Influencing Students to Become Advocates on Campus

Why we held a paid changemaking workshop to empower student leaders

by Ryan Chapman, Joey Gruber, Marissa Morales and Lavanya Uppala
University Innovation Fellows
, University of Nebraska at Omaha

This article was published in Change Forward, an annual publication from our program that features work by Fellows and their Faculty Champions.

While students learn the skills to implement lasting change in their communities through their college education, they are often not provided the context, time, or incentive to do so. However, numerous examples, identified both through our own research and through UIF training, have shown that when students are presented with these opportunities without barriers, immense positive change is often enacted. 

To facilitate these avenues of innovation and entrepreneurship, we hosted a paid changemaking workshop. The results of the workshop showed that when provided the tools and motivation to do so, student civic engagement and empathetic problem solving of community issues increases.

More specifically, during the course of our UIF training, we found that many problems facing students at our home institution, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), were rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on education. We conducted several student interviews regarding these issues. Through the surveys, students reported feeling isolated from other students and felt unheard by both professors and university administration. Additionally, students did not feel as though they had sufficient financial support to participate in changemaking efforts while supporting their university tuition, and therefore felt that they were blocked from participating in these innovation efforts.

Based on these feelings, and as both a resource for interested students and an experiment to show UNO administration, we developed a 3-day changemaking workshop that aimed to teach students the proponents of leading change, apply design methodologies for developing solutions to change, and compensate students for learning, leading, and improving our university. We wanted to create a workshop that would inspire and empower students to create change for issues they see on UNO’s campus and connect them with faculty to initiate collaboration. We also wanted to pay the students, so that students with financial adversities had the opportunity to participate

We began our planning of the workshop by working with Vice Chancellor Dan Shipp and Assistant Vice Chancellor Kristina Cammarano, and Director of Student Development Harnoor Singh. It took our group about 3 months to locate funding to pay students $9 an hour, create an agenda, design the curriculum, invite students, and execute the overall event.

Participation in our workshop was open to all enrolled UNO undergraduate and graduate students. Our workshop was advertised via social media and via email communication through various university organizations.

Our workshop was held via Zoom over the course of three days. Each day consisted of a two-hour long session split into two hour-long halves. The first hour of the session was an informational section to teach participants the proponents of that day’s activities. Each day also included student speakers who had been involved in student-led change at UNO. The second half of each session was devoted to working in groups to focus on each day’s task. 

When developing the workshop, we defined our metrics of success as the number of projects that students developed solutions for, the number of students who joined our new organization, Mavs for Change, after the workshop, and the number of faculty who attended the workshop.

We believe that our workshop was successful based on our defined metrics. Our workshop included five student speakers, six faculty, staff, and administrators, and 27 general participants. We had originally only budgeted for 20 students, but based on the level of interest, we expanded. During the workshop students identified three areas that needed reform: Campus Safety/Security, Accessibility, and Mental Health. Students in our workshop developed five solutions to problems that they have seen at UNO. These included issues in the areas of Accessibility, Mental Health, and Campus Security. 

By the conclusion of the workshop, all five groups had proposals for carrying out their work in the future. Since our workshop, students have taken several steps to implement change at UNO. One of the groups focused on accessibility of the UNO website has presented to the Chancellor’s Wellness Committee and is working with administrators to implement their proposed revisions. Another group from this workshop pursued increasing accessibility to CAPS, through working with administrator Cathy Pettid following the workshop. 

In total, we had seven participants of our workshop join our organization, Mavericks for Change, which we created at the same time as our workshop. This organization serves to create an environment where students feel comfortable and welcome to bring forward issues they are passionate about and to foster collaboration between a diverse group of students (follow us at @mavsforchange on Facebook and Instagram). 

To obtain additional metrics on the impact of our workshop, we created a post-survey gaging student’s experience at the workshop and what they learned. From this survey, we found that students’ interest in changemaking at UNO increased, and students reported wanting to continue work on projects. Furthermore, students were able to retain the method of changemaking used in the workshop evident through their descriptions of what they had learned.

Based on the results that we observed and the response that we received from students, we believe that our workshop was a success. The substantial turnout demonstrated that a large population of students at our university were interested in leading movements and developing new ideas to solve problems. We attribute the sizable attendance, in part, to the funding that we offered to students. Offering payment appeared to make the workshop more accessible to students, and we hope to use this idea to help create new funded positions for students to be involved in solving university problems. Along with this, the transition of some of the participants to Mavericks for Change provided a sign that workshop participants are interested in continuing their work.

For us as fellows, the workshop was an excellent opportunity for us to convey the skills that we learned through UIF training to a broader audience. The presentation and visual materials that we created are things that we plan to use in the future for additional workshops or other teaching moments. Seeing how much of an impact our workshop has had makes us excited to continue our work and to incorporate these new ideas and individuals into Mavericks for Change.

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