Academics should be your top priority when you arrive at UW-Madison. However, they should not be the only priority. “Being involved is a natural byproduct of being a student on campus. It’s hard to just do academics and do nothing else,” says Mark Kueppers, associate director at UW-Madison’s Center for Leadership and Involvement (CfLI).
Involvement on the university campus is a vital component of the new student experience for freshmen and transfer students. Although we are entering the spring semester, it is not too late to engage with one of the many forms of on-campsu involvement , including community service & volunteering, student organization, research & internship opportunities, studying abroad, RecSports, and Greek Life.
Not only do involved students feel a greater connection to their campus, they are more likely to succeed and stay at the university. According to the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), students who are more involved often have higher grade and are more likely to re-enroll at the university during future semesters.
Additionally, involvement opportunities can help students test whether or not their academic field matches who they are. For example, by getting involved in a student organization with a focus different than one’s major, a student may realize new, greater passions and choose to pursue a new field of study in the future. Taking this approach offers a low pressure environment to explore with very little commitment required.
Going into an engagement opportunity with this goal, or others, in mind is extremely important, according to Kueppers. “Our philosophy at CfLI is to help students intentionally get involved,” says Kueppers. Being intentional starts with asking what outcomes students hope will be tied to their involvement experience. Rather than joining a club or organization blindly, consider what skills you want to enhance or goals you would like to achieve through the opportunity.
Not only should you intentionally reflect on your objectives before getting involved, but during and after as well. Kueppers warns that neglecting this reflection can force students to miss out on skills they did not even know they were perfecting. If you spend a semester leading group discussions with an organization but never take the time to realize you are improving your communications skills, reapplying those skills in the future becomes more difficult. “As students get involved, they recognize the benefit and customize it based on what they’re looking for out of the experience,” says Kueppers.
Students can utilize a variety of on-campus resources to get the most out of their involvement experience. These include the CfLI office on the third floor of the Red Gym, their website, the Wisconsin Involvement Network (WIN), and informal networking through their residence halls and classrooms! Whether you discuss involvement experience with a CfLI student-staff member, create a customized WIN profile that filters UW-Madison’s hundreds of student organizations, or simply ask your peers what they are getting involved with, there are many ways to connect and engage on your campus.
The UW-Madison Leadership Certificate is also an option for students looking to get increasingly involved at the university. Through this experience, students are asked to engage on campus in a variety of involvement and leadership opportunities, then reflect on the skills they learned through the experience. This program, “reinforces the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s commitment to developing student leadership capacity through intentional reflection and engagement in learning, both inside and outside the classroom, for the purpose of meaningful change.”
If you are looking to get more involved in the spring semester, take these pieces of advice to ensure a successful, rewarding experience:
- Start small. Kueppers suggests starting with one student organization that reflects a familiar interest. By engaging with something you already know, you are likely to feel more confident and gain a sense of control you may not otherwise feel in your first semester(s) on campus. This also gives you an opportunity to create an ensured sense of community with others who share your interest(s).
- Try one thing that is new. Although you should seek comfort in something familiar, try, as well, to test out something new and interesting! Pursuing an unexplored avenue may help you realize new passions and allow you to experience campus through an alternative lens.
- Focus on breadth and depth. Ever struggle with knowing what’s better: involvement in many organizations or deep engagement with one specific group? Kueppers and the CfLI office recommend a “both, and” approach, that suggests students “push the limits responsibly.” Students should engage in a level of depth with their organizations, but also with more than one experience. Doing so ensures that student balance expanding comfort zones and new sources of knowledge with personal time and mental health restraints.
- Know that things may not always work out. Your time at UW-Madison is a time of exploration and experimentation. That being said, you are bound to experience some less-than-ideal outcomes throughout your collegiate experience. This is not uncommon and, in fact, is simply part of life (in college and beyond). Kueppers suggests recognizing that “it may take resilience to seek out new involvement opportunities.” Rather than allowing the negative experience to define you, look at what you learned from the opportunity, how that knowledge can be applied to future experiences, and ask how you want your involvement to contribute to your development as a student on campus.
“Involvement is inevitable,” according to Kueppers, and is only limited by a person’s definition of the term. Involvement can mean many things and differ across individuals. If joining Greek Life is not in your interests, perhaps joining an undergraduate research opportunity is. Although applying for an internship may not fit into your current schedule, you might be able to plan ahead and arrange a study abroad opportunity for a future year or semester. Find the involvement opportunity that fits your specific needs and interests and look forward to getting engaged in the future semester at UW-Madison!