CREATING A CAMPUS CULTURE OF ENGAGEMENT

by Tom Kreiglestein | Swift Kick

While visiting a college campus on the east coast, I saw a billboard advertisement for a new phone app that promised to deliver food to students in under 20 minutes. Sounds good so far, right? Then I read the tag line, “So you never have to talk to another human being… ever.” I sighed in defeat as I was on campus to do just the opposite—to train student leaders on how to build a campus culture where every student feels welcomed, connected, and engaged from orientation to graduation.

Building a strong sense of campus community isn’t just a wishful kumbaya slogan left over from the 60s. Rather, the research on a student’s sense of connectedness to their institution is very convincing. Academic researcher, Vincent Tinto, says that astudent’s social integration with the faculty, staff, and administration is critical to a student’s academic success. In Shawn Achor’s book, “The Happiness Advantage,” he complied multiple studies concluding that the greatest predictor of one’s success and happiness is their social support network. The research also shows that the rewards of plugging into positive social communities extend to a heightened wellbeing, lowered stress levels, and many other positive benefits. In short, to not focus on building a strong sense of community on your campus is to miss out on one of the greatest reasons why the physical campus space is more important than ever for the development of our students.

Over the course of the next year, I’ll be writing a regular column for Campus Life Trends with tips for campus leaders on how to build a strong culture of engagement. To get started, here’s your first tip:

CREATE / EMBRACE CAMPUS TRADITIONS

Each spring, hundreds of students at Randolph College hang poetry on a cherry blossom tree at the college entryway. Why? Because it’s a campus tradition that dates back to the 60s. I doubt you could get students from other schools to write or hang poetry on a tree, but the Randolph students love it. Traditions are the social habit of engagement. Traditions should be unique to your campus and your students. If you feel like your campus is lacking traditions, here are two ways to pull yourself out of the slump:

1) Embrace traditions already happening – the University of North Florida underwent a yearlong discovery process to learn about what traditions already existed on campus that they could get behind versus having to start their own parade. The result was a solidified calendar of traditions that both the administration and students got behind. 2) Create Your Own – Prior to speaking at an orientation at UMass Boston, the Provost told the students that they had a tradition on campus that if you saw the mascot within the first week of school, you were supposed to rub his nose for good luck. Of course, moments later on a break, the mascot burst into the room and all the students rushed over to rub his nose. In talking with the Provost afterwards, I asked him where the tradition started and his response was, “Oh, I just made it up.” Genius! Traditions build a sense of shared community through action. Whether your campus has traditions already in place that you could further embrace or you start new ones, don’t wait until it’s too late to build a campus culture of engagement.

 

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