Courtney Weaver sits down with Dr. Thanh Le, the Director of Student Engagement and Leadership to talk all things student involvement! We chat about why it’s important to get involved on campus, the many different leadership opportunities that are available to students, and describe what’s available at the student food pantry, otherwise known as the Rack! To learn more about the services from Student Engagement, visit their website: https://studentengagement.wvu.edu/

Transcription: 

Welcome. Welcome. Welcome everyone to Wellbeing Wednesdays. My name is Courtney Weaver. I'm the director over at WellWVU here at West Virginia University. And today I am joined by Dr. Thanh Le, who is the director of Student Engagement and Leadership here at the university. So hello, good role assignment.

Good morning. It's good afternoon, Tane. How are you doing good, Courtney. Thanks for having me. I appreciate you. Um, you invite me onto the show. Yeah, thank you for coming. And so, um, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role here at the university before we get started? Sure. Yeah. So, um, as you said earlier, I'm the director of student engagement leadership, which is just a, a fancy title with that.

This means that I get to work, what students in making sure that they get engaged or involved with the university in some fashion. And so, um, throughout my office, we have, we oversee the, um, 500. Plus the organizations here on campus, we help provide advising and resources for them. Um, and then we also provide leadership programs to make sure that they're effective in their leadership of their organization.

And just in general, you know, we truly believe that all students can be leaders here on campus, and we are here to help facilitate that and help, um, produce skills and competencies to make sure that they're effectively theirs. Um, and then we also oversee the operations of the student food pantry here called the rack.

And so. Really excited about that. And then we also work directly with student government. And so, like I said, this is a lot of different avenues to make sure the students are connected in some way. And that's really kind of our, our charge here at the university. Okay. And so do you want to expand a little bit about what like student involvement actually means?

Cause it's really not just like you help organize. The Quidditch club. Uh, what does it entail? Yeah, so, um, I don't want to get too deep into like, you know, student development theory or anything like that, but there is a, um, a theory called student involvement theory, um, that a lot of us, um, know and learn through grad school graduate school, um, by researcher, by the name of Aston.

Um, but, uh, You know, they they've done some research that shows the more students are involved in and connected with their environment, their learning environment, that the better off they are, the more comfortable they feel and actually the better off they are, um, in their performance in the classroom.

And so, you know, we're really here to make sure that students are connected with the university and in many different forms or fashions. And we think that, you know, connecting them with their interests and passions make people feel comfortable. Um, it's also a really cool idea of, you know, taking this large 30,000.

Um, student campus and the distilling it down. So, you know, a few, a group of like 15 or 20 individuals that are likeminded as their selves. And, uh, we really think that creating that small community in that niche community, um, helps them and makes them feel very, um, attached to the university, builds that pride in the university and in return, they do very well on campus, you know, and, um, they're connecting with peers.

Um, all across the campus because of that, you know, you may have an interest in racquetball, but you know that there's not a major for racquetball, right? So there may be some students in Statler engineering and, uh, beanie business colleagues that like to play racquetball. So therefore let's create a racquetball club, the people that just like to play racquetball.

And so, you know, we, we truly believe that we want to connect students in that way. And so student involvement is really. Just a matter of making sure students are feeling connected and safe on campus and, um, and hopefully yeah, in return that creates an atmosphere where. You performed very well in class.

And so that definitely, um, you know, helps with that achievement as well. So that's kind of the gist of kind of a student involvement in general and I, that's kind of why we exist. Right. So, yeah, so it's, it's really important because I think as you said earlier, like creating those smaller groups can really help.

People feel connected to their university because it's very overwhelming to attend, you know, as an 18-year-old student to a university with 30,000 people in it. Cause even if you go to a large high school, it wasn't 30,000 people. Banks not. Yeah. Yeah. It's such a. Yeah, it's such an intimidating environment.

And, you know, we think it can make students feel a whole lot more comfortable and not so kind of a fish out of water almost so to speak. And so, you know, we want to make sure that they feel comfortable and are finding their peers that are like minded or have similar interests in what they're doing, what they like to do.

So, because as soon as you find a group of people and you all have that common interest, it's so much easier to create those bonds. That's the problem with being the adult and like trying to be friends. Cause you know, there's not some common thing, really. There's not student orgs for. Grownups. So something else that you mentioned were the leadership opportunities.

