Welcome to Live and Learn. A production of the honors program of the University of Connecticut. I’m Danielle Chaloux and this is Season Two.
This week, as we welcome students back to campus, we are welcoming them back to another semester and another opportunity to get involved. We’re sharing a conversation between Christine Wilson, the Director of Student Activities and two Honors student leaders: Himaja and Colby. Here’s Christine:
Christine: Himaja, we’re going to start with you. You started to explain how Peer Allies Through Honors, PATH and what the purpose of the organization is, but I would love to hear some more about the organization, how it’s organized and some of the things the organization does.
Himaja: Absolutely. PATH is essentially made up of the mentees, which are the Honors freshman students, the mentors, which are the upperclassmen Honors students, and the coordinators that run the whole show behind the scenes. Essentially, what we do is we plan events to really bring mentees and mentors together and so we ask mentees and mentors do, at a minimum, 3 events per semester and we host a wide variety of events. Recently we hosted a cookie decorating and pumpkin painting event for PATH. That was really cool; we had a great turnout and everyone really enjoyed it. So we do a ton of cool, fun activities to initiate and help foster that bonding between mentors and mentees.”
Christine: So I’m curious about this coordinator position that you mentioned. Are these coordinators students?
Himaja: These are students, yeah. It’s been great, we have eight coordinators, we all work together. We have two event coordinators, we have marketing coordinator, which is me, and communications. we have a head coordinator, peer ally relations as I mentioned and a digital coordinator who deals with updating your facebook profile and helping to bring together mentors and mentees.
Christine: that’s great! I love the way that you’re organizing this with leadership that you’re really reimagining what it means to be an officer in a student organization. To really be more in tune with how students actually live in student organizations now. That’s great.
Himaja: Thank you.
Christine: Alright. So, Colby, would you mind talking about the Honors Council a little bit?
Colby: Honors Council is what I consider to be a general home for Honors students here on campus. So, what we do is we try to aim to make the Honors community on campus more enjoyable, more inclusive, and promote a well rounded student through Honors. We have a couple different avenues we do this through. We like to host events and through those events we provide leadership opportunities to underclassmen, through sort of similar to what PATH has through coordinator positions. So, this semester we have two positions. One through community service and one for our largest event of the year: International Night, where we are having underclassmen help us with that. We also focus on community service. Like I said, we have a community service coordinator and we are also a great connection to Honors faculty. Throughout my time here, with Honors Council I have gotten to know many of the Honors faculty and staff and they have been entirely supportive of our initiatives and are a voice for the Honors students throughout campus.
Christine: There are two things in there that piqued my interest that I’d like you to follow up on. One of them is you talked about a well rounded Honors student. What is your opinion about what “well-rounded” means?
Colby: A well-rounded student balances their coursework as well as being engaged with their community. And that can be something all the way from what we do. We’re very focused on the Honors program and giving a positive environment for Honors students. Or it could be playing on an intramural team, getting to know other people. Just being involved; not just going to your classes and it being the end of the day. You’re involved in more.
Christine: Thank you. On a big campus like this life can become so compartmentalized so quickly. Right? Your eating is separate from your working out is separate from your classes is separate from your organizations. And I really like that you’re drawing together your academic life with your extracurricular lives. I think that’s important. I’d like you each to talk about the impact of being in your student organizations on your academic work. Has it had an impact? If so, what has that been? And you can use this as practice for an interview question later because someone might as you this if you’re interviewing for a job. So, tell me about your involvement and how that helped you develop your skills. Himaja, would you like to go first?
Himaja: Yeah, absolutely. Being in PATH has definitely helped me academically in ways I probably wouldn’t have imagined at first. I would say the number 1 thing is time management for sure. It really helped me generate a skill to multitask and to make sure that I’m scheduling things right, keeping on top of things, making sure I’m doing my work for the organization. At the same time, making sure I’m putting enough time into my academics. So that definitely was an important skill that I learned just being involved in an Honors organization in general. And specifically for PATH, it’s definitely taught me a lot of leadership. Running an organization with over 200 members, mentors and mentees combined, it’s a really big organization on campus. Running the show and making sure we’re communicating effectively, we’re addressing issues that pop up, we’re really helping to give the mentors the resources to really bond with mentees. That takes a lot of leadership, planning, thought and effort and PATH has really taught me a lot of that that I applied to my academics, without even thinking about it on a daily basis.
