Season 1 – Episode 21: Student Engagement: Colleges and Universities
Student engagement is a vital part of the college and university experience, ranging from activities at the student union to international coffee hours and much more across an institution’s landscape. Student engagement allows students to interact with one another and form meaningful connections and immerse themselves in experiences which will prepare them for life during and after college. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the way in which students engage on campus has shifted, with an increase in student demand for online and hybrid activities at an institution. Administrators, faculty, and staff can support students through creating, fostering, and supporting meaningful engagement opportunities which meet students where they are at.
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Darren Gaddis: From CITI Program, I’m Darren Gaddis and this is On Campus. Today, what is student engagement? How has student engagement shifted since the COVID-19 pandemic? And what ways administrators, faculty and staff can promote student engagement across campus? I spoke with Amy Haggard, Associate Director of Alumni and Student Engagement for the Division of Undergraduate Studies at Florida State University. As a reminder, this podcast is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal advice or guidance. You should consult with your organization’s attorneys if you have questions or concerns about relevant laws and regulations discussed in this podcast. Additionally, the views expressed in this podcast are solely those of the presenter.
Darren Gaddis: Hi Amy. Thank you for joining me today.
Amy Haggard: Thank you, Darren. Thank you for having me.
Darren Gaddis: Amy, to get us started, what is student engagement at a college or university?
Amy Haggard: So I think there are multiple working definitions of student engagement and what student engagement looks like in higher education. So when I think about what student engagement is, I first think why is student engagement important on our campuses? So with diversity continuing to increase on higher education, American higher education specifically, I think the needs and the challenges of our students also become more diverse. So this makes it increasingly important for universities to really create engaging campus communities. So I believe that student engagement is important because when students are engaged and our devoting time to activities outside the classroom as well as inside the classroom, they are more likely to excel academically. So this also helps create a stronger connection and affinity with the university community and contributes to their overall holistic development. So student engagement at a college or university is the participation in not only educationally purposeful activities, but also the involvement in other institutionally driven programs, learning opportunities and support services.
Darren Gaddis: With everything you just mentioned, how can we get students more involved in their campus community?
Amy Haggard: So there are multiple ways for students to get involved on campus. I always say the first thing to do is to look up what clubs and organizations your campus offers. There are ways to be involved though athletically through club and intramural sports, academically through academic college sponsored student organizations. You can be involved through student government and you can also be involved in other student networks and organizations. You can even be involved by having an internship or a job on campus. I would always say the first place to look at any university is to look at the division of student affairs website, social media. They will usually always have extensive welcome events for students at the beginning of semesters, and usually weekly events that promote student organizations and hopefully campus and student affairs office, have an office that’s committed to student programming specifically. So I always think that that’s a really good place to start and where I would direct students to look first.
Also, as simple as this may seem, I encourage students to sign up to receive university announcements in whatever way that they’re delivered, and learn what their academic college and other programs’ social media handles are and follow those. I think that universities are really trying to see what the social media platforms are that students are engaging with and making sure that they get their announcements out on those platforms. So these are really simple ways to be in the know about upcoming engagement opportunities and events.
And then my last little tidbit would be, if you’re a student, just say yes to opportunities. If you’re a new student on campus, and you’re getting familiar with your community, and you’re learning what your campus has to offer, saying yes to invites to student group meetings or a yoga class at the gym, or a coffee hour with resident assistants. Whatever it may be, sometimes that yes can open a door for a bigger and a long term engagement opportunity.
Darren Gaddis: And with students back on campus, how have you seen student engagement shift since returning to campus following the COVID-19 pandemic?
Amy Haggard: Yes. Well, specifically in my area, and something that I’ve noticed, I really noticed last year with the coming back into person right after COVID was just the lack of initial engagement. I think this could be attributed to multiple reasons, but what I noticed is students went from having the ability to register and jump onto multiple Zoom events for two years, to them having to relearn how to reintegrate in an in person community on campus. I think the virtual engagement during the pandemic was high because students could log on from anywhere and it was really flexible to be engaged. I think the in person engagement post pandemic was low for about the first 6 to 12 months because I think a lot of that had to do with comfort level and communication. And we had a lot of students coming onto campuses for the first time. Even if they were in their sophomore year, they might not have integrated into the campus community in person. So getting used to that I think was really why there was a lack of engagement post COVID.
But I think it’s really been a juggle with some populations of students now wanting a hybrid or a virtual option. And so then trying to meet those needs to be accessible for those students who want that opportunity. So I’ve really seen a trend of having these in person events have a hybrid option, or even a recorded option where students can see what happened at these engagement opportunities later. But I also think that what I’ve noticed is there might have been less engagement with events, but more engagement with student organization and groups because people really wanted to find a community and find a home of students after being in this virtual world for so long.
