Alex B. Johnson, NASPA IV-W Missouri Membership Coordinator
October 3, 2016
I recently had an in-depth conversation with a student named Katy, a junior Socio-Political Communication major at my institution about her connection to the community and her desire to make a difference. As a student dedicated to service, leadership, and advocating for others, what sparked this passion? What role does community engagement play in her college life? As I listened to her answer these questions and share her journey with me, I took many mental notes as a Student Affairs professional.
Discovering a Passion
I wanted to know how Katy discovered civic engagement and began to actively pursue opportunities to learn more about it. “Coming to college and getting more involved my freshman year in student organizations allowed me to find my passion. There is almost like an expectation here that you’re going to do more than class. You are part of something bigger.” Katy shared about her experience in a service-learning course, and how simply knowing about local community issues and initiatives to address them sparked her passion.
This illustrates the beginning of many students’ college journeys, and as a student affairs professional, I am thankful for the connections to surrounding community members, who serve as learning partners to students. These initial connections were crucial for Katy to mold her personal mission.
Continuing the Mission
How does Katy view her role in the local community now? “As I’ve done more and more work with the community, it’s less about geographical reference, and more about the people in those communities. For example, when I think of the Northwest part of town, I automatically think about the community centers, community gardens, and shelters working to make positive change.” Her passion for service and connection to community stems more from what she has learned in and out of the classroom and the familiarity of her strengths.
In my notes, I jot down “Community is a Learning Lab.” I think of the service projects, trips, speakers, etc. with which students have been involved – these structured experiences have allowed students to experiment with new skills, meet new people, and connect more with themselves.
At the end of our conversation, Katy and I discussed some of the lessons she has taken away from her community and civic engagement experiences. “I’ve learned that it is important to listen first, then act. The community knows what issues need to be tackled, and my role is to know which of my strengths I can bring to the table.” Katy talked about serving the “right way,” mindfully.
Listening to these messages, I learned a few things. 1) Campus culture is quickly evident to students as they begin their college journey, and we play a large role in its creation. 2) It is important to provide tools to students to allow for critical thinking, and many times, experiential learning and reflection give them the most insight. 3) Fully listening to a student about their experiences will provide countless lessons to make me a better professional.
Alex B. Johnson is the Director for Community Involvment and Service at Missiouri State University and currently serves at the Missouri Membership Coordinator for NASPA IV-West. Alex can be reached at email@example.com.
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