Starting Small, Building Initiatives, Maintaining Your Sanity

Kate Steiner, Assistant Dean of Students, Student Life Armstrong State University

September 15, 2016

For a number of campuses Civic Engagement started in another campus office and grew and developed into a department all on its own.  We are in, what I would refer to as the baby stages of developing our Civic Engagement programming on our campus. We have the support of the university President, it fits into our university’s strategic plan, faculty and staff who are interested in partnering, and our VPSA is supportive.  What we lack are the human and financial resources to really grow the program from its current state.

Not an unheard of challenge for any student affairs professional, so how do we support program development while balance our other office commitments and maintaining our sanity... Here are a few of the ideas and approaches that we have taken within the Office of Student Life at Armstrong.

Establish annual or bi-annual events, make them a tradition for the campus. We have a service day, each semester.  This allows us to partner with non-profits in our community and introduce the importance of volunteering to our students, faculty, and staff.  Keep in mind that you may need to build initiative behind these events.  Try not to make large changes to the event in the first couple of years, this helps both campus and community partners to have set expectations for their participation.  We are in the 6th year of our program, last year we tied the opening of registration to our volunteer fair.  This allows us to promote our event while introducing students to a number of volunteer opportunities within the community.

Find ways to tap into your office’s other responsibilities.  Our office also works with Fraternities & Sororities and Recognized Student Organizations.  This year we are making an intentional effort to meet with the community service or philanthropy chairs of each organization.  We are working with student organizations to promote their voter registration drives. We have also started tracking all student organizations volunteer hours. We have built in a service learning component to our emerging leaders program, which also helps us to have student team leaders for our bi-annual service day. Do not over think this, just work to find areas that natural fit together.

Partner with faculty members who have incorporated service learning into their classes. We have offered to help track hours for students as part of their class work. Some faculty will encourage or even require participation in our service day. This is helping us to build a support network, so that when we do launch larger scale programs we already have partnerships in place.  This semester Student Affairs and Academic Affairs have partnered to participate in the ALL IN Challenge.  This has opened lines of communication and mitigated some of the duplicated efforts we have been making. 

When it comes to institutionalizing programing on campus the same practices can be effective regardless of the topic.  Start small with efforts that you can build tradition around, incorporate programming into something you already have established, and build your support network of students, faculty, staff and administrators.  Once you have those things in place you can start the intentional and strategic work of finding additional resources for staff and programming. Your support network can be a priceless resource, they can rally around you during funding requests, connect you to additional contacts who may have outside (grant) funding, or keep you in the loop in regards to academic or classroom efforts. If you have developed strong relationships with administrators on campus, do not be afraid to let them know what you need in order to move the program forward, the worst thing you will hear is, no or not right now.

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