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Campus Groups: How to Start Your Own

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College is a center for culture and new ideas. The best thing you can do to feel connected to your college is to get involved in extracurricular activities. Try to take advantage of as many things as possible, both academic and extracurricular. Research shows that students who get involved are more likely to succeed academically and earn a degree. Getting involved is important for all students – resident, commuter, nontraditional. The nontraditional, commuter, part-time, or working student may not have as much time to participate, but will still get the benefits of being involved on campus.

Some schools have hundreds of extracurricular activities. You will find clubs, Greek organizations (fraternities and sororities can be social, philanthropic, and/or academic), student government, religious groups, newspapers, political groups, radio or TV stations, student life recreation activities, band, choir, special-interest groups, and intramural sports. They are easy to find. You will probably be given information on extracurricular activities at orientation. Some colleges hold activity fairs where you can get information about many organizations in one place. Go to the Student Life Office for a list of all official groups on campus. Check the bulletin boards and the school newspaper. Ask your RA. If you see someone doing something interesting on campus, ask them about it. If you think you might be interested in a group, go to a meeting to try it out. Ask about meeting frequency, the amount of involvement expected, the cost, if attendance is mandatory, and if the group is student-run or if a faculty member is involved. If you like what you hear, consider joining the group.

If you do your research and can’t find a campus group that fits your interests, why not start one? If you want to start a campus group that is part of a larger organization, contact the organization to collect more information. Keep track of your ideas. Contact the Student Activities office on campus to learn about the official steps you will have to take to start a new organization. Start talking about your group. You need to round up potential members and possibly a sponsor. Many colleges require a professor to serve as an advisor if the organization is to receive university recognition. Prepare all necessary documents and submit your proposal for review.

Forming a club can give you great experience that you can use in the future. By starting a club and acting as a club officer, you will gain valuable experience and skills that future employers will want.

The most important requirements for starting a successful club are interest and commitment. Once you know you have a team willing to commit to a regular meeting time and a cause, you can manage the rest with ease. Next you will need clear organization. Structure will keep the club together in slow times or in the event of a disagreement.

The structure of your group will depend on the formality desired. Here are some factors to take into consideration when deciding how formal your group should be:

  • Size of the group. The larger you want it to be, the more formal it needs to be to keep chaos at bay.
  • The characteristics of the students who you think will be interested in joining your group. Do you think your members will be able to motivate themselves? Do they know how to do things on their own without always being told how and when to do them? The less mature your members are, the more structure they will need.
  • Activities. Will you have guest speakers? Will you have fundraisers? The more events that you have, and the more complex that they are, the more formal you will want your organization to be to make sure that everything gets done.
  • Campus environment. Are you at a small campus where many students see each other on a regular basis? Or are you at a large campus where not everyone knows each other? The larger your campus is, the more formal you will want your organization to be.
  • Legal issues. If you are planning to request for and use state funds (which may be obtained through your student government) you may be required to post agendas and minutes according to certain guidelines.

There have been some very successful informal clubs. It all depends on what you define “success” to be. The larger and more complex you want your club to be, the more formal it should be. All of the things that make a club formal, such as having agendas, following Robert’s Rules of Order, having officers with known and specific duties, following your bylaws, etc., will make achieving your own, as well as your club’s, goals easier.

If your group is to be a formal one, there are some things you will have to do:

  • Appoint a temporary president. You will need a temporary leader who will preside over the push to form the group.
  • Elect temporary officers. The members should decide which office appointments are necessary for the group to run efficiently. Some of the positions you should consider are:
    • President: Leads meetings
    • Vice president: Plans events
    • Secretary: Records and reads minutes
    • Treasurer: Handles funds
    • Historian: Keeps archives
    • Publicity Officer: Makes and distributes flyers, posters
    • Web master: Maintains web site
  • Prepare a constitution, mission statement, or rules. Establish a committee to do this.
  • Register the group. Find out what you need to do to be an official campus group.
  • Adopt a constitution or rules. Once a constitution is written to everyone’s satisfaction, you will vote to adopt or reject it.
  • Official election of permanent officers. You can hold formal elections after the club is established and the preliminary work is done.
Whatever you do, develop your vision of what you want the club to be, since you will probably be your club’s sole leader, at least at first. Communicate your vision to everyone who will be affected by your club, such as professors, administrators, community members, members of the media, as well as club members. Make sure that your articulated vision is everywhere: on bulletin boards, in the signature field of each e-mail sent out by your club, in each newsletter, and in your club’s constitution and bylaws. People, in order to join and support your club, need to know what your organization is all about.

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