There is a story we like to tell.
It’s the one where you leave post-secondary education and enter the workforce with a crisp degree and a new outlook. You have your resume in-hand, ready to take on the world. You’ve worked hard for four (or more) years and have learned skills in each of your courses that gave you well-rounded knowledge. You can now draw on this in every interview you have been offered. Sound familiar?
There is a story we do not like to tell as often.
What happens when that piece of paper simply isn’t enough anymore? When every other fresh-off-the-student-loans graduate can offer the same set of forty courses that you can? What sets you apart from the rest of the young workforce?
It’s simple - everything you have learned outside those forty standard courses and your ability to engage socially and effectively with the people hiring you.
You shouldn’t have me mistaken; academic success is something to be extremely proud of. A student should be working as hard as they can, to learn as much as they can, in their time at university. The skills a student learns in class will help them onboard quickly and efficiently into whatever career choice they are pursuing. To become a master of a certain craft, there needs to be a basic understanding of the field, and there are amazing professors able to offer their knowledge and experience to help a student do just that.
What then, other than classes, can a university offer that will provide students with the skills needed to succeed beyond their classroom knowledge? What gives a well-rounded student the ability to thrive in their chosen field after graduation?
Every year when student elections come around, we stress the importance of the influence students can have in running programs that positively enhance our university experience. The programming provided by Student Unions and Associations offers supplementary learning outside the classroom that is essential to the undergraduate experience. This may sound like common knowledge, or common sense, and that’s because it absolutely is.
Let’s discuss then how much we value this style of experiential learning. When universities and Student Unions critically analyze their financial processes, why do social events, arts and culture programming take a hit first? Why are these valuable programs the most expendable ones?
There is more than one way to advocate for student success. In my opinion, advocacy for social programming is the lesser-researched and discussed topic. Student programmers can find it difficult to explain to peers, faculty and staff about the necessity and importance of the events and programs they offer. Do practical performance indicators for social programming exist? How can a campus event enhance leadership, social and cultural skills? How can students reflect on what they’ve experienced in their past when trying to explore future learning environments? Does social programming provide students with critical thinking skills or social experience? Is this enough to navigate through formal interviews or networking events?
We need to share stories. We need to share experiences. The concerts that welcome students to campus. The art showcases that integrate students into their city. The creative challenges that promote collaboration, teamwork and public speaking skills. The educational campaigns that help increase student wellness, safety and happiness.
As a student programmer, there’s a common saying: “We are in the business of planning the time of people’s lives.” To me, it goes beyond even that. We are in the business of planning experiences that help students learn how to positively interact with one another. We are in the business of offering programs that allow students to engage critically with their peers. We provide shared social experience that makes one proud to be part of their community, and ready to move more seamlessly into a new one after graduation.
Campus programming begins with Orientation Week. Campus programming continues for the next four or five years through a variety of clubs, committees, events and campaigns.
To students: Let’s take advantage of the programs provided to you. Think critically about what you learn from them. To staff and faculty: Let’s take a look at student success in a holistic way so we can work together to offer students valuable social experiences that support (not conflict with) learning in the traditional classroom. To programmers: Let’s keep on fighting the good fight. The work you do is inherently valuable to your students and it should not go unnoticed.
Former WLU Students’ Union VP: Programming and Services, Waterloo (2015-16)