Rebuilding Your Campus Organizations Post-Pandemic

Del Suggs, M.S.Ed.
~Leadership Program Development

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on every student, staff, and faculty member on your campus. Perhaps the effect is most visible among student leaders. While dealing with all the same coronavirus issues as everyone else, they’ve attended class (maybe virtually), worked a job, handled family issues, and struggled to fulfill their leadership duties. And for the last 20 months, they’ve watched something they love– their club or organization, their student government, their campus activities board– wither and collapse.

Your student leaders need a little or a lot, of support right now. They need your help in rebuilding their clubs and organizations. You all know it’s vital, because we know the importance of student engagement. As we always say at APCA, Engaged Students are Retained Students.

That means that we’ve got to work harder to restore those club and organizations that get and keep students engaged. You’ll find that your student leaders need help in four distinct areas right now: Leadership skills, Recruitment, Goal Setting, and Time Management.

Relearning to Lead

Even your best student leaders have gotten rusty. When the pandemic hit in the Spring of 2020, most campuses shut down. Classes went virtual. We all had to learn about Zoom and Teams and all the other virtual means of teaching and meeting. Your seasoned student leaders had to stay off campus and avoid contact with other students. For the most part, they couldn’t have meetings and gather together with other students with similar interests. Even your most tried and true student leaders fell out of practice with their leadership skills.

Now imagine the impact on your emerging leaders. We often find that it’s the sophomore class– those second year students– who blossom into the next crop of student leaders. Instead, this year we had two classes of first-year students. We had the true first-year students, who were just beginning classes. Then we had the second-year students who spent their first year going to class virtually, so they are spending their first year on campus.

You need to provide some remedial leadership development for all of these students. They may have forgotten the basics of meeting management: how to create an agenda; how to run a meeting by parliamentary procedure or consensus; how to inspire their members; and how to keep them engaged. Make sure you give your student leaders, both the returning and emerging leaders– the training they need to lead. They need a refresher course in basic leadership skills. Whether it comes from a professional trainer and speaker, or you do it in-house, make sure you reinforce your student leaders and help restore their abilities.

Rebuilding Engagement

How successful were your virtual Activities Fair and Club Expo last year? Compared to previous years, they were likely weak. It’s hard enough to recruit new members when you can talk to students face-to-face as they circulate among the various clubs represented at your Club Rush. Even more challenging is trying to convince students to log on to a virtual presentation to learn about a club and get involved.

That means your clubs likely have the fewest members ever. Even those popular clubs have shrunk from attrition and lack of recruitment. Building those numbers back is vital. Student must be engaged to succeed in higher education. Dr. George Kuh of the National Survey on Student Engagement call them “High Impact Practices.” Engagement is vital.

You’ll need to get that Club Fair, Club Rush, Club Expo, or whatever you call it on your campus scheduled and happening. Make it special and bigger than ever. Bring in some performers to draw a crowd. Schedule some novelty acts to hold the crowd. And make sure your student leaders are there to recruit new members.

Once again, provide the training on recruitment skills to your student leaders. Whether you hire an outside speaker to help them brush up on recruiting, or you do it yourself, your students need that focus on getting and retaining new members.

Don’t forget to encourage the creation of new clubs, too. You have students who have found new interests when they were isolating off-campus last year. It might be anime, it might be hiking, it might be gaming, or it might be a club for a new career choice like nursing students or business students.

Whether it’s restoring the older clubs, or creating new clubs, we need to focus on getting club and organizational enrollment higher.

Goal Setting and Achievement

There is one true triangle in club management, three elements that must be present for success. Those three elements are leaders, followers, and goals. Think about it. You need leaders to hold everything together and keep an organization moving forward. You obviously need followers, because that comprises your organization. But a club without goals just flounders without direction.

Make sure your student leaders know how to work with their followers to create goals for their organization. I’ve written about goals before, and we know how important it is to have those SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-based. Creating SMART goals helps the club to focus on a purpose, a direction, and develop the skills to succeed both in college and in life.

Organizations also need another type goal, one I call a “BHAG”: a big, hairy audacious goal. A BHAG is a huge goal, not impossible, but one that is even more challenging than a SMART goal. Something outrageous, such as hosting the state or national convention for the club on your campus, or raising more funds for your cause than any other chapter in the country, or just becoming the biggest and most successful club on your campus.

A BHAG has one powerful effect: ispiration. You will find that this huge goal, whether you attain it or not, becomes aspirational. It lifts your student leaders and followers, and give them something bigger than themselves to work to achieve. That’s a powerful goal.

Finding the Time

After the past year or more, your student leaders may have lost their compass. Not to imply that they are lost, but they may be struggling with schedules these days. We all had those pandemic days that just drifted into one another. Those weeks when we weren’t sure even what day of the week we were living.

Working and learning virtually sometimes means setting your own schedule. Now that we’re back on campus, some students are struggling to get everything done. They need some help in what I call the Three Ps: Planning, Priorities, and Procrastination.

Everybody has the same 24-hours in their day. Some people seem to get a lot more accomplished in their 24-hours. How does that happen? It comes from planning. Make sure your student leaders understand the basic concept of the To-Do list, and how to put one together. Those of us who teach time- management can give them a lot of tips, like making tomorrow’s To-Do list today. That’s right, the last item on each day’s list should be “make tomorrow’s list.” Never start your day by creating a list. It should already be waiting for you.

Likewise, make the best use of your time by prioritizing your list. Not everything on that list is equally important. Remember the Pareto Principle: eighty percent of the work takes twenty percent of the time, and twenty percent of the work takes eighty percent of the time. Do the most important things first, because those things will take the most time. You can do the lessimportant tasks in between the important tasks.

Then there is procrastination– that remarkable ability to put off doing anything important or productive. To quote my friend Mimi Hearn, “killing time isn’t murder, it’s suicide.” It’s YOUR time that you waste when you procrastinate.

Make sure your student leaders have the tools they to need to accomplish their goals. Learning to deal with procrastination leads to success in college and in life. Again, whether you bring professional time management trainers to your campus or do this training in-house yourself, your student leaders must have the skill to deal with their time well, and accomplish their goals.

Give Them a Hand

We’ve all had a tough couple of years. Those of us who have had a few more trips around the sun may be able to dig ourselves out of this hole, but our younger student leaders truly need our help. Make sure you recognize the challenges your student leaders are facing rebuilding their leadership skills and their organizations.

Do all you can to rebuild your campus clubs and organizations. Get your students engaged again, because we know that engaged students are retained students. Don’t underestimate the impact that campus clubs and organizations have on student success.

Copyright by Del Suggs, M.S.Ed. 1-800-323-1976 All rights reserved.

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