New name, new home for Student Engagement

By Lauren Kelly

Starting this semester with a new name, new management and a new building, the Office of Student Engagement is working to create awareness about how students can get more involved on campus.

The office, which provides structure for student organizations, fitness and athletics, Student Government and the Student Life Advisory board, recently moved into the newly open 916 Building, 916 S. Wabash Ave.

Formerly the Office of Student Involvement, the office’s name was changed at the beginning of the fall 2008 semester to better represent the ideas it has in mind for students, director of leadership Aldo Guzman said.

“We want students to be more than just involved. You can be involved by showing up to a meeting,” Guzman said. “We want students to be truly engaged and have a complete college experience.”

Many students are having those experiences through campus organizations. Columbia currently recognizes more than 80 groups, including multicultural, social, political, religious and artistic groups.

“If you can of think it, we probably have some students who are doing it,” said office coordinator Leslie Watland.

Watland, a Columbia alumna, deals directly with students and organizations, which are all officially recognized through the Office of Student Engagement.

This semester the office will work to make the process for creating an organization more simple and cohesive. In addition to giving structure to student groups, the office provides resources for them, including funding, space and training.

Having moved into a new building, assistant director Tara Whitehurst said another main priority for this term is to “get the new space up and running and get the organizations acclimated.”

New this year is the Manifest Planning Committee, which the office has created as a student advisory board to get more feedback from students about the festival.

“Manifest is for the students,” Guzman said. “We want to know what they think. Before, students didn’t really have a direct link to the planning of Manifest. The Planning Committee allows us to plan and shape the event in a way that is appealing to students.”

Guzman said a main priority of the office this semester is to make students more aware of an often overlooked part of Columbia’s culture: fitness and athletic programs.

Guzman said a lot of students don’t know Columbia has club sports teams and a fitness center.

“We may not have your NCAA competitive teams,” Guzman said. “We have competitive club sports that play against other institutions who also don’t have teams.”

Known as The Renegades, Columbia’s sports teams are gaining momentum each semester.

The staff anticipates that interest in sports, student government and organizations could expand even more with the establishment of this office.

“Our office could see a huge growth with the addition of this space,” Watland said. “We do have tons of students who are involved and dedicated, but I know there are a lot of students who are not aware of the resources and opportunities we have for them.”

A number of students taking advantage of these opportunities are having practical experiences that may prepare them for jobs after graduation. Many student organizations focus on specific majors at Columbia and give students more hands-on practice within their area of study.

“Plus, it’s a great thing to put on your resume,” Watland said.

To get the word out about what it has to offer, the Office of Student Engagement will be having a grand opening celebration in its new building, 916 S. Wabash Ave., on Jan. 29 from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Whitehurst said the official “groundbreaking” ceremony will start at 1:45 p.m., when Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, will speak.

Throughout the day there will be a student organization expo and various performances.

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