Social Excellence & Student Engagement

[Guest post by Tracy Lungrin.  Phired Up asked Tracy to share her unique perspective on the relationship between STUDENT ENGAGEMENT and SOCIAL EXCELLENCE.  Thank you for your great insight, Tracy!]

tracy-pro_editedAllow me to introduce myself, my name is Tracy Lungrin and I serve as the Greek Advisor and Leadership Coordinator for the University of Nebraska at Kearney.    When Matt asked me if I would serve as a guest blogger regarding the exciting topic of student engagement and how it relates to Social Excellence, I had to take him up on his offer!

Alexander Astin was the first to determine the following:  college students learn more the more they are involved in both the academic and social aspects of the collegiate experience.  An involved student is one who devotes considerable energy to academics, spends much time on campus, participates actively in student organizations and activities, and interacts often with faculty (Astin, 1984, p.292).

My student affairs colleagues and I at UNK have been working on a new initiative our institution called STUDENT ENGAGEMENT.    When I go speak to faculty, staff and students regarding this initiative the first thing we usually have to do is to DEFINE it.    In fact, when I ask student leaders to describe the concept (of student engagement) — they think it involves a proposal and a sparkly ring — however, that is NOT the case!    :-)

Dictionary.com defines the word “engage” as the following: 

• to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons)
• to attract and hold fast,
• to involve (my personal favorite synonym)

You see, engage is an action verb.  In order to engage someone, you have to be intentional, interesting, and most importantly, purposeful in your pursuit.   Engage also requires mutuality.  It is a two way street – it seems like the engager and the engaged both need to participate willingly.

This initiative on our campus has become even more important with our incoming millennial students; because research shows that millennial students have a great desire to be involved ~ but many need to be “engaged” by faculty, staff and (especially) by their fellow students.    However, much like Greek recruitment, student leaders often lack the skill set and/or the confidence to engage their fellow students (much less engage faculty/staff).     As we pondered this problem, I contacted Matt at Phired Up to see if they could help us out.

I have seen Phired Up’s fraternity/sorority recruitment work, and really believed that there was a broader application for their messages about the power of relationships and the skill-sets necessary to do that.  It turns out, they were thinking the same thing and had been working on Social Excellence curriculum for Greek and non-Greek students alike.

On August 12th, we are excited to bring Matt Mattson from Phired Up to our campus to talk to over 130+ of our top student leaders from Residential Life, Greek Life, Activities and Programming Council, and Student Government to learn about their new Social Excellence platform which is needed to help us put this initiative in motion!

It seems to me that Social Excellence is a VITAL factor in successful student engagement.  After all, if students lack the skills and attitude necessary to engage, they simply can’t do it.  It sounds silly to say, but students must be prepared to engage if we expect student engagement to happen.  Of course this is true, but most students aren’t prepared.  We have to prepare them.

The Social Excellence platform will help our student leaders with the following:

• Define and understand student engagement, and their role in the process
• Learn that student organizations and overall student involvement is an important factor in college student engagement and overall student retention
• Learn relationship building and conversational skills which are crucial engaging fellow students
• Understand that currently engaged students must reach out and bring other students in…

We are so excited about bringing this program to campus ~ and we know it’s exactly what our student leaders need in order to understand that they are the most important part of the student engagement equation.    More importantly, I’m excited to know that I have colleagues in the field (at Phired Up) that want to lift up the concept of student engagement and prepare students to do it effectively.  It will help students have a better, more successful college experience, it will likely improve student retention, and I believe it will create a community of excellence.