6. Program Planning
Program planning was the competency that worried me the most when I was admitted to CSSA. Looking back, however, I now see that I not only have the ability to plan effective programs, but the ability to assist and guide students in developing their own programs, too. Program planning–both in the sense of planning events and attending events–is one way that students may become involved in college outside of the classroom, contributing to more in-depth meaning-making (Astin, 1984).
I came in with limited experience in developing programs, even programs that had happened in previous years. I was primarily familiar with what was needed to plan and execute WWU FASA’s Heritage Dinner: budget development, funding proposals, contracting with catering, and contracting with performers and obtaining space. I did have some further experience when FASA hosted the regional conference in April 2007. Many of the same elements were present, with the added need to secure conference rates at local hotels and additional space for concurrent workshop sessions. Other than that, my programming interactions were more informal, with the bulk of them coming from collaborating with Athletics Marketing for appearances by the cheer team and such.
Fortunately, my graduate teaching assistantship incorporated program planning into the position. While my position was a live-in position, my main function was not to handle conduct or discipline. Instead, I was a community liaison, and as such, it was central that I help in planning events and programs. One of the first things I was given in my new role was access to past program files and a binder which held advertisements and assessments for previous University Honors College (UHC) and Honors Activities & Advisory Committee (HAAC) events. As the HAAC advisor, I helped my students identify events which they wanted to continue; I also helped them in developing new events in which my role was minimal. As an example, the organization and the Honors College have decided to reduce the number of marquee or high-profile events that occur every year, instead opting to put resources into one or two of these bigger events. The events are not going away, either; instead, they are moving to an “every two to three years” schedule so as to make their impact more meaningful. Drawing a larger number of students to a very successful event on a more minimal frequency may actually be more helpful than putting on multiple “sleeper” events. It is not to say that there are not smaller events planned. Small events, filing different needs, will continue to occur, as well. Making these decisions on which events to modify was driven by the feedback the audience and participants gave.
The UHC is uniquely positioned in that student members are high-achievers. While the UHC provides many academic events and professional development opportunities, it is also important to the College to provide social events. Academically-focused students must sometimes be encouraged to socialize and interact with others, as they can become too caught up in their studies. A working and evolving copy of the UHC/HAAC goals for events is available here. The UHC is a College that embraces holistic education and provides its students with multiple venues for development and growth. It is also a College that allocates its resources appropriately. I have some input into what sort of resources our events need. For example, the first Dad’s Weekend Breakfast I helped plan was very well-attended; I can say that with confidence as we ran out of food approximately twenty minutes into the advertised time. While high attendance which exceeded our estimated numbers was not a negative by any means, the lack of food made it so that other interested parties were dissuaded from joining the event. I noted this in an event evaluation and debrief, and when it came time for the new budget, the UHC allocated more money for the Dad’s Weekend Breakfast to account for servers and more food. In November 2011, the breakfast went even more smoothly than the previous year’s, and students, their families, and our staff remarked at how much better an “already good” event had gotten.
Additionally, over the course of nearly two years, I have seen my students take more ownership in the development and execution of programs. In my first year of advising HAAC, I was primarily responsible for planning all logistics of the group’s events. This was the custom and what the group was used to. I could see that this model, while decently effective, was not providing students with the leadership skills I hoped to see. Therefore, at the beginning of the second year, noting that student involvement could be much more in-depth, I suggested to HAAC that student members take even more leadership in planning; I would be available for support by providing check-lists and being available to meet about the steps necessary to complete a successful event. The suggestion was met with enthusiasm, and I have seen students take so much pride in being in charge of event planning. My own undergraduate experience in program planning was limited, and I can see that my anxiety during my first year surrounding executing flawless programs stemmed from this. From my internship experiences and interactions with students, though, I realized that I could take a more support-oriented approach and still have a hand in developing meaningful programs.
I have also learned much about marketing programs to students. As much as I personally enjoy the power of social media, it is quite obvious, at least in terms of on-campus events housed in a residence hall, that word-of-mouth marketing reaches students most effectively. For this reason, it is incredibly important for administrators to collaborate and stay in touch with student leaders. Administrators should also collaborate with each other. In other words, it means that professionals working in different departments should keep in mind which contacts they have in housing and residence life, or at cultural centers, or even in teaching capacities, and event information should be shared to those contacts with the intention of passing it on to more students.
