Hitting the road: Student engagement roadshows

Penn State operates under the motto, “One campus, geographically dispersed.” Before I moved to Pennsylvania, my knowledge of state systems came from growing up in Wisconsin, under their UW system. UW Madison is the mothership, and while students might move between the various campuses, each campus operates on its own. Each campus has a library, with its own dean, librarians, staff, etc. Once I started at Penn State, I adjusted to the idea that we have one Libraries Dean, and many of my colleagues aren’t in the same location as me. Thank goodness for technology like Zoom, so while we would prefer face-to-face, we still can have a way to communicate and share ideas.

Part of my job description as the Student Engagement & Outreach Librarian is to help create a framework, vision, and approach to student engagement within the Libraries. This means I have the opportunity to work with my colleagues throughout the library, on many different campuses. It feels like a daunting task at times but it is also one of my favorite parts of my job.

Back when I interviewed for this position, I talked about how I wanted to make some road trips to our campuses to better understand the communities there, and to also do some goal setting. I played up my community engagement background, which at its core, has revolved around me doing a lot of listening and then finding ways to leverage the strengths of the community (see my work at UNCC for more insight on my framework or my recent experience at the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop). During my first year as the Student Engagement Librarian, I was spending a lot of time figuring out what student engagement meant that I wasn’t in the position to be on the road...yet.

Finally, in the middle of a promotion and tenure workshop earlier this summer, I realized what a roadshow at the campuses could look like. It was essentially a re-envisioning of a workshop I gave to my department back in October 2017. It would contain my favorite elements of my workshop -- lots of reflection and discussion, some brainstorming, and a robust slide deck. The goal would be to start to communicate across the libraries around a shared definition of student engagement, and make some goals for where we’d like to be in the future. I wrote up some learning outcomes, mapped out an agenda, and asked my colleagues if they wanted to participate.

Spoiler: they did.

Me with the Lions at the four campuses I visited for the workshops.

Me with the Lions at the four campuses I visited for the workshops.

Over the summer, I did this student engagement workshop three times over two weeks. At the beginning of October, I ran the workshop again. I had a lot of fun running the workshops, and having a chance to really showcase the work I’ve done in getting a more solid footing on student engagement, both in the field, and at Penn State. I left each workshop feeling a little bit more energized over where we can go. It was also nice to be somewhere new in Pennsylvania, and to of course, snag a selfie with our Nittany lion, placed at each campus.    

The workshop was divided into two main sections: the first part was understanding how student engagement is discussed in the literature, broadly, and Penn State’s journey with student engagement (since about 2008). By lunchtime, folks should have been on the same page about how we are defining the word and what falls into what I call the “buckets” of student engagement. The afternoon was devoted to thinking ahead, and what we want to accomplish in the next five years as it relates to libraries and student engagement.    

During these workshops, I’ve learned so much more about our Penn State campuses. I’ve had to check my assumptions, especially when I realized that I often think of the 18-22 year old student, making their way through college. At some of our campuses, we have strong commuter populations, as well as adults getting their degree who don’t fit the 18-22 year old mold. This means re-thinking what student engagement can look like for a wide variety of learners. And part of this workshop was celebrating all the really good work we are doing across the Commonwealth (and figuring out a better way of sharing our success).  

Recently, I had the chance to reflect on these roadshows, think about next steps, and begin to pull together everyone’s thoughts about student engagement and the libraries. Between the four workshops, some of our synergies were around student employment in the libraries, how to develop stronger relationships with student organizations, and a gentle reminder to us all that we need to constantly reflect on who our students are, how they are experiencing Penn State, and how they are choosing student engagement experiences. Some of the groups had big ideas, and you know I love a good big idea. We envisioned a shared student employee training model, what it would take to host a student employee summit, and also discussed the possibility of a multi-campus research project around student engagement. My job now is to start taking those ideas and finding ways to put momentum and energy behind them. In some ways, making plans and thinking strategically is one of the best parts of my job, so I’m excited about where we could go next.

Featured image by Katie Moum on Unsplash