What Kinds of Student Engagement Activities Work Best?
Student leaders aren’t the only ones in search of the best student engagement activities. Many universities have full-time staff whose job it is to plan student engagement activities. What does this tell us? It means student engagement activities are something you should take seriously and plan carefully. Here in this post we’ll tell you how.
Making Mission-driven Decisions
If you’re looking for some ideas for what your group can do, we have those, too. But how do you know what to choose? When it comes to picking the right student engagement activities for your organization, you might have to step back and do some thinking. Whether your organization is one of the oldest on campus or a brand-new addition, it’s always good at the beginning of each school year to reflect on what you’re all about. Why? Because having a well-articulated mission helps your organization focus and attracts like-minded new recruits to your membership. This is crucial to have at the beginning of the school year when new arrivals to your campus are searching for ways to get plugged in.
But the mission also makes planning student engagement activities much easier. You and your group members aren’t in the business of pleasing everybody all at once: you’re in the business of meaningful action, and the mission can help you get there.
With a mission in mind and a clear sense of identity, you’re ready to plan student engagement activities that are fun, but still challenging and, what’s more, relevant to your organization.
First and foremost, you have a duty to surprise yourself. What do we mean by that? What we’re saying is that just because you’re a fraternity of young guys doesn’t mean you have to settle for playing knee football in your meeting room or staging a Halo 3 party. Likewise, even if you’re a coalition of committed political activists, you can still afford to blow off some steam and have a relaxing time. The trick to well-planned student engagement activities is that you mix it up, but keep things in line with the mission at the same time. Moreover, you can plan productive student engagement activities that are still fun, as well as relaxed student engagement activities that are still serious-minded.
You can also be strategic about which student engagement activities to use, and when. Pretend for a minute that you’re in a fraternity that’s looking for a better use of your time than just the usual messing around. However, you still want to stage something exclusive for your members, a “closed” event. Invite some alumni from your network to come share with you about their business experiences, the connections they’ve developed, and some networking tips. Don’t underestimate the power of members-only events: they help maintain a sense of connection among the members, and give the impression that what you offer is special. This is what it means to be strategic with student engagement activities. The fun and games will serve you better when it comes to recruiting new members, and even then, it helps a great deal when you go all-out: hook your new prospects up with something memorable and gratifying, like a free night at a theme park or an all-expense-paid buffalo wings extravaganza.
You can also combine a couple student engagement activities at the same time. Maybe you’re a group that does lots of service projects. You can begin following up your projects with coffee or ice cream outings and give your members a chance to kick back and talk about why doing such projects is important in the first place.
The Next Big Tradition
This raises another point about how to make student engagement activities more meaningful: always be on the look-out for the next tradition. You can make the mission more real and your sense of identity more tangible with regular events. You can interpret “regular” broadly. It could be as simple as a weekly late-night group date at a local diner, or a huge, annual week-long string of speakers, service projects, and rallies to raise awareness about an issue, for example, Take Back the Night’s sexual assault prevention campaign. Regular student engagement activities like these give your members something to look forward to in both the short- and long-term, help new members connect with returning members, and keep you each in touch with one another, improving communication. They can also help you with “grooming”: when the time comes to plan your annual campaign or project, you can watch new members get their feet wet and begin the process of promoting high-performers to new ranks, strengthening the next year’s core group of student leaders.
But just because you’re following tradition, you shouldn’t allow yourself or your organization to get stuck in a rut. Traditions can be very useful student engagement activities, as we’ve seen. They can also become invested with a lot of emotion and attachment—all of which is a good thing, because it means people care about your organization and what you do. But at the same time, if you’re inheriting a leadership position and you discover that some of its traditions are growing stale, then don’t be afraid to change it up. At the same time, be transparent, and don’t act unilaterally. Getting input from your group members is the best way to go about these kinds of changes, since there are bound to be a couple members here and there who are attached to the routine. In such cases, it’s important to be diplomatic and to show understanding.
And you never know: it might end up being you who is clinging to the old, familiar way of doing things. If you’re getting push-back from your members, you need to have some clear and convincing reasons for holding on to one set of student engagement activities versus another. Flexibility is crucial to doing the student leader’s job, so, with the help of your group and the inclusion of everyone’s opinions, see if you can find a way to re-purpose an old tradition, or if there are any new student engagement activities that can serve the same purpose, but in a better way. Your openness to change will signal your respect for your group.