Does your daughter enjoy bocce ball, horseshoes, or beanbags? The Lawn Sports Club is for her. Or perhaps creating and spreading silliness is your son’s way of life. Then it’s The Loose Association of Very Silly People for him. Or maybe a vigorous ride on two wheels over Iowa’s countryside is more your student’s speed? Encourage him or her to join the Cycling Club.
And, if none of these groups fits the bill, there are more than 400 other organizations at the University for students to investigate and potentially join.
Michael Brafford, a sophomore from Johnston, Iowa, majoring in secondary education and English, took a ballroom dancing course at the University and discovered his love of swing dancing. He revived the Swing Dance Club in January.
“Swing dancing gives us an outlet to escape from school, lighten up, and boogie down,” says Brafford. “We let go of our academic identities for a few hours and let loose with fellow rug cutters.”
The club, comprised of students and nonstudents, meets for lessons on Monday nights at the Field House.
“As a secondary education major, teaching swing dance to the club’s members has helped me understand how I can be a better teacher after I graduate,” says Brafford. “I have learned to communicate more clearly and have figured out what I need to say to get members to understand. I’ve realized that not all people learn in the same way.”
Some students credit their success at the University—and eventually in their career—to experiences and skills gained through involvement in a student group.
Kelly Soukup, an assistant director in the Office of Student Life (OSL), says students learn professional skills that are not taught in the classroom through their group activities.
“Club participation helps to prepare students in a practical sense for the job market,” Soukup says. “Their involvement often comes up during job interviews.”
Membership in cocurricular organizations and clubs also can help students to develop a sense of community and establish a real connection with other students at the University.
Brafford agrees. “Involvement in student organizations is a great way to meet others, stay active, and find yourself.”
Whatever a student’s interest or aim, the breadth of organizations at Iowa is tremendous.
Many organizations are solely focused on academic interests—for example, the Actuarial Science Club, or Students in Design for graphic designers. There are cultural, humanitarian, religious, and philosophical groups, including the African Student Association, Students Against Sweatshops, the Campus Christian Fellowship, and I-RENEW—a group that promotes the use of renewable energy and the practice of sustainable living. Athletic organizations always are popular among students. Individuals with interests in badminton, bass fishing, running, and Ultimate Frisbee can find a place to spend their free time.
Michael R. Schmidt, a senior political science major from Clive, Iowa, joined the University chapter of Habitat for Humanity, one of several groups on campus that reach out to the community.
“Getting involved in a student organization is an excellent way to take a leadership role and interact with peers. It enriches your learning experience by extending it beyond academics,” Schmidt says.
The Habitat for Humanity chapter, which has nearly 200 student members, schedules a variety of activities throughout the year, the most well-known being home building for low-income families. The organization is affiliated with the Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity, which serves Johnson, Cedar, and Iowa counties, and together they began constructing a home on Iowa City’s north side in October. Students worked diligently alongside the home’s future owners, connecting pieces of precut wood to create the skeleton of the three-bedroom, one-bath home.
“I believe deeply in the mission,” says Schmidt. “Any support, encouragement, or growth that I can provide to the program is rewarding. The local affiliate has done a wonderful job finding diverse families in need, and showing that to students can help to instill a lifelong commitment to service.”
Schmidt says he joined the campus chapter after he became a member of the Iowa Valley affiliate. At the time, very few students were involved and he didn’t know if there was student interest to support a chapter. When he found out one had started, he thought joining it would be the best way to encourage involvement by other students.
“It’s been so much fun and such a wonderful time,” says Schmidt. “I’ve met people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I’ll be disappointed to leave the group when I graduate.”
Student organizations have been on the Iowa campus for more than 150 years. Many groups, such as those listed below, clearly contribute to the University’s reputation of excellence, while at the same time building campus spirit and pride. Homecoming Week events, the Bijou Theater, and Dance Marathon—an annual fund-raiser in its 12th year that has raised more than $4 million for the Children’s Miracle Network—all are student-run organizations. These groups, along with others on a long list, play a significant role in campus life and add to the overall student experience.
Bill Nelson, director of OSL, says, “Students join organizations for a variety of reasons—perhaps they have an academic interest, or it’s an opportunity to meet friends and build relationships.”
If students have interests that are not represented by a group already established on campus, they can start their own.
“All they need are five like-minded, interested individuals who are willing to abide by University policies and procedures,” says Nelson.
OSL staff members support or serve as a contact for each student organization. They offer assistance with program planning, budget review, event evaluation, and development of organizational and leadership skills. Each campus organization receives funding from UI Student Government.
“The neat part is that students get the opportunity to run a small company, improve their management skills, and learn how to work within a budget,” Nelson says.
Visit http://imu.uiowa.edu/osl to learn more about OSL and to view a full list of student organizations.
by Lesly Huffman