Um, and I know you all do some development in this area. So what kind of programs does your department provide to develop those leadership skills in students? Yeah, so, I mean the first one I'll definitely highlight is our first-year leadership Academy. And so that Academy. It is a 10 week, typically a 10-week cohort program.

We take first year students, whether they be freshmen students, or even transfer students that their first year here at WVU. Um, and we take them through a 10-week curriculum, um, dealing with like, you know, leadership skills, leadership, development, personality, style, um, team dynamics, all those things that come with leadership and the things that we think about when becoming a leader.

Um, and so that's a really cool program. Uh, we typically take anywhere between, um, 75 to a hundred students yearly. Um, this year we're actually reducing that to about 60, um, just because of some of the regulations in this year. So we're taking 60 students, um, and we're taking with that curriculum, um, this semester for the fall semester.

So we are a completed our application in cohort process. And so we have a cohort of about 60 students, um, this semester that will actually span across three Saturdays versus 10 weeks. And so, um, this program. Uh, first year students are paralleled, paired with a mentor or a peer mentor, which we call pals, um, which stands for appears advising for leadership skills.

Um, and so these peers have been trained by our office to make sure that they're connecting with their students in different manners and kind of reinforcing some of the, um, development skills that we're trying to. Teach these students and how to utilize those skills. And so we're really excited about that program, um, for the fall semester.

Again, this will be the fourth year. Um, this is a program that I created when I first got here, um, at WVU four years ago. And so we really, uh, thought there was a gap in, you know, providing, uh, leadership training for our students. And so we wanted to start with our first-year students, as far as our upperclassmen students, we do have a program Carta, a certified student leader program.

Which is a little bit more self-paced, um, in which you go to different workshops and you develop certain competencies. And so we have different levels of, um, leadership certification that you can get. Um, so going to different workshops, whether it be multiculturalism, whether it be meaning making. Um, and so we have kind of a.

Kind of tiers of what you have to going to go to like five or six different workshops. You have to do some reflections, some community service, um, things that kind of give you that overall well-balanced leader approach. And so, um, at the end of that, a student will do a leadership portfolio and then talk about their kind of their journey.

Um, through learning how to be a leader through these different workshops that are offered. And so, um, that's more self-paced. It can easily take a student either a year or even four years. So it's really up to the student kind of the side. Um, they're tracking their level of participation in that program.

And we actually do have some upcoming informational sessions for that here in the near future. Um, they just want to log on a w engage. Which is our kind of, um, our all-encompassing, uh, site that has all of our student organizations and all of our events on there as well. Um, and so that's really a program that I recommend for a lot of our upperclassmen.

Um, we do have a, um, you know, some other programs like we do host our multicultural leadership retreat. Um, unfortunately because of the pandemic, we have a, we're going to have to push it into the spring. Um, but we really, um, bring last year, our concept was around intersectionality and talking about how that kind of looks in certain spaces and how that kind of informs your leadership abilities and skills and how that needs to adjust.

And so, um, you know, next, next semester in the spring we'll be doing our second. Uh, annual multicultural leadership retreat, uh, more information to come with that. And so we really believe that, um, we need to be talking about, you know, identity base, you know, leadership and making sure how students can, um, definitely in our, especially with this time and, um, and kind of like the device of like, you know, um, time that we're all kind of living in right now.

So, um, so yeah, so those are some of the leadership opportunities we do have and, um, you know, we're always looking for other opportunities. We do offer something called. Sold workshops, which is stands for student organization leadership and development workshops. And so that this ongoing workshop series of different, um, you know, uh, competencies or even topics that we want to work with students, whether they be student org leaders, or just general students that are interested in leadership, um, in general.

And so we're trying to do that more often, where do we actually have those every two weeks, um, out of our office. And so they, they range from, you know, um, you know, personality assessments to team dynamics, to marketing and promotions, um, event planning, one Oh one, Mark, um, social media training, stuff like that.

And so we want to make sure we're offering those opportunities, uh, for all of our students to continue to develop. And so, um, that's just kind of the idea. The tip of the iceberg of some of the things we want to offer in the, um, right now and, um, more to come in the near future as well. So, thanks. Well, this is confession time for pain.

So, uh, so to be honest, I'm, I think I'm a little biased against leadership education. And I think the reason for that, not to say that it's not valuable it's definitely is, is because I have. At my previous institution, I saw it and it was only like one way to be a leader. And it was a way that to me was really unappealing, I should say.

