The Power of Student Government in Shaping the Campus Community

* This post was originally featured on The Student Affairs Hub.

College students have long used the campus environment to work towards positive social change. The very nature of a university encourages this sort of intellectual discourse, and a common way for students to get involved in making a difference on campus is through student government. It allows for students to debate important campus topics, and provides a platform for the institution to directly hear the needs of the student body.

The beauty of student government is that it is typically accessible to all students. New incoming students can be encouraged to find a voice within this organization, meet fellow students, and start making their legacy known at their institution (Trust me, they'll thank you for the legacy stuff come graduation time).

I found out about the power of student government far too late into my undergraduate career. In my final year, I was passionate about getting hydration stations installed on campus, to provide cold, clean and filtered water in a sustainable way that would reduce the use of plastic water bottles while encouraging healthier habits in students. I realized a way to start to make this change possible was to lobby the student government to accept a stance of advocating for these to become a part of the community. Once they accepted, within months there were a few of these stations popping up around campus. This felt so inspiring to accomplish in such a short amount of time!

Perhaps they were already planning on doing this, but at the very least, through my efforts, the student body representatives let their voice be heard and for the future, the administration would know that students wanted to have the hydration stations and would feel more accountable to do so.

Especially for new, incoming students, building confidence, connections, and communication skills are all pretty valuable goals for student affairs professionals. So I encourage you to empower your students to get involved in student government. Even more importantly, I encourage you to bring students to the table and let them be heard when it comes to decision making. They'll have some important insights and they are the ones who it will affect, so I think it is only fair to hear them out. At the very least, they'll benefit from the experience.

Book Review: Start Something That Matters


"A leader can create a company, but a community creates a movement."

My latest review is for the 2012 book by Blake Mycoskie, Start Something That Matters, which chronicles the beginnings of his company, TOMS, and the lessons he has learned from the journey.

I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy read with some great takeaways, good stories, and a positive message. It's a message I can certainly get behind and have believed in for a while now. I always try to vote with my dollars and make globally conscious purchases. Every company should incorporate such tenets into their organization, seeking to make the greatest positive social impact they can with their efforts, whatever it is. They can donate money, time, or resources to help others, and we'll all benefit in the end. It just seems that it is far easier for a lot of people and groups to be selfish and not empathize with the struggles of others (especially if they cannot relate, and never went through such struggles). The good part about all this is that it is never too late to start making a difference in people's lives.

Some of the other quotes I took away from this book were:

"...To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. [Often attributed to Elisabeth-Anne Anderson Stanley]"

"In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow"

"Today’s successful leaders are those willing to share credit as much as possible, who give away as much as they can, and who promote an environment of creative cooperation instead of rabid competition."

What I like about TOMS is that it is a for-profit, social good company. They can exist, and they can do just as much good in the world (if not more) by working to make a profit. Their shoes and other items are desirable and valuable, and by working to make money, they can use those profits to make a positive social impact. A lot of other companies have followed in the footsteps of TOMS in recent years, and I think that's a beautiful thing. I love my TOMS shoes and my Warby Parker glasses, and my Krochet Kids hat. They all have the added benefit of helping others in need around the whole world. What's not to love?

Check out Start Something That Matters at any of your favorite book retailers!

Thanks for stopping by!

The Secret to Helping Your Students Find Themselves


* This post was edited from one originally posted on The Student Affairs Hub.

I wasn't the most adventurous person when I was growing up. I only ever really went to the places I knew and ate the foods I knew I liked. While this tendency will always be a part of who I am, I've started to make intentional attempts to travel more, try more, and just get out of my comfort zone more.

You know that line about where the magic happens? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about here.

I have gone to more cities in our great country, started blogging, and have put myself out into the professional world meeting colleagues and forming connections, which as a proud introvert, is hard for me at times. I might mumble and grumble going against my nature, but afterwards, I'm always glad I made the effort to get out of my shell. I'm even planning my first trip outside of the country with my partner! I never would have thought I'd want to do a lot of these things or even have the opportunity to do them. I'm grateful for the growth these different opportunities in my life have given me and I know that students have the potential to experience the same learning.

As a student at college (or someone who works with them), there are ample opportunities to find ways to get out and experience more new things. That could be because someone is just in a new area while you're at college, it could be joining a new club or organization, applying for a job (on-campus or off), it could mean going on an alternative break trip to do service, or going away to study for a semester abroad. All of these hold value for engaging in an experience that, even if it is not exactly what was hoped for, students will get out of their comfort zone and learning new things about themselves, and the world around them.

So, making someone take risks, face fears, and embrace discomfort is easier said than done but the importance and value of the experience far outweigh whatever reticence a student might have. What we have to do as student affairs professionals is nudge our students to the zone of proximal development as it applies here, or in other words, where challenge and support are primed for growth and learning for students. They don't feel too safe or too challenged, but the discomfort is enough to allow for them to learn something new. For example, a student could learn a lot by traveling to a new city in the US with a group of fellow students, but it could be too much for them at once to perhaps travel alone to a new country.

Students will also simply listen to their trusted mentors on taking risks and finding their identity outside of their comfort zones. Our faith in them and our knowledge of the benefits of the aforementioned experiences help urge a student to go for it. I know when I was an undergraduate student, I never would have thought to apply to be an RA (which was far out of my comfort zone) but a few recommendations to do so from professional staff members helped send me other the edge and give it a shot. Five years later, here I am having found a career I love and I owe it all to the encouragement of others.

I urge you to urge your students to get out and experience new things. I'm sure they'll thank you for it.

Thanks for stopping by!

What I'm Geeking Out About This Week - 05/01/15


Good day to you!

Here's what is going on in my world this week:

  • Seinfeld

I love the show Seinfeld. It is a classic television sitcom that stands the test of time. As such, I was pretty excited when it was announced that Hulu will be bringing the complete series to their streaming service beginning in June. I feel like I still haven't seen every episode so I definitely plan to slowly burn through them all to relive my favorite moments and appreciate the series as a whole. If you haven't seen the show before, definitely check it out on Hulu when it's released.

  • Summer!

The end of my first academic year as a full-time professional is drawing close, and as such, I've been thinking about how I want to spend my summer. I'm sure it will be a mixture of work and fun (as I tend to like for my down time) but I want to take in all that I can while I have the opportunity here in Maine. That means trying to venture out to Canada, seeing more of New England, and continuing to appreciate the local offerings here in Maine as well. I hope I can get to it all while also planning and preparing for the next academic year. I have high hopes but I believe I can do it!

  • Sustainability

I've been working with our campus-wide sustainability committee here at my institution, and it made think about how we make change happen at a institutional level. My perspective on it is that it really can be difficult and time intensive, which needs to be acknowledged, but the efforts of committees like ours need to be strongly supported in more than just lip service and pats on the back to make us all feel good. We need broad support and we need financial support to make things happen. We can do a lot with changing behaviors to make a difference, but for sweeping, lasting change, we need to reform a lot of infrastructure, which costs money. While making sustainable changes gives the opportunity for a return on investment, the initial cost needs to be made, and I feel stifled by that concept most times. I also am impatient and have a sense of urgency for fixing the problems that surround us everyday (that I feel may not be shared by others at times). These are just some stream of consciousness thoughts I've had after going to these meetings for a few months.  We have just started this work on our campus, and we feel very far behind already, and then it feels like we can only move at a snail's pace. It's frustrating but I know you have to start somewhere, so I'll do my best to be patient for now.

Thanks for stopping by!