Connecting with your students: the 8-week plan

Angela Delfine
November 20, 2019
December 11, 2019

Programming in Residence Life is typically a challenge when it comes to student attendance and sparking the interest of the residential population. Despite the challenges, it is critical that student affairs professionals find ways to engage the student population early in the semester. According to multiple studies, it is critical to “catch” students in the first 6 weeks of their semester. As a Residence Hall Coordinator in a new professional role, I wanted to test a first 8 weeks programming structure that implemented one program of a different “style” every week. I decided to make this model 8 weeks, rather than 6, for the sake of creating space for the adaptation of additional types of programming. 

Throughout this plan, I created a range of programs. My first event was a traditional large-scale social program called the “Housewarming Party,” which welcomed first-year students to their new home and offered a variety of crafts, such as West Virginia state backpack pins that they could decorate and mod-podging tile coasters. This event was intended to also create space for first-year students to engage with one another, and overall, it was highly successful. In addition, I provided opportunities for on-site community service, a selfie photo scavenger hunt on campus, a football away game watch party, and others. One of my favorite events that I plan on implementing regularly was the “Coffee & Tea with your RHC” program. During a few of my office hours during the normal 9-5 class day, I set up a table with a Keurig outside my office. I also laid out coloring books and just hung out there for a few hours while waiting for students to either grab a coffee to go or stay to chat. I loved this event and although I did not necessarily have the highest attendance, I would say that it was successful based on the space that I created for some engaging student conversations. My plan is to implement one in the next few weeks focused on National First-Generation Student Day. 

Overall, this strategy to step outside of my comfort zone and provide a range of activities went exceptionally well. I found that sometimes it was exhausting to plan an additional event per week on top of my routine student meetings, staff meetings, hall council meetings, and other evening event obligations, but it was completely worth it. I also appreciate that I now have some personal data on which types of events reached my student population. Although I have a building that is very community-service oriented, the care package drive was a huge flop. I believe that a lot of this was due to poor scheduling of the event and competition with another service event that week. This also gave me a good perspective on what times worked well for students to stop by programs (i.e. evenings, 9-5 school day). The final triumph was that through these events, I was able to connect with my student population in a positive way early in the semester. I have found that a lot of my students know who I am and have a positive perception of me, despite the fact that my role often requires me to serve as a disciplinarian. In addition, I was able to connect with a number of leaders who inevitably joined my Community Council executive board as a result of conversations we had at early programs. My goal in the future is to create a plan next semester which focuses on “experimenting” with additional programming styles within the first 6 weeks. I also hope to create some programmatic traditions every fall as well and know that the “Housewarming Party” is one that I will continue every year.

I challenge you to seek opportunities to engage with your student population and to test these opportunities. Within our profession, we are often disappointed when programs lack attendance or are not as successful as we had hoped. Through this plan, I found ways to reflect on small wins and opportunities to make the events better going forward. This was also a great way to understand what my students were attracted to in programming opportunities in order to plan additional events for the rest of the academic year. 

Here is the full list of programs and descriptions!

Week 1: Housewarming Party

Crafts included painting a wooden WV state backpack pin and creating a beverage coaster with a bathroom tile and mod podge. In addition, we had some “throwback” snacks, such as juice boxes, and had an RA baby picture board where residents could guess who their RA was based on the baby photo for a prize. The goal of this event was to welcome residents to their new home while creating space for socially engaging with their peers.

Week 2: Resident Selfie Scavenger Hunt

Residents were provided with a list of landmarks and important locations on campus. Students then submitted their selfies with these landmarks via email for the opportunity to win a gift card. The goal of this activity was to provide a program that residents could do on their own time while also creating a space for them to learn how to navigate our large campus.

Week 3: Coffee & Tea with your RHC

During this event, I set up a Keurig coffee maker at a table outside my office and sat there with coloring books. This was an event where residents could stop by for a cup of coffee or could spend some time hanging out. The goal was to provide some hospitality to my students, which is a personal value that I attempt to implement in all aspects of my life. In addition, the hope was that residents would make time to stay and engage with myself in a positive environment.

Week 4: Care Package Drive for a Local Homeless Shelter

During this event, I set up mini toiletry items that I purchased from a dollar store and invited students to create care packages and to write notes to individuals at the shelter. The goal was to create a simple on-site service opportunity that promoted community responsibility.

Week 5: Away Football Game Watch Party

During this event, I ordered a lot of pizza and wings from popular local restaurants and invited students to watch the away game. This game was more successful because it was not televised on cable, so I had to purchase ESPN+ for the event. We had a large number of attendees and it went very well. The goal of this event was to implement an alternate-alcohol event for students to watch the game.

Week 6: Coffee & Donuts with Facilities

During this event, I ordered donuts and provided a Keurig with coffee for my residents and our facilities staff. We set up a table outside my office so students could either stay or stop by in passing. The goal of this event was to create space to thank our facilities staff while providing our students the opportunity to engage with the staff. This event was coordinated as a result of community cleanliness concerns.

Week 7: Pizza & Pumpkins Alternate-Alcohol Event

During this event, I collaborated with 3 of my colleagues to create an event for all students in our residential complex. We offered pumpkins for students to paint and ordered a large number of pizzas and wings. The goal of this event was to create a healthy space for students to engage because it was the weekend of a popular football rival game. The event was extremely successful to the point where we ran out of food 30 minutes in!

Week 8: Halloween Door Decorating Contest

During this event, students were invited to decorate their doors and to submit their decorations via email for the chance to win a gift card. The goal of this event was to foster a sense of community within the hall.