Why Your Programming Sucks! (And What To Do About It)

February 10, 2014

sucks_stampCampus programming is part art and part science mixed with some luck. While programming efforts vary from institution to institution, there’s no denying that many veteran student affairs professionals agree that attracting the attention (and attendance) of college students has become increasingly difficult. With the advent of Facebook, Netflix, smart phones, and an ever growing catalog of video games and entertainment options, campus programming can easily be perceived as passé by someone out of the realm of Student Life.

Please understand that I myself am a programming “purist” and wholeheartedly believe that student programming efforts add to the extracurricular personal development of our students. However, programming without a strategic plan can lead to poor results, including a waste of time, resources, and the creation of disillusioned staffers and students alike. Having over 20 years of experience in campus programming, I would like to share some thoughts on why your programming sucks and what to do about it:

1. Your Programming is a Mainly a Means to an End: If your activities are simply there because it’s required of you, you’re probably not putting your heart and soul into program development. This is going to be obvious as you won’t be inspiring your staff or your students into putting forth innovative and quality work. If you don’t want to be there, your students certainly won’t want to be there either (i.e., circular causality). Furthermore, if you are programming simply for programming’s sake without any formal goals or student learning outcomes in mind, there’s a good chance your programming will become stale because there’s nothing to challenge you to push past mediocrity.

Resolve: Whether you’re an RA, hall coordinator, assistant director of student activities, or director of a student affairs department, if you find programming a chore and something you have to do for the paycheck, it’s time to refocus and recharge or simply get out. You can refocus by finding out what colleagues are doing across the country. Suggestions include subscribing to Student Affairs blogs, reading tweets from other college and university departments, participating in webinars, and attending regional and national conferences. Get out of your own department and find other colleagues at your institution who inspire you and achieve great results with their own programs. Additionally, ASK FOR HELP if you find yourself struggling.

2. You Concentrate Solely on Attendance: While numbers are certainly good, they shouldn’t be the sole reason for why you program. Rather than focusing on worthwhile activities that students will appreciate and find worth their time, programmers can easily fall into the trap of offering gimmicks and prizes to attract attendees. Of course pizza, gift cards, and t-shirts are awesome, but don’t create a situation in which students only come to grab the free stuff and bolt.

Resolve: Refer to your department and university’s mission and vision when developing your programs for the semester and year. Determine the purpose behind your programming and plan accordingly. If success is only determined by numbers at your institution, I challenge you to illustrate the student learning outcomes you achieve to your superiors rather than following status quo. It is hard to argue against programs that foster student development and education. (It’s even better if you can do this without spending a lot of money to achieve those results!)

3. Your Marketing is Lacking: Throwing up a few flyers and sending out an email and a tweet isn’t going to cut it. Students are inundated with loads of information and a lackluster advertising effort will go unnoticed. In large part, the bulk of students don’t care about what you’re doing. Furthermore, if they don’t see your message, they can’t make plans to attend.

Resolve: For all intents and purposes, your marketing campaign should be as well planned as the program itself. Try to make the marketing fun as well. A message that sets itself apart from all of the other “noise” of departments hawking their events will have a better chance of getting noticed. Don’t simply use one avenue of marketing, such as only using Facebook, but use all of the tools you have, including social media, email, handwritten personal invites, flyers, announcements at organization meetings, sidewalk chalk, and even guerilla marketing techniques.

4. You’re Trying Too Hard or Not Trying Hard Enough: We’re not going to compete with the likes of Playstation, Netflix, and off-campus parties so don’t try to. You’ll quickly burn yourself out on multiple half-assed programs that little if nobody will attend. On the other hand, if you’re hosting programs that you yourself wouldn’t want to attend, why would you think your students would come? Programming takes creativity, and most importantly, hard work.

Resolve: Sometimes simple can be better. In large part, students want the opportunity to interact with one another and do something fun. If you can add in some education in there, all the better. Yet, you can’t just throw a pizza in the study lounge and expect 100 people to show up. Float some ideas by a bunch of students prior to rolling out a program. You’ll get a quick sense whether or not an idea is decent or not. Also, consider giving some program types a rest while bringing old ones back that haven’t been done in awhile. What’s new is old, and what’s old is new.

Good coordinated and creative programming is challenging, but should be fun for you, your staff, and your students. Spend the time to develop a programming and marketing plan to ensure better success. And if something doesn’t work, get rid of it. Don’t hang onto traditions just because that’s the way it’s always been done. Programming needs to stay fresh, innovative, and fun.

For further information regarding programming, I encourage you to read Developing Activities (Free 650+ Activities Handout) as well as What is Your Programming GPA? (***free handout***)


Creating a “Leadership Kit” Passive Program (***free handout***)

November 14, 2013

Leadership Kit

For many years I have been putting together and distributing small “Leadership Kits” to my employees and various student leaders whose leadership skills I aim to develop further. Recently I gave these to my students in our Leadership Living-Learning Community to help emphasize some of the attributes of being a “servant leader.” Although I themed the kits for servant leadership, you can adopt them to serve your own particular leadership needs.

