departments.
Other Engagement Solutions
To connect students with available campus activities and organizations, colleges and universities have implemented a variety of strategies. Three examples:
- Utah State University created an online portal that combines clubs and an event calendar, keeping students in the loop.
- Florida State University launched a branded content marketing strategy that offers the top five events offered that week.
- Gettysburg College established co-curricular pathways to guide students on how their campus experiences can benefit them after college.
To meet with an engagement coach, students could sign up for a meeting online or by calling the undergraduate business career center. Students can opt to meet with a coach in-person, through an online video call or via phone.
How it works: UM-TC’s leaders did a curriculum overhaul in 2022, and now all first-year students are required to take BA1021, a life design course that compliments a career design course in their second term. Student Life and Career Design staff teach the 22 sections of BA1021, Novack says.
In the course, students complete an engagement coaching appointment with an older student employee called a Crew Leader. The 50 or so Crew Leaders serve as teaching assistants throughout the class and are trained to offer insight into student life and experiences available on campus.
“In this format, every student has the opportunity to have a conversation about their transition to college and goals during their time in our school and has an opportunity to get involvement and engagement insights from a peer student leader,” Novack says.
Appointments last for around 30 minutes and afterwards, students receive a follow-up email with links to additional resources, a survey and contact information for student organization leaders, as applicable to their interests and meeting.
During the meetings, students explore how to join a student organization and identify leadership opportunities for skill development with a staff member.
The impact: So far, the course has proven beneficial in growing student life participation and building confidence among incoming students.
Of students enrolled in BA1021 this fall, 95 percent have completed engagement coaching. Students shared in course surveys that they feel positively about the meetings and that Crew Leaders have passed along good advice.
Teaching the course has also benefited staff relationships with students because it makes the office more approachable and recognized throughout campus, Novack says.
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