Often when I look back at my university experiences I remember events that occurred outside of the classroom, but were influenced by what I learned in class. As a biochemistry major, I loved the classroom lectures and lab sessions, but what I remember most vividly and what influenced me most were field trips with the Biochem Club to see firsthand what science meant to the real world.
Whether it was touring a food processing plant and learning how to make cheese in dump truck-sized vats, or a carpet factory to see how a batch of hard plastic pellets could be turned into a plush synthetic carpet, these excursions expanded my horizons in ways didactic coursework could not. And I have to credit our visit to the research labs of Oak Ridge National Laboratory Biology Division for at least some of my decision to pursue graduate school and a career in biomedical sciences research.
Memories such as these tell us a lot about the university experience and what graduates take away from it. They remind us how much we are shaped by our experiences, and how much our appreciation for academics is augmented by the opportunity to see a practical use for what we learn. Experiences like these tell us exactly how impactful it is when the academic and student activities aspects of student life intersect.
In the past at many universities, student activities and academics were treated as separate entities. Clubs and organizations over here and academics over there, and never the two shall meet.
But more recently, colleges have been working to blur those lines so that the two entities work together in cooperation to create a complete student life experience, in which the academic and student activities are more often complementary. Prior to consolidation our two institutions were certainly taking many steps in this direction, but we now have a fantastic opportunity to reconstruct the very foundations of these programs and start fresh from a new base of cooperation and collaboration
Already we are seeing some of the fruits of these efforts in, for instance, the upcoming Freshman Convocation. Students will be guided through the Convocation and Lyceum, which are traditionally academic affairs events, by team leaders from Orientation, which is a student affairs program. This cooperation allows new students to have a familiar face with them during Convocation and the extra hands are always welcome when dealing with a large group of students. It also allows the student orientation leaders to gain more leadership experience as part of the process.
Student affairs and academic affairs are also collaborating on the new orientation classes for students in university housing. Student affairs is responsible for housing, while academic affairs is responsible for the class, but clearly there is value in the two working together to present the full picture to the student.
And there is also an intrinsic benefit that comes simply from the two staffs working directly together. Those in student affairs tend to be aware of one set of issues students may face, while those in academics are likely to be mindful of a completely different set. By working together, the two units draw from the expertise and experiences of both to ensure the students’ interests are always best served.
With collaboration, we can also focus on learning outcomes for student activities, and create easy inks when activities align with in-class work. If reading a story by an author is a particular course assignment, and that author is then scheduled to visit the university as part of a student activates event, it makes the classroom experience come alive even more.
Academics and student affairs have common goals: to provide support to the students and to prepare students to succeed in the world. These goals can be accomplished by these units more readily working together than in isolation.
The Fall should be exciting as this intersection between academic and student affairs becomes increasingly bright with the arrival of our new Vice President for Student Affairs. Planned efforts to expand and engage students in athletics, CURS and study abroad will be underway, while learning communities, peer to peer mentoring, shadowing and ambassador programs will bridge the traditional silos to form a more cohesive, interconnected student life for personal and academic success.
GRU’s academic affairs and student affairs teams are committed to preparing our students for a successful future, together. This is just the beginning ,so stay tuned for more as the year continues.