Student involvement sees a sharp increase

Posted on April 22, 2013 in News
By Tom Collier

Chris O’Connor, the director of Portland Student Life, told The Free Press that student involvement this year is much greater than it has been in years past.

Student Life is preparing to recognize students who have shown great leadership and involvement over the past year at the Student Involvement Recognition Gala on May 3, which will culminate in the Student Leadership Awards ceremony.

The awards, O’Connor said, have been a part of USM life for at least 15 years. When O’Connor first came to USM, the awards process was done separately on the Portland and Gorham campuses, with each campus having its own celebration.The awards changed to a university-wide event about 12 years ago, when O’Connor started working with student government and leadership development programs.  And for the past 10 years, the awards process has been a collaborative effort between Student Life and the Student Government Association.

When asked how many students are actively participating in student groups, O’Connor smiled. “This year, in particular, we’ve had extreme growth in new student groups,” he said, turning to his computer and pulling up a spreadsheet filled with new groups and their current statuses. “We’ve had 45 inquiries from students about starting new groups this year. We had 14 last year.”

O’Connor said he believed that increased student involvement is due to the orientation program and the partnership with Student Life and Student Success. “Involving students in student orientation really promotes involvement and talks about why involvement is important from a career standpoint,” he said.

O’Connor also cited a marked increase in commuter student involvement, a demographic that has historically been difficult to engage. He attributes much of this success to Julia Pond, who was hired last year as coordinator of commuter student engagement. “The unfortunate part of that story is that Julia’s position has been eliminated,” O’Connor said. Pond’s contract, O’Connor revealed, was set to run out at the end of this year.

“[Pond] is the one who’s out working with our students in the Student Involvement and Activity Center to get the word out about involvement. She’s tabling in Luther Bonney and Abromson, and she’s the one that’s doing the outreach.”

O’Connor explained that while he worried about Pond’s departure and the effect it may have on future commuter participation, his department has plans to create a new graduate assistant position that would fill, at least to some extent, the role Pond has had.

At the gala, 13 students, one faculty member and one staff member will receive awards in 11 different categories for their leadership roles in the USM community. The awards recognize students, both undergraduate and graduate, from all USM campuses. O’Connor said that the event, which will take place in the Osher Map Library, is open to all students and will run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Students who are interested in attending are asked to RSVP by May 1 at: usm.maine.edu/studentlife/gala.