Campus News

The passing of the torch: the process of student leadership transition

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As we fast approach the end of the semester, we approach the annual turnover of student leadership. Student council elections took place last week, and the process of hiring new resident assistants (RA’s) and FYE mentors has finally reached its conclusion, with the emails announcing the positions being sent out Mar. 29.

This happens each year, and students don’t usually blink an eye to see leaders come and go. But what goes into this process? What characteristics make a student leader?

“We look for different things and different people, because we need a good, robust team, so there's not one particular characteristic always that we're looking for,” said Elizabeth Studebaker, resident director (RD) for Shupe Hall. “We do look for people who are teachable, people who care genuinely about the people around them [and] people who work hard and care about their community already. I think those are some of the biggest things that we look for.” “The FYE mentor is a little bit more academically-minded,” said Reed Lyons, RD of Manges Hall. “In our process, we're looking for people that feel comfortable either kind of helping students that are struggling get to be successful or helping students that are even successful elevate that to a level of excellence.” “Often good [student council (StuCo)] officers are rather quiet because their job is to encourage leadership in upper lower classes to help stimulate clubs and other student groups to be effective,” said Dave Schmidt, associate professor of history and StuCo adviser. “So, if you have a sense that across campus lots of groups are active and they're being effective, that generally means a combination of faculty advisers, student life staff [and] StuCo, all these folks are all pulling in the same direction.” StuCo is the only officially elected student leadership position. The rest of the positions, including RA, FYE mentor, intramural intern, campus activities intern and others, are all application-based. Lyons said that the student life team is trying to unify all student leadership under the banner of “student life leaders.” Applications for these positions open at the end of January and stay open until just before spring break. The actual hiring process takes from the beginning of spring break to almost the end of March. Once new student leaders are selected, there are different processes of turning over that responsibility, a “passing of the torch,” as Studebaker put it. “It's different in every building, but in Shupe, the new RAs will be matched up with a current RA and they'll shadow them,” she said. “So, they'll come join them for things like being on duty, and they might come to an event they've planned and ask questions about how they planned it.” A change of leadership can sometimes come with a few road bumps. “If you've been around long enough you can tell whether a strong group is coming and or not,” said Schmidt. “And that's just part of life. ...I see my goal as helping the elected officers to do their best, maybe discern their gifts and what it is they can do best. Not everyone does the same thing.” Lyons said that his main problem this year was having too many applicants for too few positions. “Years past, I know working with RAs, it's been the flip side, where we've had very limited numbers and a lot of roles and were having to kind of knock on people's doors and call people and ask them to apply,” he said, “and so it is kind of ebb and flow.” Sometimes those road bumps are simply emotional as well. “It's always a sad time of year for me, because it's bittersweet to see a great new team coming in, but I'm always sad to see the current team go,” said Studebaker. Still, looking forward can also be exciting as new students enter the pool or more experienced students return to their previous roles. “We're in the process of rebuilding, and I think restoring, StuCo,” said Schmidt. “I'd like to see it get back to where it was in the past.” Studebaker also encouraged students to seek out those in leadership currently to get advice on how to prepare for a role in student leadership.
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