It is essential to teach our students about the benefits of social media, considering that it is so integrated with their daily lives, as well as ours (or at least mine). One of the challenges I see is how to successfully bridge the “weirdness gap” in that students may not want to engage with their professors or administrators online; it is akin to that odd feeling I used to get when running into a teacher at the grocery story. However, I believe that departments can utilize social media by dedicating resources to building those communities. Getting students on board with social media by designating students as social media representatives for various departments is one method. Additionally, continuing to give administrators the chance to explore social media technology is needed so the technology gaps stay manageable.
Facilitating programs is much more different that controlling them. To administer an effective program, one must understand the logistics necessary to carry out the event in question. It means understanding who to talk to in reserving spaces, and how to recruit and motivate volunteers. One of the biggest challenges in working with high-achieving students is finding free time in which they can volunteer. Their schedules are already jam-packed, and sometimes, it feels burdensome to ask for their assistance. As discussed earlier, though, framing program planning as an opportunity for growth has worked well for the students with which I interact. I stress that helping out with these events does more than just look impressive on resumes; it gives them skills which they can utilize in whatever kind of work place they decide to enter.
I do not often lead programs, and I facilitate primarily in the planning process. Even so, I have gained some experience in facilitating small programs, namely a student affairs Q&A panel which was designed to answer questions for prospective CSSA applicants. This was an opportunity that arose when a colleague was met with a time conflict; I spoke briefly with my other panelists and we agreed to facilitate the program in a casual, collaborative way. The panel was a small event, but it was nevertheless informative. It gave me a first-hand glimpse as to what an “MC” of a panel or program should do.
I also helped develop a brand-new program which was based on faculty “fireside chats.” In this instance, a fellow graduate student and I planned to have a conversation with students interested in nearly any topic college encompasses. We advertised it as such, and a handful of students attended. The event was actually held on the same day as the spring fashion show, and it was the first sunny day in awhile. That said, our numbers were satisfactory. Questions came up regarding personal balance, academic success, pathways into meaningful careers, and how to make college a positive experience. Some answers were very light-hearted, such as when we discussed which pizza in Corvallis was the best, but others were in-depth. My classmate and I shared our real world experiences, reminding students that, even with a full-time job, life is not a cake-walk. Appropriately, the session was called “Real Talk.”
An important distinction between assessment and evaluation could be the difference between looking for learning outcomes and looking for student/participant satisfaction. Evaluation is, as expected, a required part of any successful program. This allows people to assess what worked well and what could be improved in the future. Sometimes, as in the case of “Real Talk,” assessment is fairly easy; my RD and I discussed its positives and room for growth. Other times, it is more necessary to distribute formal evaluations. This allows administrators to get broad feedback, and it also allows for record-keeping in the sense that it gives others the ability to look at previous events throughout the years to note growth or backwards slides.
To understand the effectiveness of programs, there have been different approaches. For programs put on by the UHC and HAAC, there are opportunities to give feedback in questionnaires, as well as discussions of what worked, what did not work, and what could change in upcoming events. For Hall Council, representatives usually share feedback from their wings; however, I do see an area of opportunity in creating more formal opportunities for feedback from students who are not necessarily representatives or executives. Hall Council, however, has been fairly successful in that their effective programs are mentioned time and time again as examples of what worked. Students then look at elements that may be incorporated into future programming to provide the best information and experiences possible.
Most of my experience in risk management as related to program planning comes from insurance and liability, as well as contracts. AHE 554 – Legal Issues did a fantastic job of preparing me to think of the risk management side, too. I am able to analyze what kinds of risks are foreseeable, like physical and safety as well as contractual risks and beyond, given various events. One of the most common aspects I have dealt with in my programs at OSU is that of food allergies. I have often had to make requests for vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, and nut-free food, with the implication being that these are not just “lifestyle” choices but should be available for people with food allergies. The goal here is to provide people with an enjoyable experience that does not include a trip to the E.R. because there were peanuts in the brownies.
Although I will probably never become an event planner, I am well-prepared to advise students in planning events and programs they want to see on-campus. I understand the administrative logistics, like following policy and procedure, securing appropriate space and equipment, and marketing an event to appropriate audiences. I have the ability to share success and failure (learning opportunity) stories with students, too, to demonstrate that they do not have to be experts in the realm of event or planning. What students will learn from me is how to design and execute meaningful programs, programs that supplement the classroom learning environment. In doing so, they will ultimately gain more from their college experience in terms of breadth and depth, making college a hub of growth and development.
Astin, A. W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25, 297-309.