I love weddings. Any chance to dress up, see people in love, eat free food, and dance? Yes please!
And lately I've been noticing something at weddings that reminds me a lot of college.
When people first arrive, they look slightly uncomfortable, and generally sit with the group of family members they know best. With rare exception, no one goes up to a stranger on the other side of the family and introduces themselves. People stay where they're comfortable, even if they're with their own large extended family. We gravitate towards the people we know.
The same is true in college, and any stage of life. We stay with our 'group.' Why? It's awkward to talk to new people, and we hate awkward. But awkward is the door to opportunity and life-changing relationships.
And while some of the best relationships just happen naturally, some relationships will never happen if they aren't purposefully encouraged.
Weddings have round tables, food, dancing, and sometimes other fun activities to encourage people to interact.
So if icebreaker activities can help bring families together, then they can also definitely help build a strong campus community. Some of my most treasured relationships in college and as a college staff member came from icebreaker activities and programs, because they force you to talk to people you might not otherwise. Those people will often become some of the most important people in your life. Trust me.
Below is a great networking event idea I got from speaking for a TRiO program at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.
I hope it inspires you as it inspired me to think of creative ways you can help people connect on your campus.
The steps to create the event are below, and they can be customized for your organization or campus:
1. Reserve a large room at a time when most students and staff might be free
2. Invite students
3. Invite faculty and staff (try to get an advisor or VP involved who can encourage as many faculty/staff as possible to come)
4. Get food. Free lunch (pizza!) or dinner works great
5. Get 2 sets of different colored name-tags. Have faculty/staff wear one color and students wear the other
6. Put students in an inside circle, facing outwards, with faculty/staff on the outer circle, facing them.
7. Introduce the activity by explaining how their positions are symbolic of your campus community. Students are in a circle to help each other, but they are surrounded my faculty/staff who are there to help too and have a lot of advice to share.
8. Have a list of questions that students must go around and ask faculty/staff. Choose someone to read each question into a microphone, and then students will walk around and talk to faculty/staff until it's time to move on to another question. I highly recommend some of the questions OLLU had students ask faculty/staff:
a)Why do you believe in me?
b) What was college like for you and how did it lead to where you are today?
c) What advice do you have for me?
I talked to some of the students after the event and they said the event really helped them. A lot of students told me they felt less intimated to talk to faculty/staff in the future. They realized that their professors were just people, that they too had been through college, and that they were there to help. Many students also walked away with incredible new advice for their lives that they would never have received otherwise.
Even though campus communities are meant to be close, sometimes people can feel pretty isolated. I hope you'll take a stand to connect your campus, because both faculty/staff and students have so much to gain from really knowing each other.
If you have ever done an event like this or take this idea and implement it, please let me know. I'd also love to feature any other ideas you have or events you've done to connect your campus. E-mail the exciting things you're doing on your campus to me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
A huge thank you to everyone I met at OLLU who shared this incredible idea with me. You guys are amazing!