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Student Involvement and Leadership Development

Experience in leadership is a highly sought after quality in many entry level positions recent college graduates may be applying for. College may be the start of leadership development for some students, or hold opportunities for the continuation of leadership for students who held leadership positions throughout middle and high school. Leadership positions at the collegiate level can assist students in the development of soft skills and hard skills that may make former student leaders more attractive candidates in a competitive applicant pool.

Higher education can be the beginning of more accelerated leadership development which helps to develop transferable skills through participation in different organizations. Student leaders are able to gain leadership experience through their service on organizations e-boards or related positions in which they help guide and facilitate the function of the student organization. Student leaders serve a fundamental purpose on many colleges and university campuses in terms of service or focus area, while many others focus on a diverse array of interests, needs, and affinities. Student organizations contribute to campus community and student success.

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The question still remains whether or not student leaders perceive positive outcomes and skill development out of their leadership positions on campus. Do students truly believe they are gaining transferable skills that will help them as future professionals? How do student leaders on campus perceive their leadership experience helping them be successful as students? Throughout this paper the researchers intend to explore both questions regarding skill development and perception of experiences through the lens of student leaders on Northern Illinois University’s campus.

Leadership development in higher education increased in popularity toward the early 1990s. In the last nearly three decades the field has seen an emergence of different trends and emphasis on particular outcomes, activities, and aspects of leadership propel the development of what student leadership development on campus looks like (Dugan & Komives, 2007). Of particular significance is the shift of focus on student leadership from a means to boost retention by means of student involvement (Astin, 1999), to a student and student affairs practitioner partnership concerned with making connections and mutual benefit ( Dugan & Komives, 2007). Additional evidence of student leadership’s growing significant on college campuses is the increase of the phrase being used in mission statements of institutional and its inclusion within institutional values (Baccei, 2015)Dugan and Komives (2007) include more specific examples of these connections and mutual benefit include a cultural shift in the field toward “college learning and developmental outcomes” (p. 5) institutions of higher education hope to provide to student leaders.

Service learning opportunities have also become common pedagogical approaches at higher education instructions for various purposes including class credit, alternative breaks, leadership initiatives, and extracurricular programs. These service learning opportunities may also overlap or exist beside opportunities for volunteerism and promotion of civic engagement. Other notable developments in the realm of student leadership development include pathways to leadership based on social identities and considerations of the specific leadership skill development of those populations. Alongside the shifts in focus and widening student leadership opportunities, “new leadership models” (p. 5), professional positions within student affairs, and “new leadership associations” (p. 5) also developed within student affairs practices (Dugan & Komives, 2007).

Student leadership opportunities present students with an array of extra and co-curricular choices to engage in leadership positions. Leadership programs aim to offer students the development of skills required as emergent leaders preparing them to be successful in future careers (Dugan & Komives, 2007). Scott (2004) posited a number of existing leadership programs in higher education institutions to be upwards of 1,000. These leadership programs utilize research and theories of leadership models that focus on the “developmental needs of college students” (p. 6). Particular leadership models considered in these programs include the following: the Relational Leadership Model, the Social Change Model of Leadership Development, the Servant Leadership Model and the Leadership Challenge (Dugan & Komives, 2007).The Social Change Model of Leadership was designed with college students in mind and focuses heavily on college students as emergent leaders. The Social Change Model views leadership as an experience which is “relational, transformative, process-oriented, learned, and change-directed…” (Dugan & Komives, 2007, p. 9).

As the name indicates, the Social Change Model is preoccupied with social improvement as the result mindful, ethical collaborative efforts. The Social Change Model also has an emphasis on growing ones’ self-awareness in order to collaborate and serve others. The model centers on eight core values: Consciousness of Self, Congruence, Commitment, Common Purpose, Collaboration, Controversy with Civility, Citizenship, and Change (Dugan & Komives, 2007).The Relational Leadership Model focuses on leadership as “purposeful, inclusive, empowering, ethical, and process-oriented” (Komives, et al., 2009). It is similar to the Social Change Model of Leadership in that both leadership styles concern themselves with a goal of collaboration as a pathway to meaningful, positive changes (Komives, et al. 2009, Dugan & Komives, 2007).

Servant Leadership is a term that attempts to erase the negative connotations that the word “serve” has while showing a normally ignored type of leadership that values consciousness, morality, and the idea that leadership is meant to endure. Servant Leadership follows an ideology that comes from being able to use moral authority as a way to create a bond between the leader and the follower. Servant leadership attempts to construct leadership in which a follower becomes the leader creating a relationship and leadership style in which the servant leader does not simply wish to take the lead, but is aware of when to step back and allow someone else to lead. Servant leadership is meant to develop and grow leaders into better versions of themselves as a leaders, and relies on other people because power is shared as opposed to designated to one person in charge (Greenleaf, 2002).