Like, it was really averse to who I was as a person, like as a more introverted person, as, you know, things like that. Uh, and so like folks like me, for example, when we hear the word leadership, like we only think of one style, but. I know logically and intellectually that there's more. Um, and so what types of leadership does your department really like help develop?

Yeah, so, um, I'm glad you mentioned that there, there are so many leadership styles out there. Right? And we don't just focus on one, um, one track of leadership, you know, we're, we want you to be able to reflect on yourself who you are as personally, and then developing your leadership style based on that.

Right. And how to understand other people is one of, um, it’s something that we focus on. So, you know, for us, we're more, we're more focused on something called authentic leadership. Um, you know, something that, you know, comes up, um, from within and, you know, we understand that different leadership styles and we teach those leadership styles as well.

Like there's definitely some more. Authoritative styles. There is more kind of referent power and we're looking at power and privilege and power and perception within group dynamics as well. And so we talk about all those things. So we allow those students to kind of self-explore and really determined and develop their own style.

You know, I mean, we don't, we don't kind of aggressively approach that you needed to be very authoritative in your style. You need to be more passive in your style. And so, um, there's something called a country club leader, right? That's um, Uh, that's, uh, somebody that's always trying to please everybody, but how effective and how efficient are you when you're just trying to please everybody.

Right. And so, yeah. Um, so we let the students kind of learn about the different style and the kind of balance and challenged them on, you know, what they're looking at and as far as their, their organization's concerned or how they're going to start to move forward with their styles. Right. And so, yeah. Um, but we also don't want, we also want students to understand, like, you know, just because your style is different, can be different for different situations.

Yeah. Right. And so depending on your, your, your position within one organization and another, those styles can be very different because your organization needs something different from you. And so we want to develop all the different types of styles and help you develop, um, kind of approaches and techniques, um, to kind of, um, attack any situation.

And so. Yeah. So we definitely think about authentic leadership. We also look at, um, kind of our, um, servant leadership models, where a lot of people love to serve. And especially, you know, with gen Z being very servant minded, you know, we want to make sure, um, they're aware of, um, kind of their, I guess, their, um, Motivation for serving as a leader.

And so that's just one of the things that we kind of taken through. And, um, that's part of the reflection process and kind of self-reflection and better understanding ourselves. Cause a lot of times it's hard to talk about ourselves. It's hard to kind of really describe ourselves sometimes. And so doing that as really a health exercise, um, through our, all of our programs.

So we make sure that we're, we're teaching you about all the different lifestyles and we're kind of encouraging you to develop your style within what we're teaching you. Yeah, well, that's great to hear. I know I've been combating that bias for quite a while. It always drives my sister. Um, A little antsy because that's her job too.

And she talks about leadership. So you would get straight up to me like Courtney it's like I know, but this is what I mean. So it's great to hear that there are so many different styles and that you're encouraging students to like go on that journey of self-discovery. Um, and I think you mentioned this earlier, but I don't know if you had anything else to expand on, but like, can every student be a leader in your opinion?

In my opinion. Yeah. I mean, it's kind of one of those things where, um, you know, a lot of people say you're either born with it or you're not, I don't believe that I really do, because I was one of those students in undergrad where coming from high school, I was just, you know, yes. I feel like I was, um, somewhat popular, you know, I want to toot my own horn, but I felt like I was pretty popular, pretty, um, pretty successful, but I was never really the president of anything or led initiatives or anything like that.

And so going into college. You know, I really was able to like go to different things and learn kind of like my style. And eventually I, she developed into being a very dynamic leader on my campus. And so. You know, looking at my high school self, and then looking at my colleagues up there, it's like a one 80, like I was totally different person.

Um, as far as my style is, cause you start to mature, you start to kind of like, you know, um, you know, develop. And so that's what we learn. Right. We develop a whole lot more in college sometimes. And we did when we were in elementary school. So it's just a very different development and kind of like more of your, um, you know, social, cognitive development.

And so I think, um, you know, I think that's really important to, to distinguish and yeah, I think everybody should, uh, can be a leader. They may not be that, you know, upfront and, you know, dynamic, you know, um, public speaker leader that we all kind of look at it as kind of being a leader, you know? Similar to like our president, they had to speak in front of the camera a lot.

