NACA BLOG - Collaborating with Universities for Student Leader Development - 10/22/2020
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Oct. 22, 2020
Courtney James
DePaul University (IL)

As the start of the school year loomed towards us in August, DePaul announced their decision to further reduce our on-campus presence. In July, we were making plans to have our residence halls filled at 70% and have about half of our classrooms filled in a socially distant way. Come August, we switched our plan and had approximately 10% of our residence halls filled and only 1.6% of classes on campus. 

Like so many other campuses making these decisions, we were fearful that this decision would crush student engagement and involvement. However, as we moved through August, we started to see a slow and steady stream of student organizations register to exist in our highly virtual environment. In a normal year, we register approximately 350 student organizations. This year, we aren't too far off that number with 318 groups that have committed to existing in this highly virtual DePaul community. 

While our staff was feverishly working to pivot our programs, we also began thinking about how we could support these organizations in their new reality. I began thinking, and quickly came to the realization that we couldn't be the only college facing this issue and began thinking about how we could collaborate with others to provide training and support to our student organizations. With that, I began crafting the "Virtual Engagement for Student Organizations Series." 

The goal of Virtual Engagement for Student Organizations Series would be to bring together colleges and universities across the country to engage in information sharing to their student organization communities. In this series of panels, participating universities would be able to live stream the panel to their Facebook, YouTube, or Twitch page. Each participating university would contribute speakers for panels- although they may not contribute speakers for each and every topic. My hope was that the sessions would occur Thursdays at 3:00 p.m. CT and would begin early September and go through October. Essentially, the Series would continue as long as we have topics to talk about. 

When conceptualizing this idea, one of the reasons that I knew the streaming to all of these different sites would work was because our office at DePaul had heavily leaned into live streaming events.  We had been using a platform called Streamyard, and through it, were able to live stream up to ten guest to up to ten different social media platforms. There are tons of great features that come along with Streamyard, but one of them was that it allowed participants to ask questions in the comments of their university's specific social media account and it would come into our Streamyard studio. There was no need to create Zoom links and make sure we had reps from every school — each school just had to promote their social media account and students could choose to check in. This two-way communication was important to give the opportunity for students to ask questions and interact with panelists in real time. 

Utilizing Streamyard also afforded us some other benefits. We were able to customize the screen so it was a bit more interesting to look at than just a black background. We could pull in websites and tickers to share websites and other information. Screen sharing allowed for panelists to show off specific resources that they may have. Perhaps most significantly, though, doing these sessions in a live streamed format allowed for both students to watch in real time but also allowed for the videos to be available as videos on demand at times that were convenient for our students. Knowing I had the logistics solidified, I began reaching out to some of my colleagues around the nation.

After reaching out, we ended up with four colleges and universities that were interested in participating in the series and providing the resources to their students: DePaul University, University of Central Oklahoma, Maryville University (MO), and Simpson College (IA). When I reached out to directors for each of the areas, I shared that every university did not have to participate every single week. In fact, with bringing so many universities together, the hope was to distribute the work load so that we didn't put too much pressure on each school every week. For most weeks, we ended up with one person from each university. However, some had only two representatives and some had five or six when we invited guests and leaders from other areas. 

In addition to providing this as a resource to students, I didn't want to overwhelm our staff participants' schedules by having additional prep meetings for each session. For each session, I asked participants to come into the Streamyard studio approximately 30 minutes before we were scheduled to start. That way, we could collectively agree upon questions and do a tech check before going live.

Once we had our universities confirmed, we decided on the following topics:

  • Organizing a Virtual Meeting
  • Ideas for Virtual Events
  • Teambuilding through Virtual Experiences
  • Effective Marketing in a Virtual Environment
  • Engaging your Fraternity & Sorority Life Community Virtually
  • Managing your Student Government Association in a Virtual Environment

Logistically for the series, DePaul provided collateral to all participating schools for them to promote it to their respective students. As a student activities professional, I'm quite familiar with tagging and cross posting for things from my own university but for this, each office interacted with one another to promote the sessions. 

In looking at metric from the series, we ended up with 650+ total views of the six videos from the series- and that's just DePaul's metrics. University of Central Oklahoma ended up with over 450 viewers and Maryville University had 110[1]. In total, this series was able to reach over 1,200 viewers between the four universities. Even more importantly, though, we now have resources for our students when they come to us and ask for help on the above topics. In the weeks following the series, we have been connecting with students as they get further and further into their student org experience and are hearing that they are trying to work through issues surrounding virtual meetings, events, and teambuilding. Since we did these sessions early in the quarter, we are able to supplement the conversations we have with them with these videos on demand. As we continue through this highly virtual environment, these will continue to be helpful for students at DePaul and the other participating universities. 

As universities continue in this highly virtual environment, this collaborative model can be an effective way to bring universities together to better their students. In lieu of staff members hosting events on their own, this model can bring staff together to "work smarter and not harder" while providing students access experts on topics that will benefit students.

Want to find more about DePaul University's streaming efforts? Visit facebook.com/DPUStudentInvolvement to see videos from this series and other streams or reach out to Courtney James.

Courtney James serves as the director of student involvement at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.  In her volunteer capacity with NACA, she currently serves as the co-chair of the Live Event Action Group.

Related Professional Competencies: Technology, Event Support

[1] Simpson College plans to use the videos in lieu of live streaming so we do not have metrics at this time.


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