Ask any college graduate what they liked most about their higher education experience and many will say the time they spent with their peers.
Though academics are important, Sarah Dowd, director of campus involvement at Hiram College in Hiram; Timeka Rashid, assistant vice president, inclusive student engagement in the division of student affairs at Cleveland State University; and Marc West, dean of first-year students and student engagement at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, said maximizing the college experience lies outside the classroom.
“When students are involved, they feel like they’re part of the community in general,” West said. “And it also allows them to use more time-management skills and persist toward graduation. Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with that is the whole aspect of tying in what they’re learning in the classroom to outside activities.”
Dowd said, “Campus involvement plays a huge role in every student’s college experience. It’s not only about entertainment and flexing social skills. Though it does help them make friends and share their common interest in things, it helps them network with other people as well.”
Rashid added campus activities also allow students to feel connected to a community.
“In today’s world where everything begins to feel like a grind, we want to create an experience where students feel connected to their campus, and understand who they are and what they’re able to become,” she explained. “When we reflect on the college experience, we remember those extracurricular experiences that we have. That is all part of what we want students to feel in their ability to feel connected to campus.”
In her 20 years in the field, Rashid said colleges realize students are focused on getting their degree. But, activities also provide opportunities to flex their professional expertise.
“It helps create the whole person,” she noted. “Your co-curricular experiences are all built in a sense of allowing you to increase those competencies. Employers are looking for a person with a degree, but they’re also looking for those additional skills.”
West added, “It is being able to develop those relationships with folks that then know what your skills and abilities are, and they’re then able to connect you to internships, jobs or other outside opportunities. It’s knowing that when you’re involved in programs, events and workshops, you don’t know when those connections will come in handy.”
Dowd said many of these outside activities can help students connect their knowledge with experience.
“Students can also learn if they like something or don’t,” she stated. “It’s the opportunity to better understand their abilities or talents, or understanding careers they hadn’t even considered.”
At Cleveland State, with opportunities like Magnus Fest, Camp Vike and a robust campus activities board, students aren’t without options.
“It gives you the chance to, one, take a break, and two, sit with someone that you might not normally interact with,” Rashid said. “One of the things I drive here is to focus on intentional engagement. It is one thing to connect, but another to be intentional in continuing those opportunities.”
West said activities at Baldwin Wallace are for all students, but with a particular focus on first-year students, as they’re more likely to keep to themselves due to the new environment.
“We believe in the rule of three, get involved in three organizations, so they can get some kind of foundation,” he said. “They need to hone in on it – one activity in their major, one in something they’re already passionate about and one outside of our comfort zone.”
Hiram College really “loves community,” Dowd said, which inspired a lot of the campus involvement opportunities.
“We understand that when students, faculty and staff are connected as a community, we can thrive,” she explained. “We love to provide a place for students to come together with all of us. We want them to get out there, know what is out there and who is around them. It’s about working towards the element of the whole student.”