Student Affairs efforts gain national merit

By BenitaZepeda

Columbia’s Student Affairs office has worked hard to create a sense of community at the college, and its efforts have been recognized through three NASPA 2010 Excellence Awards.

NASPA, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, is a nationally recognized organization in which roughly 1,400 various institutions are members.

This year, Student Affairs was recognized through two different initiatives—ShopColumbia and The Student Loop.

Both initiatives are relatively recent additions to the efforts made by Student Affairs. ShopColumbia was founded in October 2008 and The Student Loop launched in January 2008.

The Office of Student Affairs was recognized with three awards this year.  The first was a silver award for ShopColumbia in the category of Career and

Academic Support.

The Student Loop won a gold award in the Best in Category and then was awarded the grand silver award, which means they rank second overall nationally.

Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, said that members in the department are very excited for both initiatives to have received awards.

“As far as we know, this might be the most successful and innovative digital college communication system that’s being read and embraced by the students,” Kelly said. “And that’s in the country.”

Kelly will be presenting at the national convention along with Louise Love, vice president of Student Affairs, which is hosted in Chicago in March, to honor the student communications of Columbia and the innovation of The Loop.

“Our system sounds like it’s students to students, and it is students to students,” Kelly said. “It doesn’t sound like the voice of the administration.  It’s a very different tone and very different way of delivering it.”

According to Kari Sommers, assistant dean of Student Life, The Student Loop is ground-breaking mostly because of it’s approach and readership. The standard readership among other institutions is roughly 10 to 20 percent according to Sommers, and The Loop has more than 40 percent readership.

“We do a lot of the same things that other colleges do, but we do them in really innovative and interesting ways,” Sommers said. “What we wanted to do for the student experience is to make sure that our students were first and foremost informed and secondly, that students were engaged both with us and each other.”

Sommers said that the approach the college is taking to communicate with the students is to create a sense of community online. Because Columbia’s urban campus lacks a student center, they try to create that sense of networking online.

“All the things that you would do at a student center is what you do here,” Sommers said. “We felt like the most productive thing would be to try and replicate those student center ideas [online], and that is sort of the approach we have taken.  That is really due to Matt Green and his team.”

Matthew Green, director of Online Student Communications, said that Columbia is one of the first colleges that are starting to build student communities online, whether it is through the student newsletters or the Columbia on Facebook application.

“In a way, we feel it’s sort of funny that we already won this award because we feel like most of the really good things that we have are just about to be released in the next six months to a year,” Green said.

Even though their system is recognized on a national level, Green said he and his team feel that they still have the most basic system going.  They know that they could be operating at a much better level.

“It feels great. It’s nice to know that something you put so much time into is noticed and we appreciate it,” Green said.

He also said that they know the Loop still needs improvements.

“Our biggest goal is we know that students at Columbia that use The Loop think it’s OK,” Green said.  “And we think that we can make it great.”

Sommers also said that ShopColumbia is great because it is not only a place for students to sell their creative work, but it works closely with classes as well.

Sam Grimes, senior film and video major and sales assistant at ShopColumbia, said he was excited when he came into work and saw the award.

“Especially in a time when economically the country isn’t doing that great, students can make money doing what they want to do,” Grimes said. “To be an independent and smaller business during times like that, make money doing that, and then get awarded for it is awesome.”