Transparency is a resounding undertone in the new incarnation of the Office of Student Life at Shenandoah University.
This effort, led by Vice President for Student Life Rhonda VanDyke Colby, has given the student community a more accessible, open and purposeful set of resources.
“In terms of how we were doing business, students feel we are now more approachable, and that we’ve provided the resources for them to get the ‘yes’ answer rather than the ‘no’ answer whenever they have ideas,” said Director of Student Engagement Rick McClendon.
Focusing on customer service and a streamlining of resources, starting a new club or organization at Shenandoah is now much easier. Engagement with the campus community is key, and students enjoy activities that build social integration and allow them to forge new friendships and relationships. “Whether it’s a dance party, paintball wars or the Humans vs. Zombies game, they’ve found ways to meet other people and interact,” said McClendon.
Another key aspect of the Student Life revamp is a new and improved Student Government Association (SGA). The SGA called “time-out” this summer, taking pause to allow a much-needed process of research, synthesis and improvement to take place.
In the past, meetings were solely about doling out money. Students weren’t learning anything about the process or the issues, and no one was included in a dialogue on how to improve the campus.
“Now we see students asking questions, taking on leadership roles, being a part of the bigger picture and having conversations across the board, from parking appeals to dining hall hours to the new construction for residence halls,” said McClendon. “So they’re a part of those processes now.”
The reincarnated SGA organization is a perfect fit for Shenandoah, taking into consideration the evenly divided undergraduate and graduate populations and the fact that those two constituencies have their own interests and preferences when it comes to activities and events. A new organizational structure and constitution are the centerpieces of the effort to reorganize.
“This new model says SGA is the voice of students, and we will now find a way to incorporate that in our everyday practice,” said McClendon.
A newly formed Executive Committee centralizes expertise and focuses on its strategic plan for the SGA and the campus community. That committee is comprised of a president, vice president for undergraduate affairs, vice president for graduate affairs, chief of staff, chief financial officer, executive director of campus activities network and a press secretary.
“The SGA officers are pretty much open to anything,” said Monet Gooch, a junior political science major and member of the SGA House of Delegates. “They’re always open to trying new things. They’re not big on saying ‘no’ to things. They’re always willing to try it out—test the waters and see what happens.”
That House, which rounds out the new SGA structure, includes delegates from each official organization on campus. These students serve on commissions, which, among many responsibilities, decide the structure of SGA meetings, discuss resolutions and bills presented to the House and determine how funds are disseminated to student organizations on campus.
“This year, the accountability has spread to the delegates, and we’ve gotten a lot of debate and discussion in the House, which was something I have been very excited about,” said SGA President Nigel Huckle, a junior musical theatre major. “Before, [meetings were] just kind of stagnant, and now we have actual conversations starting.”
Discussion and innovation will stay at the forefront of the shift in Student Life culture, and keeping students engaged and included will only benefit the university in the long run.
“Whenever students feel like they’re part of a process, whenever they feel like they’re a part of a program or a cohort of individuals, their school pride shows. I think that has been our ultimate goal—when you say, ‘I went to Shenandoah University,” inside your gut, there’s this emotion that stirs up,” said McClendon. “We want to develop great alumni [who are] engaged global citizens that come back and want to send their children here.”
Punitive to Purposeful: A Shift In The Student Conduct Process
Many schools focus on discipline, fines and the punitive process when it comes to dealing with student conduct. Shenandoah has taken measures to move toward a more developmental and educational process. According to Director of Residence Life and Student Conduct Suzanne O’Driscoll, adding such steps as conduct conversations and a Community Conduct Council that engages students and gives them a voice in the conduct process.
“ We want to inspire students, encourage good decision-making and reward their personal responsibility in the process,” said O’Driscoll. “In the past, students would meet…for a conduct hearing. Now we conduct conversations. We might, just through a conversation, be able to look at decision-making and have a student reflect on that process. I think students walk away from punishments, and they leave not getting much out of that process. So, we engage them in a dialogue about it, and talk about what their goals are here at Shenandoah and how we can work toward those goals. This process is really beneficial to the student.”
To see the student life video, go to Shenandoah magazine online at ww.su.edu/magazine.