The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner has five ways in which a leader can become more successful. The theory posits five practices help create a better leader. The Leadership Challenge is a leadership development model focused on developing any regular person into a leader equipped with five different assets to help create and foster leadership (Kouzes & Posner, 2002). “Model the way” discusses the importance of being a good role-model as a leader, gaining respect from peers and those who are being led. Through this modeling, a leader is able to inspire those around them to follow on their path through their actions. Challenging the process and enabling others to act focus on the ability to stand up for what a leader believes in. It helps leaders to enact what they believe in. Inspired a shared vision assists a leader in the creations of a common goal.

Encouraging the heart focuses on the ability to recognize and celebrate those who are in the group by making them feel special and raises group morale, creating a sense of loyalty and a positive environment (Kouzes & Posner).Schlossberg’s Transition Theory discusses how arriving on campus is a transition for students. Transitions can be viewed as positive or negative by students. Some students might be open to transition, while others are frightened by transition. Transitions are experiences that “disrupt our lives and create changes in the way we experience our existence” (Barclay, 2017, p. 23). For college students, the shift in independence, rigor, schedule, and new relationships are only some of the transitions to process. Naturally, transition periods also spur those experiencing change to reconcile and reconsider the ways they view their past, their current self, and their future aspirations (Barclay, 2017). In order to navigate this reconsideration of self, students must be adaptive to their new environments and the ideas uncovered in that environment (Barclay, 2017).

Transition theory also posits the transition students experience occurs over a period of time rather than in one instance. Individuals experiencing the process of transition can often feel insignificant or as if they matter less as consequence of their changing understanding of their roles and placement in the world (Schlossberg, 1989). While in transition, mattering becomes a “reciprocal process”, making group membership and/or leadership roles in organizations significant in redefining identity, values, and roles (Barclay, 2017).Student involvement within the college environment has been known to have a positive impact on academic performance for most college students.

In higher education student involvement inside and outside of the classroom is highly encouraged in order for students to be successful and make the best out of their college experience. Student involvement can be defined as the amount of “physical energy” and “psychological energy” a given college student devotes “to their college experience” (Foubert & Grainger, 2006). Astin (1999) believed the impact of involvement within clubs and organizations had a great impact on students (Astin, 1999). Astin (1993) “reported that elected student offices, public speaking ability, leadership abilities, and interpersonal skills have statistically significant correlations with hours per week spent participating in student clubs and organizations” (Foubert & Grainger, 2006; Astin, 1993). This clearly demonstrates a relationship with student involvement and student success.

According to Foubert & Grainger (2006) there are three different forms of involvement which are academic involvement, involvement with faculty and involvement with student peer groups. It is known that involvement within student peer groups has the most positive outcome with students. The greater interaction that students have with their peers the more favorable outcomes. Students involved in different organizations and clubs has been known to have a positive impact on psychosocial development. Academic success is crucial to student retention and graduation as students must remain academically eligible to enroll in classes, but it is additionally important that students engage in other aspects of campus life in order to develop skills and due to the increased retention and success student involvement provides (Foubert & Grainger, 2006).Research conducted by Cooper et al. (1994) on the relationship of student development and campus involved showed “ first year students who join student organizations have higher scores on developing purpose than those who do not join” (Foubert & Grainger, 2006).

The benefits of student involvement in academic success go beyond organizational membership. Leadership specifically leads to a positive impact on “developmental gains in interpersonal competence, cognitive complexity and humanitarianism” (Foubert & Grainger, 2006; Kuh, 1995). There are other benefits for students being involved in college such as more connections and network opportunities. Having access resources to more resources and being more inclusive with their institution. It is evident that students who are involved in clubs and organizations during their college experience are students who demonstrate higher level skills in such areas as “educational involvement, career planning, lifestyle planning, cultural participation, and academic autonomy” (Foubert & Grainger, 2006; Cooper et al., 1994.

)Retention focuses on the ability of a particular college or university to successfully graduate the students who initially enroll at that particular institution (Roberts & McNeese, 2010). “Differences in retention rates are a function not only for the types of students attracted to that particular institution but also the type of environment provided by the institution” (Berger, Blanco Ramírez & Lyons, 2012). Retention in higher education continues to be an important issue facing our colleges and universities for the students, institutions, and the nation. Studies have shown that students who are less involved on their college campuses are less likely to succeed or graduate from college (Astin, 1993; Astin, 1999).Northern Illinois University uses an online platform to organize and publish organizational information called Huskie Link.

