Connecting Students and Providing Leadership Opportunities

May 15, 2017
The opportunities for students to connect and develop a sense of belonging at Baylor are on the rise. The division of student life is actively engaged in enhancing the Baylor experience outside of the classroom through innovative partnerships across campus led by Director of Student Activities Matt Burchett. "The variety of what's being offered to students is significantly greater than what it was five or six years ago," according to Burchett. In 2010 the campus had 220 official organizations with 5,500 students taking part in campus activities. This year, that number was more than 300, with more than 9,000 students getting involved. By nature of the volume of activities available, Burchett said, the variety of opportunities available for students to connect to distinct and unique experiences has also grown.

Founders MallBaylor's Department of Student Activities encompasses Campus Programs, Greek Life, Student Organizations, Spirit and Traditions, Waco Hall and the Baylor Student Union. "Our events have gone from being smaller, more organization-driven to really being campus-wide," said Burchett.

New Activities

Vice President for Student Life Kevin Jackson said in the past two years weekend programming has grown, including everything from free bowling in the Bill Daniel Student Center to outdoor concerts to showing movies on the massive video screen in McLane Stadium. Additionally, Student Activities is seeking to expand coffeehouse-style events in the student center, increase the showing of first-run movies on weekends and team up with organizations like residence halls and Greek organizations to sponsor more thematic events. 

Late-Night Activities

This fall, the campus will move toward a late night programming model, a growing trend among universities across the country. Baylor will begin offering programming at the same time, on the same day and in the same location every weekend from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m. "It provides space for students who are wondering, 'What can I do tonight?'," said Burchett, adding that instead of relying on event-specific promotion, the focus will be on creating an expectation that something fun will be happening each week at a specific time and place. New programming may include personalities or acts, concerts, DJs or other activities inside the student union.

Safety

Baylor is looking at research to see how student programming can help provide a safer environment, particularly through late-night programming. "Our findings indicate that the approach we are planning will create an environment that engages students and keeps them on campus. I would say by the sheer nature of creating space for that, it's going to be a positive contribution to the campus community," said Burchett. "Studies are showing more consistently that late night programming is having a significant impact on the mitigation of alcohol, drug and violence reports across college campuses."

Jackson added there are a number of reasons why offering on-campus activities makes the college experience safer for students. Among them, "Students tend to be more familiar with campus and less likely to find themselves in vulnerable situations, and if for some reason they do, bystanders tend to intervene more readily because they have a greater understanding of the expectations for conducting oneself on campus."

Student Involvement

A few years ago Baylor shifted to a student-led activities model. The Student Activities department provides support and mentorship, but relies heavily on student leadership to execute campus events. "Students are constantly dreaming up innovative and engaging programs to host on campus. It's our responsibility to equip them with the resources, training and support to help these dreams thrive as they work through the challenging processes associated with event planning," said Burchett, noting that a marketing strategy is also key. "When our students are leading the way it generates relevant programming that significantly contributes to a vibrant campus community."

Danny Dominguez is one of those students involved in shaping student activities. He is a member of Baylor Chamber of Commerce, a campus group that oversees the university mascots and coordinates campuswide events like Diadeloso and Homecoming. Dominguez is also an employee in the Student Activities office and Chair of the Baylor Line where he coordinates Baylor's freshman cheering section at each home football game. "I hope (student activities) provides an opportunity for students to create long-lasting relationships, memories and experiences with people they may not have otherwise interacted with. We want to help shape students in fun, interactive and service-centered ways that traditional classroom experiences cannot," said Dominguez.

Partnerships

As part of the expanding opportunities available to students, Baylor began identifying gaps in its programming and developing collaborations in the Waco community. What developed were partnerships with the Cameron Park Zoo, the Waco Downtown Farmer's Market, the Hippodrome Theatre, the city of Waco and the Waco Chamber. Movie Mondays takes place each week at the Hippodrome, where a documentary is free for students and open to the community, averaging an attendance between 100 and 150 at each showing. Last Labor Day weekend, hundreds of students took part in a wide range of activities including a Brazos River float hosted by the city.

Staying in the Know

Baylor Connect, an online organization management platform, was launched two years ago to help students connect. Students can search the database by key word for an activity that interests them or look at what's taking place on a specific day. The platform also allows organizations to manage and market their events through social media.

As the school year comes to an end, Burchett hopes that students have developed meaningful relationships with a depth that persists beyond their time on campus. "When I talk to first-year students and their parents, one of the analogies I like to use is in every great story, the character changes. No one wants to go to the movie where the character is introduced at the beginning and is the exact same at the end," said Burchett.

"In the Baylor story, that's where I'm hoping our students come to – that they'll become more aware of the challenges and opportunities in front of them that being involved in or attending a campus program or choosing to engage in leadership opportunities brings," Burchett added. "That it will somehow equip them to become a better person themselves. That when they graduate they'll look back and say, 'Look how far I've come. I'm so proud of who I am, where I'm going, what I've learned.' That they've lived a really good story here."  

Student Activities 2016-2017 by the Numbers
  • Total Events: 11,072
  • Number of Speakers: 98 not including Chapel
  • Number of T-Shirts: 442
  • Total Active Organizations: 323
  • Total Student Involvement: 9,000+
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