Students committed a Saturday last fall to cleaning along the Iowa River as part of new service program on campus. Volunteering is just one way students can satisfy the University’s Pick One program, which urges participation in at least one extracurricular activity—from intramural sports to employment to student government.
Megan Dial studies journalism and creative writing with an eye toward law school. But she also works as an Orientation advisor, serves in residence hall government, and races with a triathlon club—indispensable aspects of her University of Iowa experience.
“That’s where my friends are,” says the sophomore from Shenandoah, Iowa. “I realize my best college memories aren’t going to be an 8:30 a.m. rhetoric class. They’ll be residence hall programs, competitions, and volunteering.”
Alcohol-free fun is the name of the game in a free, late-night event held monthly at the Field House. During Night Games, sponsored by University Housing and Recreational Services, students can take advantage of a number of activities, including rock climbing, basketball, badminton, dodge ball (shown below), volleyball (shown above), swimming, and racquetball. Free pizza and fruit also are provided.
Encouraged by feedback from students like Dial, the University is developing new incentives that help students get involved from the moment they set foot on campus.
“Students learn as much outside the classroom as they do within—how to interact with peers, what it means to take on responsibility in an organization, how to serve one’s community,” says Sally Mason, UI president. “All these things are critical to their education and growth.”
The student-run Campus Activities Board sponsors entertainment activities throughout the year. During Family Weekend, the group organized Night Hawks Country Night in the Iowa Memorial Union, featuring dancing, live music, food, games with prizes, and a mechanical bull.
Many motivations drive students to connect with Iowa’s countless student organizations, recreational options, service opportunities, and internships or part-time jobs. Maybe they want to find their niche or give something back—or perhaps their aim is to grow personally, professionally, or spiritually.
Most students, however, discover that involvement yields academic benefits, too. A solid body of research shows that extracurricular activities boost classroom performance, results that students themselves confirm.
“In my experience, activities help you budget your time better,” says Derek Baerenwald, a junior chemical and biochemical engineering major from Rockton, Ill., who’s a resident assistant for the Men in Engineering Living-Learning Community, a Dance Marathon volunteer, and a leader with the Christian group 24-7. “Opportunities outside the classroom help you grow and balance your schedule.”
First-year students and their parents sometimes think it smart to start out focused solely on academics. In fact, new students who join a campus club, find a job, or volunteer make a smoother transition to college life.
“Activities like these can make a big university feel smaller,” says Sarah Hansen, director of assessment and strategic initiatives for the Division of Student Services. “Being involved helps students channel their time, develop their goals, connect classroom learning with real-world experience, and meet peers who share their goals.”
For the last couple of years, the University’s Pick One program has asked incoming students to identify activities to pursue during their first semester on campus. Students register their choices via a special web site that connects them with organizations and helps the University track trends in student involvement.
The IOWA Challenge—a statement of principles that asks students to “excel, stretch, engage, choose, and serve”—echoes the call to get involved. Both Pick One and The IOWA Challenge are initiatives of the Student Success Team (SST), a cross-campus coalition bent on developing innovative strategies that enhance the undergraduate experience.
“These are true grassroots projects,” says Hansen, who also serves as SST coordinator for the Office of the Provost. “They’re informed by research, but driven by students, faculty, and staff dedicated to creating practical solutions that work.”
Engaging in University life offers one of the most fundamental, most rewarding formulas for success.
“To make the most of our time here, we need to make our own little communities within the larger university,” Dial says. “Plus, it often gives you a chance to accomplish something with others, to look back and say, ‘I had a part in that.’”
Students interested in breaking, hip hop, and popping dance styles have a chance to explore their creativity by joining the UI Breakers. The student organization holds practices several evenings a week and performs throughout the semester.
Many students have chosen to pursue leadership opportunities on campus and in the community. One undergraduate organizes pick-up games of basketball with area youth at the local recreation center as part of a mentoring program.
Research shows that students who reside in living-learning communities in the residence halls—such as the International Crossroads Community, pictured here—are more likely to have positive college experiences and finish their degree programs.
by Lin Larson