And, you know, president G is one of our, another dynamic leader on our campus, but that doesn't mean that's the only type of leader you can't be. Right. And so leading from there's so much there between, you know, leading and leading from the middle, leading from the back, leading from the front, um, I think students can lead anywhere that they are.

And, um, you know, leading by example and leading in kind of what you're doing and kind of how you live. Every day, you can be a leader. Um, and so, yeah, I think anybody can be a leader as long as they're, you know, they're being the challenging others, they're challenging themselves. And we can help teach that, um, through a lot of different workshops and just kind of conversation and, um, and reflection.

Definitely. All right. Uh, and then never exist to our final little topic, which is the, you mentioned in your introduction, but the rack, which is the food pantry here on campus. And so you can just tell us a little bit more about it, like who can access it, what's available and like, why is it such an important service?

Sure. So, um, you know, we've had conversations with our administration. And one thing that students I shouldn't ever have to worry about is their next meal. You know, I mean, that's just one, you know, a lot of our college students are already stressed enough, you know, with the economic pressures and the pressures of, um, kind of like what comes with being a college student.

You know, the last thing we want them to worry about is their next meal. And so. You know, we want to fight something called food insecurity, you know? And so a lot of students may not want to admit it that they're food insecure, but you know, we we've done some research and research. So yeah. Was at about one third of our student population of most campuses are food insecure here, you know, whether it be just kind of like, you know, um, mountain malnourished versus, you know, just eating a bunch of, you know, um, unhealthy things.

And so. You know, our food pantry was created to help fight in food insecurity here at UVU. And so, um, it was originated about, huh? I would probably say 2013, 2014, um, out of our office. Um, and you know, at the time, you know, it was fairly new and kind of a concept that a lot of universities were kind of exploring.

And so, uh, when I got here, you know, it had already been through a couple of iterations and kind of, um, different locations on our campus. And so, um, you know, who can access it, any student here on campus, you know, we want to, like I said, we want to make sure we're providing support for all students here on campus in some form.

Um, no matter if it's just a snack, a drink, you know, a meal, whatever it may be, we want to make sure those students have what they need. Um, unfortunately we are not open to faculty staff. Um, I know, um, in the past, when we first started, there was some faculty staff support. Um, unfortunately, you know, just with the resources that we have, we want to make sure that we're allocating and directing all of our resources for our students, um, on campus first.

And, um, so what's available. Um, we definitely have perishable and nonperishable items. Um, Uh, at our, at our location. So we have like, you know, dry pasta, we have pasta sauces, you know, canned vegetables, um, you know, our college students, favorite ramen noodles. We have plenty of those, um, you know, different snacks and stuff like that.

We actually have drinks as well on hand. Um, so with our student needs, like I said, our snack or meal, just come by, you know, we'll help out in whatever we can. Um, we also offer, um, a program called fresh fruit, Mondays, where we actually give out fresh food and vet fruits and vegetables every Monday. And so our, um, our staff that puts out a poll or a survey the week before asking them, you know, what kind of fruits and vegetables they want to see.

And that's what we bring on Mondays. And so, um, Mondays, every Monday is in our office. We give out, uh, Uh, fresh fruits and vegetables. Um, and then every Tuesday and Friday we give out, um, we actually get, um, a day old, you know, day old and brands from Panera bread. And so we have those opportunities for students as well to, to come and pick up those things on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Um, and so. You know, we, we used to offer a lot of, uh, meat and produce. Um, but we've kind of, uh, down kinda, um, reduce that a little bit just because, you know, if we're, you know, supporting students on campus, they don't have full kitchens. And so we want to make sure that we're cognizant of that. Um, and it's kind of storage in general.

A lot of students will have a lot of storage and their refrigerators. And so we've kind of backed down that a little bit. However, um, we do work with SDA. Uh, which they do their shared swipe program with Sodexo. Um, and so there are times where we have, um, you know, meal vouchers that were donated by SGA and Sodexo through the Sheriff's white program.

So we do have those opportunities for students. Well, it's taken advantage of, you know, a hot meal, um, in our residence hall dining. So, um, so yeah, so that's kind of who we are and kind of what we offer. And we're open every day from Monday through Friday eight, 15 to four 45 right here in the mountain layer, um, room one 43, eight.

Um, and so, yeah, so hopefully students that need it can come by. It. It's a really short intake form that we have to have if you're a first-time visitor, but it's only a onetime, um, portlet. You have to fill out once you, for that format, you can come by as many times as you want to during the, during the week, um, to grab whatever you need.

