The campus communities ACUI members represent are as diverse as their student bodies; it follows that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to building campus community.
But as the 58 attendees of ACUI’s 2023 Student Organizations Institute at Wayne State University learned on June 26-29, networking with peers who share many of the same real-life challenges leaves you with valuable best practices, strategies, and resources that can then be shaped to fit your campus’s unique environment.
Presenters, known as faculty members during the institute, included Brandon Shamoun, assistant dean of students for student involvement, activities, and organizations at Wayne State University. Shamoun kept this in mind when sharing some of his strategies with attendees during his sessions on risk management and student officer training, conferences, and workshops.
“Every school is different — what I do at Wayne State may not be something you can do at your school; it depends on your student body, your campus culture, your policies — so I held roundtable sessions based on conversations,” Shamoun said. “I provided themes and suggestions from a top-level, 50,000-feet-view. Giving each other examples of how we do things can spark ideas that can be adapted to fit each institution.”
From strategies for risk management, advisor and student leadership development to collaborative simulations and even a session on the power of wellness through doodling, SOI attendees and presenters left the event equally inspired.
“The Student Organizations Institute has been so affirming!” said Lauren VanNess, coordinator of student organizations at the University of Missouri. “It’s wonderful to connect with people who share the same passions and job responsibilities. These people are doing such hard work, and now we have a community to lean on! I’ve loved getting to talk through new ideas and projects with other student organization professionals.”
SOI faculty member Solange Douglas, associate director for student organization and advisor resources, University of Florida, left feeling confident. With a focus on finding connections with one another, learning new skills, and innovating new ways to build community, resilience, and leadership on campuses, she said the future of student organization programs in higher ed is in good hands.
“I’m genuinely excited that I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate conversations and learn from a group of such dedicated student organization advisors and professionals this year,” Douglas said. “From seeing folks light up when rediscovering their signature doodle while engaging in heartfelt conversations about overcoming challenges and barriers to student success, to nodding and snapping fingers to agree with featured speakers and participant feedback, SOI has been a truly enjoyable experience.”
Many attendees appreciated the opportunity to make new connections with student union professionals nationwide.
“For my part, I’ve been grateful to connect with folks from across the country who share the same passion for building campus communities and wrestle with some of the same challenges that come along with our work,” said John Gilmer, assistant director of organization development, student involvement, University of Alabama. “The institute has effectively bundled practical insights from our faculty about key topics, impactful small group reflections, and plenty of opportunities for bonding (and doodling). I can already tell that our SOI crew is building a strong professional network that I’ll cherish as we transition into our wildly hectic Fall semesters!”
Set against the background of Wayne State University in Detroit, attendees also got the opportunity to expand their horizons by exploring the most populous city in both the state of Michigan and the U.S.-Canada border. Shamoun said that as the host institution for the event, Wayne State University’s goal was to highlight not just the campus but also the surrounding city.
“Having a national conference hosted here was really eye-opening to some,” Shamoun said. “Having the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Motown Museum, The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit RiverWalk, and speakeasies nearby really enhanced the experience overall.”
Even among the hustle and bustle of Detroit, Shamoun said participants’ passion for the student union profession was evident. His advice for attendees of next year’s SOI?
“Come prepared to attend workshops and trainings, but also prepare to meet about 50 other people who are really passionate about what you do in your work. Even when we were out at restaurants, the conversation always came back to our jobs. And these conversations will still grow, because now we have a group chat with a cohort of people who share the same interests.”