By Tad Davis, University Innovation Fellow, South Plains College
When I began my journey through community college, my attitude was pretty much the same as most community college students. I wanted to get my affordable education and move on to a 4-year university where I could start to see what the real world was actually like. Through the influence of several faculty members at South Plains College, this attitude would not prevail. I quickly learned that community college can and should offer just as much opportunity as a 4-year university. So why wasn’t I seeing these opportunities available to me?
The answer is that this prevalent attitude among community college students keeps them from trying to make a difference on campus. I found out about some national programs that I could take advantage of, but as far as students trying to make a difference on campus about how things operate and how much students are getting out of their time here, the opportunities seemed very minimal. Of course there were organizations like student government, but I never heard much about what they were doing. So when I heard about the opportunities that the University Innovation Fellows could offer and what their goals were for each of their members, I was intrigued.
I immediately started pursuing this opportunity with everything I could muster, and long story short, I got a spot on the Fellows team, thanks to South Plains College partnering with Texas Tech University. I was afforded the chance to go through the online training and then to the annual meetup in Silicon Valley. My biggest take-away from all of it was that students can be true agents of change on campus and impact the rest of the student body, the faculty, the staff, and the administration in a major way. All you have to do is…SOMETHING. Get noticed! Push forward an initiative to give back to students in a way that can significantly impact their lives!
The administration wants students to excel at whatever they’re doing, and so of course when I spoke with individuals ranging from the Director of Student Activities all the way up to the President of the College, I was met with a ton of support. I told them that I wanted to increase students’ knowledge of innovation and entrepreneurship, and they were excited about it! I came in with a clear set of goals on how to do this, and that was basically just to start a club and have them tackle problems on campus. I didn’t know how I would promote this club, or get students interested, and honestly I was a little terrified of moving forward. I was a single change agent on campus, so how was I going to get the rest of the student body excited about such an initiative?
I decided to take small bets and see how they paid off. That was the biggest piece of advice I received while at the annual meetup, and it was the best advice I could’ve asked for. The first thing I did was to seek out like-minded students to help me start the club “Student Entrepreneurs After Real Change” or S.E.A.R.Ch. for short (my club was at a hefty 4 members when we got it kicked off). Then we started planning our first event, an unconference. The unconference is designed in such a way that anyone can talk about issues they’ve noticed on campus, propose possible solutions, and change groups throughout the event. We set up in a heavily trafficked area on campus and we got an amazing turnout.
Our club went from 4 members to 22 in the span of an hour and a half because we were letting students come and discuss issues that they were passionate about and telling them that, “Yes you can make a difference, you can change the status quo and have a significant impact on your campus while you’re here!” After that, we were invited to speak at the advising day for STEM majors and tell them about our initiative. From there we grew to a club of 34 members!
The growth was crazy, and we couldn’t have been more excited! We were beginning a movement, and as the end of the semester was coming up rapidly, the next step was to ensure that our momentum would continue on into the Fall. We held a meeting in which we went into more detail about what we are going to do as a club on campus, introduced our members to some new ways of thinking, and made plans for a meeting as soon as everyone returned from their summer break.
This all happened in the span of about 5 weeks. So far, I have gotten way more practical experience out of this semester than any of my previous semesters here. It’s all because I went out and did something. I’ve gotten a lot out of the classes I’ve taken, but nothing can compare to the real world experience I’ve gained from being an active participant in on-campus activities. These were activities that I personally planned for other students to be involved in and I think that’s important to note. If there is not something happening on campus that you are interested in engaging in, or just simply not something happening that is having a significant impact for the students on campus, then it’s time for you to go out and make something happen.
College, whether community college or a 4-year university, is not just about taking classes and getting a degree. It’s about putting in as much as you hope to get back, so you can truly be prepared for the real world when it comes fast and furious upon your receipt of that oh-so coveted slip of paper. The only way you’re going to do that is to just start doing something. Try to have an impact on your campus, be an agent of change. People will support your efforts and recognize you for the innovator that you are. You will get so much more out of your time on campus than you ever could have if you were to just shuffle along with the herd from class to class. Getting good grades and only caring about the end goal of having that piece of paper with your name on it saying that you learned something is not the way to go through school. Instead learn by doing. Take advantage of the support that you will receive when you simply tell people that you want to give students the skills and the mindset to look at the world in a deeper more critical way.
Now is the time to go out and do something. What are you waiting for?
About the author:
Tad Davis is a mechanical engineering student at South Plains College in Lubbock, Texas.