What does that actually mean? Obviously, academics play the predominant role since the ultimate goal is for students to graduate with a degree. But it takes more than academics to nurture the social and cultural maturation process students go through during their four (or more) years in college. That’s why, at Angelo State, we encourage all our students to get involved in extracurricular activities from the moment they step on campus.
“Our research shows that if students don’t get plugged in during the first three weeks of their first fall semester, they are more likely to not be here for the spring semester,” said Dr. Javier Flores, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management. “Regardless if students are incoming freshmen or transfer students, if they do not plug into campus life of some sort, they aren’t going to have the full college experience, thus they probably won’t be retained or graduate.”
“And even if they do graduate,” he added, “their experience of ASU is one of, ‘It was like oatmeal for breakfast, it filled me up.’ But ASU doesn’t want to be oatmeal. We want to be bacon and eggs or some other memorable breakfast, like chocolate croissants.”
Other experts agree. In an article published on the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education (blog.ed.gov) titled “8 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your College Experience,” No. 1 on the list is “Get involved.”
Efforts to get ASU students involved in campus life begin during Rambunctious Week, our welcome to campus at the start of each fall semester, and never really end.
“We really go all hands on deck for the Rambunctious Week activities that are meant to put students in contact with each other,” Flores said. “We tell students about all the support services we have, and those include our student organizations. We really try to make them understand that there is something for everyone – and why we think it’s important for them to get plugged into a student organization or other aspect of campus life.”
Registered Student Organizations
ASU has more than 100 registered student organizations (RSOs), overseen by the Office of Multicultural and Student Activities Programs (MSAP). RSOs include academic/professional clubs, honor societies, service and special interest groups, spiritual life, Greek fraternities and sororities, and more. Students are free to join a club that caters to their known interests, or to branch out and try something new. And it’s not all just about socializing. There are plenty of lessons to be learned outside the classroom.
“Some students may have jobs, of course they’re working on their academics, and then they are developing other skills through their activities with student organizations,” said Erika Baeza, MSAP director. “They are really developing their identity and their leadership skills. Many of these skills are going to help them beyond graduation.”
“Also, if a student organization ever wants to attend a conference or compete on a national level, there is an entire process of financial literacy its members have to go through,” she continued. “They need to understand how to balance their checkbook and what bank account they are going to use. So there are also a lot of conflict resolution lessons to be learned.”
Being involved in student organizations also facilitates meeting and mingling with students from across Texas, the U.S. and the world – and that has its own benefits.
“The added bonus of experiencing the diversity of the Ram Family is that students are really building their cultural capital,” Baeza said. “They build it here as students, and then continue building it as they go on to their careers in very global environments that require them to be sensitive to the cultural needs of others. It also helps with their communication skills and with how they can build relationships with people who may be different from them.”
“It helps our students build respect for other cultures,” she added. “That will lay the foundation for building excellent communities in the future, with people who are able to work together and understand each other.”
During the 2018-19 academic year, several ASU student organizations earned national recognition for their chapter activities, community service and philanthropy. Their members performed thousands of hours of community service, participated in numerous campus activities, and raised thousands of dollars for nonprofit organizations and ASU student scholarships.
“I think it speaks volumes about the type of community we are building for our students,” Baeza said, “that we are all teaching and helping each other. Eventually, these students are going to go work for various companies and organizations, and those entities need leaders who know how to make decisions. Our students will be prepared.”
University Recreation (UREC)
Also wildly popular on the ASU campus are intramurals and club sports, with more than 2,000 student participants every year. They have their choice of traditional intramural sports, like flag football, basketball, volleyball, soccer and golf, as well as more non-traditional club sports, like rugby, bass fishing, powerlifting, handball and clay target shooting.
“We have students from different-sized high schools, from six-man to 6A, all across Texas and the country,” said Dan Robertson, UREC director. “Intramurals is a way for them to continue to compete in sports. They may not compete in intercollegiate athletics, so intramurals lets them keep a healthy competitive edge, as well as gives them something to do outside the classroom.”
