Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Student Life offers unique experiences to students

By Courtney Westlake

From hosting speakers and showing films to putting on comedy shows and ice cream socials to planning homecoming and involvement expos, there truly is never a dull moment in the Office of Student Life at UIS.

Student and campus participation in Student Life activities has continuously been on an upwards trajectory since the arrival of Director Cynthia Thompson in 2002 and then later Assistant Director Beth Hoag. Through their leadership, the office has grown tremendously in terms of programs, activities and traditions on campus.

Thompson, who was originally a school teacher, decided to started working in career counseling for a change of pace, and she realized she loved being around college students. And because she likes the historical connection of Springfield and the fact that it is fairly close to her hometown in Iowa, Thompson accepted the director of student life position at UIS.

“It’s a great campus with great people who are very down to earth and modest; I love that,” she said. “Everyone is very willing to work together to make things happen. Whenever I've suggested something new, they are supportive and make it happen."

Thompson acknowledges that while academics are certainly important in providing the educational component to students' lives, Student Life provides the “laboratory to carry that out,” she said.

“We can provide opportunities for students to try out the skills and things they are learning in their classes,” Thompson said. “Students learn very important leadership skills and qualities through running organizations, participating in activities, planning the activities. It's an exciting mix; you've got students planning programs while learning from the content of what they're attending. Plus you can't beat the social aspects, the stress relief and the fun that is a necessary part of college.”

Many studies have shown that students who are active on campus, whether through participating in organizations or going to events, are “much more likely to succeed academically,” said Hoag, who has been at UIS for about a year and a half.

“We look at student affairs as developing the student as a whole, to teach them, outside of the classroom, the skills that they really need when they get out into the ‘real world’,” Hoag said.

Thompson, Hoag and the Student Life office, with help from students, have implemented many of the traditions students now take part in on campus.

“We do the Homecoming parade and the Involvement Expo, which was very popular at campus I came from, so we implemented it here,” Thompson said.

Thompson and Hoag agreed that they would like to expand on the programming that the Office of Student Life is currently doing.

“I’ve really seen programming board develop; we’ve come from doing a couple of events a semester to an event almost every week,” Hoag said. “And that's obviously helped Student Life on this campus really grow.”

A Student Organization Center is the most recent project for the Office of Student Life, which will give student organizations the ability to have their own space as well as have more opportunity for various event planning experiences.

"The Student Organization Center is the focus of this semester and next, and we want to bump up the number of activities and events we have on campus and empower our student organizations more," Hoag said. “I’m not as concerned as much with quantity of organizations as with quality and being able to support them better and help them to achieve their goals and motivate them to do what they want to do on campus.”

“There is a lot of flexibility and room to grow,” she added. “It’s really exciting how we’re a young campus and there are lots of different ways we can go.”