Graphic by Lauren McCallum, Design Director

By Cooper-John Trapp, Staff Writer

Starting a new group on campus becomes less daunting when students can learn from the success of past students.

USM alumna Miranda Piscopo ‘18 shared her journey. As a Lead Resident Assistant (LRA) for Upperclass Hall and Residential Life intern last spring, she founded USM’s chapter of the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH). Piscopo hoped that establishing a chapter of NRHH at USM would provide leadership opportunities and “instill a sense of pride in our campus community.”

NRHH’s co-advisors are Katie Yeaton-Hromada and Orlando Hernandez, resident directors of Philippi Hall and Robie-Andrews Hall. Both active NRHH members at their alma maters, Yeaton-Hromada and Hernandez, “were my saviors when it came to actually knowing what to do,” Piscopo said.

Piscopo found herself in the position many students face when wishing to turn an idea into reality – confused. She stated, “It was kind of like staring at a wide-open, blank space.”

To help students through that confusion and achieve recognition by the university, the office of Student Activities and Involvement provides a three-stage process on their website.

The first phase is determining if students and advisors are interested in forming a new group. Then, a new student organization must submit an interest form and meet with the Office of Student Activities and Involvement to lay a framework for the proposed group. This yields two outcomes, an understanding of the bureaucratic process, and the ability to reserve meeting space on campus temporarily while growing the organization to full status.

Phase two is assembly. At this point, students work on securing a university advisor, crafting a statement of purpose, establishing preliminary goals and completing necessary documentation.

Phase three is recognition. Club officers attend a training session with the Office of Student Activities and Involvement, complete the Tier I agreement form as well as an organization contact/meeting information form. This process lets the campus verify, “who is part of USM and who is not,” says Alex Carrier, Coordinator of Student Activities. This ensures that USM facilities are used only for legitimate purposes.

Additionally, some organizations, such as Greek Life chapters, will not be recognized by their national organization without official university standing.

Once organizations reach Tier I status, they may reserve campus space and facilities, advertise during campus-wide fairs, be listed on the USM website and request funding from the Student Senate for events benefitting the student body. Further funding by the Board of Student Organizations comes after reaching Tier II status.

Piscopo graduated before NRHH could get very far, but, “graduated knowing I had left a budding group in very capable hands.” Jeffrey Ahlquist, a senior business management and political science major and Savannah Vermette, a junior social and behavioral sciences major concentrating in counseling, took over Piscopo’s work. Last semester, the group focus was recruitment and, “figuring out what we wanted to be,” Ahlquist said.

Keeping NRHH’s pillars of recognition, service, scholastics and leadership in mind, the group pondered what part of the USM experience they could improve. School spirit immediately came to mind, they said. Towards that end, the group fielded over 50 nominations for ‘of the months’ to highlight unsung heroes to inspire others, one of which they will feature each month. Another goal of the NRHH is improving attendance and enthusiasm at athletic games. Some of the ideas they have so far include selling noisemakers, towels and fathead stickers.

On Feb. 19, NRHH is hosting a dog-themed night in Lower Brooks on the Gorham campus. Students can make dog toys to donate to local animal shelters while a dog-themed film plays in the background.

Ahlquist says his biggest takeaway from growing the organization last semester is, “just start a dialogue and get out of your own way. Eighty percent of life is just showing up, sitting down and getting everyone in the same room.” Piscopo said her best advice is to find a passionate and knowledgeable advisor, and someone who knows the system. “There is so much more you can learn from someone who has invested interest than what you can learn from google,” she said.

If students take anything away from her story, Piscopo said, it’s to, “remember that it impacts so much more than just you.” Whether one graduates in a month or a year from starting an organization, she says, “What the group will become stems far past what you’ll see. Use that to motivate you.”

More information about the NRHH can be found at usm.maine.edu/residential-life/student-leadership or by emailing Ahlquist at [email protected] or Vermette at [email protected].  

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