GROWING TRADITIONS WITH A NEW GENERATION OF STUDENTS

By Sharinda Welton Director of Student Activities, Commuter Services & Leadership Development The University of Findlay | Article from 2015 Spring CLT Magazine

In the world of campus programming and campus traditions, there is no room for, “We’ve always done it this way”. That statement will do damage! Professionals in campus settings receive consistent messages regarding the importance of campus traditions, learning outcomes and creativity. Creativity equals edutainment that appeals to diverse students while providing an engaging, holistic higher educational experience. Annually departments prepare to meet goals and directives with high energy, enthusiasm and a budget.

One may ask, “What does creativity and budget have to do with campus traditions?” When budgets are cut or people get lazy, the easiest thing to do is hide behind “campus traditions”. This choice will knock creativity out the door! Those who hide behind traditions may say the following, “If it’s not broke..” or “That program doesn’t cost much. Let’s keep it and call it a ‘tradition’”. Warning! Danger! This line of thinking does not empower or give students a voice.

When I began my adventure in the world of higher education I made a commitment to students. They would be given an invitation to voice their opinions and be provided opportunities to own programming, presentations, and series created on campus. Students who are empowered to make decisions, operate a budget, negotiate contracts, make mistakes, and learn will grow and produce programming that will evolve into campus traditions, positive learning outcomes and appeal to the campus population.

How does one empower students to invest, own and grow programming? Start with a foundation of trust. Convey to students they are trusted by inviting them to the planning, production and debriefing processes of events. Trust is the foundation mentors should desire everything else stand on.

As trust is developed and maintained it will naturally build ownership students need to experience. What does “student ownership” look like? Students who “own” have a voice in the details: what is booked, how it will be advertised and in determining the venue. As walls of ownership are built, enthusiasm will grow. Leaders will recruit and begin to cultivate trust with new members, taking their cues from their mentor(s), who began by trusting in them. There is something powerful about this system. It is contagious!

Detailed record keeping is necessary in building campus traditions. What should be recorded? First, the overall budget should be accessible. It lays out all costs. Second, retain detailed information regarding the venue site. Third, include attendance records. This will assist in determining how to advertise, grow/expand and host the program/event in the future. Fourth, minutes from the debrief should include: what worked, what didn’t, where mistakes were made, comments from those who attended and suggestions for the future.

How long should records be kept? Once an event is held, keep the records. If the campus chooses to host the event again all documentation will be needed. By the third year, the institution is looking at a growing tradition. All records from the beginning should be retained for the life of the tradition. This assists generations in seeing the progress and evolution of the, now tradition. Students want to be tied to traditions on campus.

Students want to leave their mark. It is the same for professionals on campus. If students and professionals are invited to participate in programming and enjoy their experience, this will empower them to approach the planning committee with new ideas and proposals for growth and expansion of a tradition. People want to be a part of positive energy. It’s called campus buy-in. For students and administration that are in charge its called open-mindedness. Annually there are possibilities for growth, improvements, expansions and changes in repeat programming. The Possibilities become realities when administration in charge has an open mind and willingness to consider new proposals. This goes back to trust and mentorship. Students who have been empowered to trust and build programming will once again be watching their mentors to see if they continue to practice what they preach with both students and their professional peers. If students observe trust, respect and openness, the sky will have no limits. If this is not observed traditions may become endangered.

Fourteen years ago students were planning programming for the future academic year. I proposed the students consider a comedy night featuring three comedians: an emcee, a feature and a headliner. The students loved the idea. Comedy Jam was born. The venue hosted 400+ people. It sold out every year. A new generation of students moved Comedy Jam to a theater on campus. The new venue seated 600+. Through networking, a company offered UF two large screens and projectors at a discounted rate. UF had to provide cameras and operators. The Audio Visual Department on campus agreed to do everything. The shows continued to sell out!

The following three years new student leaders moved the venue to a 1,500 seat community auditorium. Screens, projectors, cameras and operators moved too. Vice President of Student Affairs offered to pay for a bus to transport students, free of charge, to the new venue in support of the annual show. One year, the local Community Arts Partnership approached the students to see if they could co-sponsor the program. Another year the students teamed up with Broadway Cares and the State of Ohio Senator, Cliff Hite, served as auctioneer.

This year, UF’s Communication Department asked if Comedy Jam could be recorded and played on UF-TV. This created more work for those in charge. The students saw the advantage, more people would be exposed to this annual program on cablevision. They accepted the offer.

Comedy Jam is still selling out! More importantly, Comedy Jam has become a campus tradition. Every year new leaders come to the table with new ideas. Every year students contract three comedians at the National APCA Conference. Comedy Jam has evolved into a tradition past and current generations of students are enjoying. They have had a voice and ownership in the planning, production and debrief. Comedy Jam has been adopted by the City of Findlay. Why? People planning have open- minds they never say “We’ve always done it that way.”

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