There are multiple online campus organization platforms listed, similar to Huskie Link. The purpose of these online platforms is to engage students with hopes to inform them of various on campus events, monitor student involvement, event planning, and organization management. Similar to NIU’s Huskie Link, OrgSync uses card swipes to track attendance and student involvement. Card-swipe data updates instantly, automatically populating in a student’s profile, Co-Curricular Paths, and Involvement Records. OrgSync card swipe process is unique seeing as how it adds data to a student’s profile building the involvement record. OrgSync provides an online management system to higher education institutions in the United States and Canada.

OrgSync enables colleges and universities to communicate with students and staff, track student involvement, and manage campus organizations and programs. OrgSync has a unique feature that allows students to document their participation and highlight their personal growth. With automated and verified Co-Curricular Records, they can reflect on and highlight their valuable participation in multiple experiences campus-wide and beyond. The feature is known as Co-Curricular Path Progress (CCR).Previously named Check I’m Here”, another online platform Presence was designed to solve the toughest problems around student engagement and success. The presence website reads: “Everyone has a ‘Presence’. Whether a professional striving to grow an engaging campus community, or a student discovering their potential through involvement, our new identity encompasses the magnitude of what our software can facilitate for new generations.” When Presence first launched in 2014, the overall goal was to increase retention and graduation rates that would allow student affairs professionals to measure and comprehend student involvement.

Presence online platform also includes organization and department management. Parallel to the two previous platforms. Similar to OrgSync’s Co-curricular Path Progress Presence has a Co-curricular opportunities Platform. Presence defines this feature as a smart transcript, this feature tracks students’ attendance reflections to confirm development. Along with this CCOP builds a student profile keeping track of any certifications, points, and service hours. There was a lack of relevant research conducted on student burnout in regards to student leadership and academic engagement. Future research might explore the relationship between the two, and what point involvement is detrimental to student retention and development. This literature review will serve as a framework for the assessment project of student leaders at Northern Illinois University and their perception of their leadership development and the development of transferable skills gained by their position as a student leader.

Citations:

  1. Astin, A. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Astin, A. (1999). Student Involvement: A Developmental Theory for Higher Education. Journal of College Student Development. 40(5), 518-529. Retrieved from: https://www.middlesex.mass.edu/ace/downloads/astininv.pdf
  3. Baccei, M. A. (2015). Understanding college student leadership development: A longitudinal examination of the impact of campus-based leadership trainings. University Iowa Research Online. Retrieved from: https://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5590&context=etd
  4. Barclay, S.R. (2017). Schlossberg’s Transitional Theory. In Killam, W. K. & Degges-White, S. (Eds.), College student development: Applying theory to practice on the diverse campus (pp. 23-33). New York: Springer Publishing Company.
  5. Berger, J.B., Blanco Ramírez, G., & Lyon, S. (2012). Past to present: A historical look at Retention. In A. Seidman (Ed.), College Student Retention: Formula for Student Success (pp. 7-34).
  6. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Campus Labs for Student Engagement. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.campuslabs.com/campus-labs-platform/student-engagement/
  7. Cooper, D.L., Healy, M.A., & Simpson, J. (1994). Student development through involvement: Specific changes over time. Journal of College Student Development, 35, 98-102.
  8. Dugan, J. P., & Komives, S.R. (2007). Developing leadership capacity in college students:Findings from a national study. A Report from the Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership. College Park, MD: National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs.
  9. Foubert, D.J. & Grainger, L.U. (2006). Effects of Involvement in Clubs and Organizations on the Psychosocial Development of First-Year and Senior College Students. NASPA Journal, 43(1), 166-182. Retrieved from: https://www.albany.edu/involvement/documents/effects_of_involvement.pdf
  10. Greenleaf, R.K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and Greatness (25th anniversary ed.). Mahwah: Paulist Press.
  11. Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. (2002). The leadership challenge (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Kuh, G.D. (1995). The other curriculum: Out-of-classroom experiences associated with student Learning and personal development. Journal of Higher Education, 66, 123-155.
  12. McNeese, N.M., & Roberts, J. (2010). Student Involvement/Engagement in Higher Education Based on Student Origin. Research in Higher Education Journal, 7. Retrieved from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.537.3577&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  13. Presence | The complete campus engagement platform. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.presence.io/
  14. Schlossberg, N. K. (1989). Marginality and mattering: Key issues in building community. New Directions for Student Services, 1989 (48), 5-15. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ss.37119894803

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