So, okay. And then the that's open still Monday through Friday, even during the pandemic, right. Correct? Yeah. So from, from Marcus 13th on, we have been open every day. Um, so we made a commitment to our students to be open. Now our hours may be limited, I think during the, um, uh, during the summer months and the beginning part of the pandemic, we are open every day from 11 to two.

Um, but now that we're back in the fall semester, we've now re um, we extended our hours back to eight, 15 to four 45 every Monday, every Monday through Friday. Right. That's awesome. Cause that's such a crucial service, so it's great that we're still, still able to do it safely. So that brings us to our wellbeing snapshot.

So maybe let's talk a little bit about how so. Student orgs are operating during the pandemic because we know we can't meet in large groups, which is normally what may happen, where a student's, you know, reserve rooms and the mountain layer, and the organizations can meet there. That's not happening. So from your perspective, like how are they operating?

What are they doing? Yeah. So, you know, we've been communicating and coordinating with a lot of student groups. Um, and so for a while there, we were consulting with groups I wanted to meet in person and we actually had approved a few, uh, meetings, um, and that were upcoming. However, with the recent surge in numbers and cases, um, with, uh, the coronavirus, you know, we've actually backed down from that.

And so we've actually asked you in groups to continue to be virtual. Until September 25th. And so that's, uh, at that point, hopefully we'll have more information about how they can operate, but at this point, unfortunately, no student groups can technically meet in person right now. So after the 25th and then hopefully we'll, we'll get some more guidance from the university and the president's office of C.

If we can reopen that up. And so, um, for right now, you know, we are looking at, uh, when we do open, back up to, you know, be very limited, you know, the university has, um, instituted, uh, uh, less than 10 yeah. Person gathering now. And so a lot of student groups argue with us and say that, Hey, you know, we're more educational base.

And so unfortunately, because of. Student organizations, just the nature of the organization and all the things they do are technically social in nature. Um, and whether, whether there may be some educational components they're technically social. And so we have to, um, restrict them to the, the gathering sizes that they, uh, that we have to adhere to, but based on the governor's recommendation and also by the university.

So right now the university is going with tin and that there'll be the number that we kind of help students to go with that. Um, and a lot of students have some confusion about being outside. Uh, outside the same manner. It doesn't matter how space that you are. You still are limited to two gatherings of 10 or less.

And so, um, so yeah, so that's kind of interesting thing. I mean, I think a lot of our students have kind of pivoted and kind of done what we've been doing. It's going virtual. They use their zoom, um, you know, the university. Well, so gracious enough to, you know, order a zoom license pretty much for every student here on campus.

And so any student has access to that. Um, they just got to go to wvu.zoom.us and sign up for an account and they have a zoom account. And so that, that means that all the organizations have access to zoom, um, and have the platform to be able to host these kinds of virtual meetings and events that they have to.

So a lot of cool online tools that folks can use in addition to zoom or, um, In conjunction. It's pretty cool, but the way that people have innovated in that way, so you could still get involved really at the end of the day. That's the message. Yeah, we actually had, you know, we hosted our first, uh, virtual, um, student org fair, um, a week ago, actually two weeks ago now.

Wow. Tom's flying. But two weeks ago we had our first virtual tour and we had about 270 students actually log on and, you know, go through all this, the organizations we had about 156 organizations sign up. Out of our 500. And so, um, yeah, so we really are excited to continue to expand those offerings. Um, we do have something called week involvement starting today.

Um, and that will go out, go on for the next three weeks worse. Um, different categories of student organizations are hosting kind of like intersections every night. And so be having that, um, throughout the week. So feel free to check our, um, our website for more information or log on to WVU engage, which I probably keep mentioning.

Um, but yet that, that, you know, that's all listed there and opportunities for students to me, I think tonight is club sports. And so, um, and then I think Wednesday is fraternity and sorority organizations. So, um, we're really excited about those too. Just to kind of kick off our weeks of involvement. Yeah.

Hopefully we'll get a lot of people logging on. Right. So yeah, fingers crossed. All right. Right. Alright. Well, thank you so much, Tim, for sitting down and chatting with us about student involvement, we really appreciate it. And, uh, for our avid listeners, all 12 of you, thank you so much for tuning in and we'll catch you next time for Wellbeing Wednesdays.