Christine: That’s great. Sounds like it’s had a really good impact. A lot of lessons. Colby, what about you?
Colby: A lot of the same aspects. Where it’s time management or something like that and leadership working as a team. But I wanted to talk about something a little bit different. One of the things I realized that working with the Honors council is integrating policy and practical solutions to what I do. So, what I said earlier, I’m a chemical engineer and there’s a lot of disconnect between the research being done and how politicians and government officials are utilizing that in order to make effective policy. And, one of the things that i have been able to learn a little more about is policy, making decisions. In the past I have done a couple of outreach programs about Honors living and learning communities and the sophomore honor requirements. I have made a couple of surveys about that in order to poll the general population and then report back to the Director of the Honors Program to give her student opinions and data to work with to inform her decisions. My involvement in Honors Council has really pushed me to pursue an environmental policy aspect of my career that I’m not sure would have been so strong had I not decided to join newsletter my freshman year.
Christine: Himaja, let’s talk about what’s challenging in your student organization. You’ve talked about how meaningful it is, how inspirational it is, but we all know that things can be challenging sometimes. So, what’s challenging about your organization for you?
Himaja: One thing we’re trying to work on is effective communication and making sure we can document who comes to which event. So just making sure we’re properly recording attendance and giving credit to those who come. Also, making sure to properly congratulate mentees and mentors who really put in their time and effort into path to make sure both of them succeed.
Christine: So Colby, would you mind talking about a challenge, in a different way, maybe a challenge that you’ve encountered in your organization that you’ve overcome?
Colby: So, one of the challenges that I’ve tried to work on while serving as president of the Honors Council is collaboration with other Honors orgs. That has always been one of the hardest things to do. You have your own executive board, with your own idea on how an event will run, who’s going to run what part of it, who’s booking the room, who’s doing this and that. You have a set way of how you’re doing things in your organization. When you reach out to other organizations it can get a bit hairy as to “okay how much do we want to work with them on this” “oh I want to keep this part for us”. Something that we’ve worked on a bit, but still working through, is the collaboration with others. So, for example, International Night, which is an evening of cultural performances, hosted by Honors Council as well as Honors for Diversity, another student organization here on campus. we’ve been working on getting groups together, figuring out decorations, figuring out the food that’s going to be at the event, working with catering, all of that stuff. In the past this has just been an Honors Council event and last year we reached out to them to collaborate with International Night. And, we didn’t do a whole lot with them and we basically did everything the way we had done it in the past. The “status quo” International Night from our perspective and honestly sort of tacked their name on it on the side. So, this year we tried to be a bit more proactive and given them opportunity to work with us on International Night and I think it will be a great success and you’ll see the added perspective from their part at the event.
Christine: In my experience in working with student organizations, you point out one of the most difficult things. And it’s not just student organizations, I would say it’s sort of people. It’s amazing how fast a group can become its own culture and when you go to collaborate. We talk about it as “difficulty communicating” or “difficult to work together” but it really is melting two cultures and it is extremely difficult. And some days I think maybe we have 651 groups because people make their own thing, just because it’s easier than trying to join a group that already exists and I think students instinctively know this when they come to talk to us. They say “I know there’s an X, but my Y is different.” It’s easy to see for someone like me from the outside to say they’re splintering, but what I know students are trying to do is do something on their own terms. So we don’t prohibit that. But there are only so many resources so when they do go to work together, like what you’re talking about it can be challenging. Thank you for sharing that and I also appreciate your honesty in sort of articulating what happened last year and that you went down a different road this year and you had a different result.
Danielle: That’s all for this week. For past episodes and for a chance to win an Honors Program long sleeve t-shirt visit honors.uconn.edu/podcast where the code word is Martin Luther King.