With New York Comic Con drawing near and several other local conventions happening all the time across the country, it got me thinking about how there is such a vibrant community of geeks/nerds out there that come together wherever they are to celebrate what they love, whether that's anime, video games, comic books, television, or movies. Any organization or institution would love to see such a passionate and engaged audience come out for their efforts or programs. An audience that buzzes about things coming up, is willing to wait in line, and has no problem paying for content that is valuable to them.
Transitioning the best of the geek realm to the worlds of higher education & student affairs may be a jump and easier said than done, but I think there are some valuable takeaways to be considered about how to get a community excited and engaged.
All good geeks & nerds know the foundational times of their favorite cons and in an age of instant streaming on demand, still make an appointment of viewing their favorite shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead or make sure to go to midnight releases of the stuff they can't wait for. Making annual traditions on your campus allow for students and the community to have something to look forward to each year. A yearly week long series of events or an annual concert allows for people to know generally when something is coming and they can build buzz for the thing they're anticipating. There is also power in sharing in an experience like Comic Con. People can share the past years they went and what was special about it for them and there is a connection if you've ever been to San Diego Comic Con, it doesn't matter which year. A common example of this on college campuses is homecoming weekends, where current and former students always have it to look forward to and there is a connection to the tradition itself and what it symbolizes. Everyone there has a bond to the campus and feels like they're coming home. Striving for more events like this for students and our communities allows for a common identity and an engaged audience for our efforts.
Shared symbols are another important way to get a community together. Be it the Green Lantern symbol, the Starfleet insignia, Spider-Man's emblem, or the mushroom from Super Mario, all good geeks and nerds know these symbols or any others as a sort of badge of honor and instant geeky credentials. Colleges benefit from this as well but shouldn't rest on their laurels. Maximize these symbols with traditions to connect students and the community with the institution so people will display the school's logo proudly. I've seen a lot of schools go all in on this to build pride in their students and an instant identity in their communities. Just think about the Nittany Lion from Penn State, the block R from Rutgers, or the other simple, commonly known emblems from the big state schools across the country. All they need is their symbol for instant recognition. No words needed.
Of course, all of this means nothing if you don't get people connected to each other. People are excited to talk about what they're passionate about, so if you provide and venue and context to do this, connections will ensue. I love to talk about geeky stuff I'm into with friends and I love finding new people to geek out with. Something similar to this in the college sphere is alumni of an institution finding each miles away from their collegiate home. They can reminisce about their time on campus and make a bond from their shared experience. Many institutions do this of course but it can be taking this a step further to actively make introductions, provide more contextual opportunities for alumni to connect with each other and alumni to connect with current students like workshops on particular topics or networking events centered on a certain major or affinity. There are numerous opportunities to capitalize on the passion folks associated with your institution have and all of us in student affairs can be the conduit or provide the conduits for this energy to be maximized.
Working through these simple avenues will help create a passionate community surrounding your institution. Your students will have an identity, school pride, and be excited to be on campus. Hopefully these simple concepts are helpful to folks, and that they at least start the gears turning of how to get your students to geek out with you!