“Plus, sports are just what we do here,” said Reid Jackson, assistant director of intramural sports and camps. “It’s part of the Texas culture, and I think we’ve bred such a good intramurals program that students recommend it to other students. Then if we can get those students out there, even for just one sport, they typically come back for more. There is also a big social aspect to intramurals, not just the competition.”
But when it comes to competition, ASU excels. A quick look at the intramurals and club sports trophy cases in the Ben Kelly Center for Human Performance shows numerous regional and national championship trophies and certificates in multiple sports.
“Our intramural and club teams get a lot of administrative support,” Jackson said. “They are encouraged to compete at state, regional and national tournaments. So when other students on campus see how our teams are getting to represent ASU, they want to get in on it. We offer so many options that, chances are, we have a sport or team that fits their needs. That helps our teams continue to be successful.”
ASU flag football teams have been particularly adept at winning national championships. Several of the most successful teams have even recruited their replacement players to keep names like IM Legends, Wolfpac and Vixen alive even though the players have changed.
“They have become like little fraternities,” Jackson said. “One thing they probably do even better than playing and representing ASU is recruiting on campus.”
“IM Legends, Wolfpac and Vixen even have an annual alumni game,” Robertson added. “They invite the former players back and sell them T-shirts to raise money for the current team to travel to tournaments.”
And it’s not just the organized activities that draw ASU students to UREC.
“Our facilities are available for students to come in on their timetable,” Robertson said. “Whether it’s before class, between classes or late hours, we try to have the facilities available for our students who just want to come in for a workout, to use the rock-climbing wall, play basketball or use the pool. We have a lot of open recreation participation by students throughout the day.”
With events and activities going on year-round, including summers, UREC also employs 60-70 students annually as intramural officials, instructors for youth swimming lessons and Camp UREC summer camps, and aides for the team- building exercises they lead for campus departments and student groups.
Still further involvement opportunities are available that are more directly linked to academics.
ASU agriculture students can compete on judging, quiz bowl and livestock show teams, musicians can play in the Ram Band or one of many other ensembles, students in the sciences can join ASU chapters of national organizations, students in any discipline can conduct faculty-mentored research, and the list goes on.
“Almost every academic discipline has different tracks students can take for their degree,” Flores said. “Many of our co-curricular activities can really highlight and bring out those different aspects. They can also elevate the conversations and relationships that students have with faculty members, lead to career explorations, and lead to really positive outcomes.”
“I call them co-curricular activities rather than extra-curricular because they really do tie into our academic curriculum,” he added. “Plus, our faculty and staff members become even better mentors to students through activities that the students enjoy.”
Getting Everyone Plugged In
While we recognize that getting involved and staying engaged is much easier for students who live on campus, it’s just as important for non-residential students.
“It’s an investment in skills that they may not be learning by just attending classes,” Baeza said. “They can be personal interactions, relationship building, networking and other skills they can take forward into their future lives and careers. They will also build lasting friendships.”
“Also, campus involvement helps students build their identity and find their passion, what makes them tick,” she continued. “That self-exploration and self-analysis is really worth the time spent on campus because college is a unique experience. When will you ever have these types of opportunities again?”
Regardless of which avenue students choose to get involved in campus life, the entire Ram Family is ready to welcome them with open arms.
“We want to get students involved outside the classroom,” Robertson said. “We give them activities and facilities they can come to and just relax for a while and enjoy burning some energy. UREC’s goal is to reach every student in some way.”
“My hope,” Baeza added, “is that after our students graduate, they can look back at their ASU experience and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I was able to learn so much outside the classroom, as well as in the classroom.’ So we have to be creative in the way we teach them outside the classroom setting.”
“Life is becoming more and more about relationships,” Flores concluded. “The acceptance of other schools of thought, the relationship building and the other learning that isn’t coming from a textbook can all come from being plugged into various aspects of campus life.”