Imagine a university experience without clubs, teams, or leadership opportunities. While academic achievement is important, many other campus opportunities provide chances to get involved in other aspects of university life. Going to class is usually the number one priority; however, that does not and should not make it the only priority. This idea of getting involved with campus life as a student leader is something I learned in my first year living at the Ron Eydt Village residence at the University of Waterloo.
When September rolls around, the campus is filled with promotions from the various student clubs, teams, and services offering leadership opportunities. So why get involved? Why take on leadership opportunities at all?
Signing up for clubs and attending meetings sounds a bit overwhelming, especially with midterms, assignments, readings and finals all term long. This being said, once you dip your toe into the extra-curricular pool you see how easy it really can be! There are plenty of opportunities across campus that student leaders can utilize to refine their learning style.
Any first year undergraduate student can tell you about the challenge of making new friends in class. Most students are too focussed on lecture content to care what you have to say, and when you are finally able to strike up a conversation with someone, you don’t see them again in that same spot next class. University is always a good place to find a common-ground with students who share similar interests. So how do you find these students if not in class?
One of the most comforting things to know as an undergraduate student is that there are students in my class that can be helpful if I miss a lecture due to illness or an interview. Not every student has the luxury in their first year to have a residence floor where making friends is as simple as saying hello every morning. Assembling study groups with the students in your residence is crucial to learning how to learn in a new environment away from home. Every student has a different mode of learning, so understanding what works on an individual basis is the best way to achieve academic success.
If you talk to any successful upper-year university student on campus they will tell you the same thing: they didn’t get to where they are alone – they needed the people around them to help put them in a position where they could succeed and learn more effectively. Study groups that may not have been as effective back in high school become much more constructive and useful around exam times. One of the most satisfying rewards that study groups or extra-curricular involvement provides is the chance to bounce ideas off of other students.
The Federation of Students(FEDS) works with services and clubs on campus that specialize in academics, religion, environment, politics, business, health, and everything in between. Learning is not limited to these types of clubs; it can also become easier by involvement in intramural sports, fitness classes and sports team. With all of these different ways to meet other students it was really up to me to pick what I felt best lined up with my interests.
So now that we have established the presence of opportunities on campus, the question becomes: do the new friends you meet outside of class help or hinder your learning? In other words, is student leadership a hindrance or a supplement to learning? Experiential learning is one of the pillars of the University of Waterloo’s strategic plan, especially with the emphasis on co-operative education for many students. Experiential learning, through club and service experiences, allows students with similar academic and employment aspirations to interact. This is beneficial to learning because it allows both students to gain a new perspective and discuss concepts more openly. See the Centre for Teaching Excellence blog written by Katherine Lithgow called “Providing Authentic Learning Experiences” for more information about experiential learning.
My own involvement with the Campus Response Team (CRT), which is composed of undergraduate students from all of the different faculties, shows how getting involved with other undergraduate students enhances one’s learning. The bonds that I have made during my previous two terms volunteering have given me an outlet to ask for advice from the older students, as well as the opportunity to make some great friends to spend time with outside of classes. So how does this experience make me a better learner? Not only has the CRT boosted my confidence during a medical response, but it has helped reinforce important soft skills such as communication, teamwork and project management. CRT has also given me an opportunity to discuss academic interests, course content, lab experiments and instructor teaching styles with my fellow undergraduate students.
Clubs, services and teams help you obtain the soft skills necessary to succeed in the workplace and academic environment. The soft skills are transferable to different areas of learning, such as study habits at work or on campus. Learning how to communicate better can lead to setting up a study group which can actually lead to more success in academic work. Joining an intramural team on campus can be the perfect way to alleviate the stress that gets built up from assignments and exams. Without this burden of stress, students can learn freely and absorb knowledge better. Professional schools and graduate student programs in Canada are becoming more competitive, so it is important to be well-rounded through leadership experience.
Being a leader on campus is about more than just résumé building; rather, it’s about applying effective leadership qualities to the academic learning environment such as on a co-operative work term. Leadership opens the door for self-discovery, but it requires that we check behind the scenes of campus life to do so. So the next time the club fair rolls around, use it as an opportunity to sneak a peek behind the campus curtains. What you notice might actually surprise you!