The kit comes in the form of a Ziploc bag that includes the following inexpensive items that correspond to various aspects of leadership:

  • Snickers Candy – leaders need a sense of humor
  • Dum Dum Lollipops – leaders learn from their mistakes
  • Rubber bands – leaders are flexible
  • Pen / Pencil & Pad (Post-It Notes) – leaders write down good ideas
  • Highlighter – leaders highlight the strengths of their team members
  • Light stick – leaders show the way
  • Glue stick – leaders keep the team together
  • Super Ball – because leaders are super to their team
  • Index cards for the leadership quote(s) and item explanation

Outside of the symbolic representation of the items, the kit also serves as a small resource supply bag that students and employees can use from a practical standpoint to accomplish such tasks as homework and other school and job-related projects. The kits can be used for staff welcome back gifts, primers for team discussions, marketing efforts for an upcoming leadership activity, and even as a simple passive activity / program for your students.

You can create your own “Leadership Kit, by downloading this free, ready-made leadership kit label template in order to print out the leadership cards and quotes you will need to assemble your own kits. These can be printed on Avery labels (Template #5163) and adhered to index cards or you can simply print them on paper and cut them out.

Enjoy and please share with the handout with your colleagues!


What is Your Programming GPA? (***free handout***)

February 6, 2013

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Planning and attending programs and activities is typically the most fun part of a student affairs professional’s year. Successful programming is not only a skill, but an art. However, we need to be able to teach our programming standards to our full-time and student staffers so they understand what is and what is NOT an excellent program. Unfortunately programming expectations can be very nebulous, subjective, and many times concentrate on quantity rather than quality.

In order to better define the standards programming for my own student staff, I developed a simple, one-page Programming Rubric. Simply stated, a rubric is a written set of criteria for which a task is measured against. Rubrics are typically used by K-12 teacher and professors in the classroom in order to set the standards for how an essay, research paper, presentation, or other assignment will be graded.

The rubric includes a rating of Excellent, Good, Average, and Poor for five areas, including Pre-Planning, Marketing, Finances, Evaluation, and Overall Assessment. There is also a section for comments specific to the actual program being evaluated. Each rating has a numerical value attached to it so you can evaluate a program by creating a programming grade point average (GPA). Given there are five areas of evaluation, including the overall assessment, the points will range from a minimum of five to a maximum of 20. After adding each area together, you divide by five in order to get the program GPA. A programming GPA is a great standard for students because they can relate to it very easily, is easy for them to conceptualize, and offers you the opportunity to discuss results during one-on-one’s and semesterly and / or annual evaluations.

As a specific example, imagine you have a resident assistant who plans a resume writing workshop in which she invites an employee from career services to speak and offer tips. The RA discusses the program with you ahead of time and gets the proper consent as well as advice on how to improve the program. She advertises only using Facebook and spends $75.00 on pizza. Unfortunately, only five students attend the program, and there is little follow up of regarding student feedback and / or learning outcomes assessment. Using the rubic, you give a grading of “Good” (3.0) for Pre-Planning, “Poor” (1.0) for Marketing, “Average” (2.0) for Finances, “Average” (2.0) for Evaluation, and “Average” (2.0) for Overall Assessment. Adding these together, you get a score of 10 points. Divide that by five (for the five areas of assessment), and she earns an “Average” (2.0) GPA for the program.

Download the free Programming Rubric handout to help assess your programming. Feel free to utilize the rubric as a template that you can edit in order to create an appropriate tool for your own department and staffing needs.


Drunk Pumpkin Creates Alcohol Poisoning Awareness

October 26, 2012

Puking pumpkin for alcohol poisoning awareness.

Who knew that a pumpkin, a few safety pins, old newspapers, and some old clothes could create awareness about the signs of alcohol poisoning. That’s exactly what my staff and I used to create a “drunk pumpkin” outside of our office.

We partnered with our campus’s Alcohol & Other Drugs (AOD) education program along with student peer educators to host a table in which AOD information and promotional materials were available. Students could visit the table and take guesses at how many candy corn pieces and Tootsie Rolls were in two different jars. The two students who guess the correct number of pieces of candy (or closest to the correct amount) will win plastic buckets of Halloween goodies, including new scary movie DVD’s.

Developing this program was very easy and cost-effective. The pumpkin cost approximately $9.00, and the prizes were about $40.00 for the two DVD’s and the various candy and goodies to fill the plastic Halloween buckets. The program could even be planned without having a prize contest if your budget is limited. The clothes were stuffed with old newspapers and safety pinned together so the body could be moved without falling apart.

Facts about alcohol poisoning to include in your program can be found at CollegeDrinkingPrevention.gov, which includes the following:

Critical Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Poisoning

  • Mental confusion, stupor, coma, or person cannot be roused
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow breathing (fewer than eight breaths per minute)
  • Irregular breathing (10 seconds or more between breaths)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature), bluish skin color, paleness

This is an effective and cost-effective educational program that creates a lot of buzz among students. We had a lot of fun putting it together and encourage you to create a “drunk pumpkin” on your campus! Have a safe and Happy Halloween!


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