The Student Engagement Renaissance Begins
How students are creating ties, pushing themselves further and making their mark post-pandemic
Walking into Lindner Hall, the impact of student organizations is visible everywhere. Whether it’s a bake sale in the atrium, an event advertised on digital signage, a Lindner Ambassador leading a tour or a meeting happening in a classroom, students display their on-campus involvement proudly.
“If you walk by the steps in Lindner on any given day, we [Delta Sigma Pi] are always sitting on those steps. People poke fun, saying ‘Oh, the DSP steps’ but we love to own it,” said Jack Buckley, BBA ’23, president of Lindner’s Delta Sigma Pi (ΔΣΠ) professional fraternity. “You’ll find random groups of us always sitting on those steps. I think that’s the best part: the brotherhood.”
Buckley, like many students, found himself disconnected from the Lindner and UC communities due to distance learning and the pandemic.
“It was very tough to get involved. But, in the fall of my junior year, I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, I only have two years left, there’s so much I’ve seen and heard but still haven’t explored.’”
As classes transitioned back to the classroom and campus came back to life, many students experienced the same realization.
“In a sense, it made me more ambitious. My first year on campus, I tried to get involved but it was just so hard in a virtual setting. Once campus started opening up again, it was like ‘game on,’” said Morgan Owen, BS ’24, president of Queen City Consulting and ΔΣΠ member. “I was so excited to be on campus and be busy that I was just meeting new people and joining organizations.”
Navigating Engagement in the Pandemic Era
Everyone felt a drop in campus engagement, including students, during the pandemic’s initial years.
“That first year is arguably the most important year and many just didn’t have that transitional year,” said Autumn Jenkins, BBA ’22, MS ’23, co-president of UC’s chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA), of what her fellow students lost during their early years at Lindner. “And now they’re scrambling to say, ‘What can I get involved with? How do I get my name out there? How do I find a new friend or that next person or that significant other?’”
For Alex Baker, BBA ’24, and Max Renay-Lopes, BBA ’24, the pandemic years proved particularly challenging as they worked to build UC’s chapter of the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), a business careers preparatory organization. At first, the organization struggled to recruit new members, and sustain and build attendance at meetings and events.
The impact of the pandemic is palpable and although student involvement faced challenges, many learning opportunities emerged.
“We learned that there are a lot of different ways that students can be involved in organizations. And many organizations follow more of a hybrid model now, which I think is a very rich model,” said Ric Sweeney, professor-educator of marketing, director of co-curricular student enrichment and Lindner Business Honors Circle of Excellence director. “It’s allowing students to be involved in ways that they’re comfortable with and something that meets their schedule and desires. People are then creating these connections with people they never would have seen before.”
For students coming out of the pandemic, Lindner became a place for connection and community to reignite their passion for involvement and seek new opportunities. Now, students are doing that and more, honing their business skills and connecting with alumni, one another and the community, while refining and reaffirming their place as future business problem solvers.
Finding Connection, Community and Competition
In addition to co-op and classroom education, student engagement is a key tenet of Lindner’s commitment to experiential learning.
“My experience within student organizations has shaped me equally as much as my classroom involvement and my co-op experiences,” said Owen. “Honestly, my involvement is the reason I’ve gotten co-ops. Those are the first things I talk about in interviews.”
Students often leverage their co-curricular involvements to supplement their professional experience. For students like Owen and Noura Ata, BBA ’24, president of the Neo Initiative, a social justice-oriented, student-run data analytics consulting firm, these organizations provide the opportunity to work with real-world clients, implement their ideas and track their results and impact.
Other students chase the thrill of competition to flex their professional prowess. Renay-Lopes loves the fast-paced, high-stress environment of the DECA competitions, which also provide a low-risk environment to test students’ skills and knowledge.
“If you don’t perform well, that’s fine,” said Renay-Lopes. “We just want to give you those skills that are most beneficial to you, like quick problem-solving, critical thinking in a fast-paced environment and presentation skills, to just become a better professional.”
They want to be able to be a part of something bigger and there is that hunger to reach out and expand horizons as a result of COVID. I think that’s why they’re realizing that by interacting more and being more interdisciplinary, they have an opportunity to grow even more.
Ric Sweeney, Professor-Educator of Marketing, Director of Co-curricular Student Enrichment and Lindner Business Honors Circle of Excellence Director
Although professional development is always top of mind, many student organizations prioritize fostering connections and building community. Two of Lindner’s professional fraternities, ΔΣΠ and Alpha Kappa Psi (ΑΚΨ), emphasize such activities to supply students with volunteer opportunities and to support one another in their journeys.
But these organizations are not just fostering connections between Lindner students. Rather, they represent a collaborative, community environment for interdisciplinary partnership spanning across the university.
“One thing to know about Alpha Kappa Psi is that we’re major-inclusive. We have education and health sciences majors, engineers and computer scientists,” said Zach Kershner, BBA ’23, president of ΑΚΨ. “And they all are able to help shape our organization and make it more well-rounded.”
And, although marketing is in the name, UC AMA welcomes all students seeking to improve their skills and bolster their resumes.
“This isn’t a club just for marketing majors. This isn’t a club just for Lindner students,” said Jenkins. “Yes, we are the American Marketing Association, but realistically we’re just a professional student organization to help anybody make sure that whatever education they’re getting is actually successful when they go to implement it in their career.”
Many students cite these tangible outcomes as what drives their search for connection and engagement, whether that results in robust networks, fulfilling mentorship opportunities or resume skills.
“They want to be able to be a part of something bigger and there is that hunger to reach out and expand horizons as a result of COVID. I think that’s why they’re realizing that by interacting more and being more interdisciplinary, they have an opportunity to grow even more,” said Sweeney. “And that makes for a richer and more meaningful experience for students individually and collectively. And it helps build the overall product that we offer here in Lindner: a stronger, better business problem solver.”
Photos provided by Autumn Jenkins, Max Renay-Lopes and Joseph Fuqua II.