Darren Gaddis: With students returning to campus following the COVID-19 pandemic, in what ways can administrators, faculty and staff promote student engagement across different departments and colleges at their institution?
Amy Haggard: Yeah, so I think cross collaboration is key to boosting effective student engagement on campuses. I think one thing that kind of ties back to the trends question before, and about what have I seen post pandemic, I think when we were in that virtual setting, so many people were having these virtual engagement opportunities. But they were doing so and almost operating in silos. So I really think that cross collaboration is key to boosting that student engagement on campus. And I also think a big focus now is overall student success. So what student engagement opportunities can be used to promote student success in and out of the classroom?
So creating and implementing experiential learning opportunities, creating undergraduate research program opportunities, career readiness engagement opportunities, internships and other opportunities. Educational enrichment opportunities are great ways for students to get engaged at the department and college level. If there is a commitment to student success and student engagement, then that promotion is simple. This is where administrators, faculty and staff can utilize digital communication, social media and technology, and ensure that engagement opportunities are accessible for every student and even incentivizing engagement.
Also, I think choices are great. Give students choices, and give them the opportunity for feedback, and to give you evaluation of events. I think the most important thing that administrators, faculty and staff can do to better promote student engagement is to listen to student’s voices in that engagement process and it will really help with that effective promotion.
Darren Gaddis: Amy, today we’ve talked a lot about on campus activities for student engagement, but for online students, what are ways they are able to engage and feel a sense of community at their institution?
Amy Haggard: I really like this question because I got my master’s degree totally online from the state of South Carolina, I was enrolled at Colorado State University, and so I was never physically on campus. So I really think that what is most important for those online students to feel like their university is home to them is to not only have hybrid or virtual opportunities, but you want to make those opportunities accessible and interactive. And I think you also have to provide opportunities that they would get if they were on campus, like where you might walk into the student union and see a classmate and have coffee. There are opportunities to create those virtual spaces for coffee chats where you can just be in a room and virtually connect with other students without any real structured programming.
I also think this is an opportunity where you can partner with offices on campus like the career center to see what online career readiness opportunities they might have, that they can also be engaged in, that they might be if they were on campus, they could still be engaged in those opportunities online.
And then I think you need to identify when you’re promoting engagement opportunities throughout campus, whether it’s on a university calendar or however campuses promote their events and their opportunities, seeing if you have a tag or a way to delineate what is a virtual program. So if there’s an online student who just wants to go to the university calendar and see what’s happening that week, they’re able to really see and break down what are the virtual offerings that they might be able to be engaged with. And then I think incorporating the affinity part and building programming in an online environment. So even if students aren’t physically on campus, they really can build that affinity for the place that they’re learning and they’ll still feel a part of the greater community.
Darren Gaddis: What else should we know about student engagement?
Amy Haggard: Well, I think first, anytime you’re talking to someone like myself, know that I’m no expert and I’m just one of thousands of individuals across the country in higher education who work really hard to create engagement opportunities for students. But I think what works on one campus might not make sense for the next. And it’s always good to get an idea of what’s best for the student body on your campus. But students today are very tech savvy and they’re constantly on a device. So it’s really important to meet them where they are and to meet their engagement needs. So I think support your student leaders. Listen to their feedback if given. Student advisory groups are a fantastic resource to assess needs and to see if you’re meeting those engagement needs.
And then most importantly, to remember is just that student engagement helps build better relationships with other students and also faculty, staff, and the university as a whole. It helps to build institutional affinity, it improves student success and it promotes a necessary skillset for students to be successful in every area while they’re a member of their campus community. And I really think that student engagement not only builds that foundation for success while they’re there, but it helps keep them connected to the university when they leave, which is great for affinity, and for alumni engagement and participation after they graduate.
Darren Gaddis: Amy, thank you for joining me today.
Amy Haggard: Thank you.
Darren Gaddis: Be sure to follow, like, and subscribe to On Campus with CITI Program to stay in the know. I also invite you to review our content offerings regularly as we are continually adding new courses and webinars that may be of interest to you. All of our content is available to you anytime through organizational and individual subscriptions. You may also be interested in CITI Program’s Understanding and Addressing Mental Health on Campus: Opportunities and Challenges in Higher Education webinar.
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- Season 1 – Episode 17: Instructional Designer for Online Learners
Meet the Guest
Amy Haggard, MS – Florida State University
Amy Haggard is the Associate Director of Alumni and Student Engagement for the Division of Undergraduate Studies at FSU. She earned a master’s degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Colorado State University and is currently pursuing her PhD in Higher Education at FSU.
Meet the Host
Darren Gaddis, Host, On Campus Podcast – CITI Program
He is the host of the CITI Program’s higher education podcast. Mr. Gaddis received his BA from University of North Florida, MA from The George Washington University, and is currently a doctoral student at Florida State University.