3 Offbeat Ways for Students to Assess Programs

So many of us shy away from assessing programs because we imagine the way it’s always done- a survey where you circle numbers, or check boxes, and give a lot of information with little return on our time investment. However, it doesn’t have to be this way! When you make it easy for people to share their thoughts and feedback, you will find that their answers are more robust and helpful. Here, I’ll share a few ideas for how you might do that:


Force people to take a side, and you’ll likely get some strong opinions. Coke or Pepsi. Beyonce or Rihanna. One Direction or 5SOS. The options and forced choices go on and on. How can you operationalize that natural willingness to chime in? At the end of an event, class, or initiative, prompt your participants to share a takeaway or suggestion…and then place it in a bowl or jar. From there, you have the feedback you need…and the overall opinion of the group on some of life’s biggest questions.



How did this workshop go, on a scale of terrible to awesome? Yes, you can send an email afterward and hope to capture the thoughts they left in the room, or flip through lots of survey sheets. Or, you can get a great visual representation of the room’s take on a topic. As a bonus, encourage participants to share a critique or bit of feedback, regardless of placement on the graph, to provide additional insight.

IMAGE CREDIT: Scholastic


We’ve all been there: someone asked us a question, and the words to answer it just didn’t come. But one way to get around this loss for words- provide them! At the close of an event, set up a “photo booth” or encourage selfies be posted to a hashtag. Place out the green (adjective) cards and request participants take a photo while holding the card that answers the question. As an example: “choose one word to describe your experience at this event,” or “choose a word to describe your experience signing up for this event.”


Any or all of these three methods could serve as a fun way to find out what people think about your work, while making it fun for them to volunteer the important information that could help you improve. What other methods have you used to get feedback on your events or initiatives?


Lead365 Conversations: Christian Cho on the Startup Mindset

Today’s Lead365 Conversation features Christian Cho, higher education critic and blogger, and his take on the startup mindset and how to support student entrepreneurialism. we had a long conversation with Christian, but we want to share our favorite part- discussion of how startups are a product of the generation that’s rising to power, their values, and what it’s doing for the world of work. He also shares a book recommendation that can help you start to cultivate your own startup mindset.

Share your thoughts and further questions in the comments, and thank you to Christian for taking some time to chat with us!

The Value of a Helping Hand

“Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm. As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”

-Audrey Hepburn

Community service has always been a huge part of my life. I think I learned it from my mom. She was always the classroom parent, or volunteering at various events my school put on. No matter how busy my three older siblings and I kept her, she always made time to give back to others in the community. So when I got to high school and our community service requirement was only 60 hours for the whole four years, I thought, “That’s it?”

Yes, high school was a busy time for all of us. The coursework was the heaviest we had seen to date, and you might have been involved in extracurriculars because you had to impress colleges, but we really weren’t that busy. Surely the kids in my high school had more than 15 spare hours every year to help others. 60 seemed like a dismal number. How were we supposed to make a difference with only 60 hours?

I find a lot of people that begin volunteering start out with the mentality that I had in high school. You sign up to volunteer somewhere and you think to yourself, “Yes! I’m going to make such a huge difference and impact so many lives!” And that’s great if that’s your goal! But no one can change the world in an afternoon. And a lot of times, when you sign up to volunteer at an organization, you’re never doing exactly what you think you signed up for.

Over the course of 7 years I’ve probably clocked in nearly 1,000 service hours at over 100 different organizations. And at every service event I see the same person. This person typically doesn’t volunteer often, and they are always shocked and disappointed by the tasks assigned to us. I’ve been to organizations that only wanted me and the other volunteers to organize their back storage room, and others where I was told to just stand at the entrance and greet guests. Not the kinds of tasks you’d expect at an organization that provides resources for babies born into poverty, and a food bank. And this person is upset that they don’t get to interact with the people they’re helping.

In volunteering, it’s not always about the clients. A lot of the times it is, but sometimes it’s just about the organization. And you know what? I’ve never seen anyone more grateful for my help than the woman that asked us to organize her storage room. Because the room was neat and easily navigable, she informed us that we just increased the efficacy of their program by a lot. No longer will clients have to sit and wait while a staff member does their best to be quick while retrieving something from that room. Now, it takes that staff member a matter of seconds. And the man that asked me to greet the guests at his food bank, informed me that his clients shouldn’t feel ashamed for needing help. So when they have the door opened for them by someone with a smile, it completely sets the tone for their experience.

It’s important to remember that when you volunteer, you’re often working with nonprofit organizations. They don’t have the time or the funds to pay someone overtime to organize a room. And they also can’t afford to have their staff greeting guests when they need them in the back handing out food. When someone comes along to do it, it’s a huge help whether it seems that way to you or not. So to that person, you might not have made an enriching connection with someone that the organization benefits, but you did help change at least one person’s life, even if it is just the director and their staff.

I was naive to think that 60 hours wasn’t enough. That was more than enough. Because the reality in the volunteering world, is that one hour cleaning out a room or greeting people can make all the difference.

Mike’s Leadership Spotlight: Fighting Apathy as an Ambassador

Part of being a student leader is just that- a student leader. You’re a temporary fixture in an institution that survived before you got there and will last after you leave your schooling and head to the real world. The good news is, as a student leader, your presence can be immortalized on campus for years to come after you depart for the next chapter. Jack Welch once said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you before a leader, success is about growing others.”

This is something I have taken to heart. The role that has the biggest impact on me being a student leader on campus has been being a student ambassador (tour guide). For me, this is the pinnacle of being a student leader; this is because I get to put Jack Welch’s words into something tangible. Showing prospective students around, hearing their stories and what drives them, whether it be student government, social justice or cultural understanding. I know if my school is a good fit for them and, if so, give them the opportunity to be a student leader by introducing them to current students and professors in those organizations, share their passions and get involved.


All the time we hear about apathy in new students when they come to university. As an ambassador for my institution, I get to be on the forefront of fighting that generalization and making a difference in the future of my school. This is why I think being a student ambassador is the most important leadership position I’ve held at my school. Not only will I be able to take pride in all the things that I have personally done to help make my school a better place, I will also get to take pride in the student leaders who I helped make that decision to come to our school and make a difference as a student leader. This is how I see myself leaving a permanent mark at my school and why being a student ambassador is by far the most rewarding opportunity that I have been a part of.

Gary’s Leadership Highlight: Abraham Lincoln

This month, the Lead365 team will be talking about examples of leadership in history. Be it actual historical moments, or ones that you’ve seen in movies or TV, we want to share with you the moments on the battlefield, in the courtroom, or in the newspapers, that make us want to be better leaders. Gary’s got another pick for a great historical film: Lincoln.

Lincoln helped create our country and developed the foundations that which today we still use. Though he was assassinated just after the end of a war he steered the country through, he led our country though the end of slavery. Lincoln led the U.S. through the Civil War, a conflict that had one of the deadliest impact in war history. He developed our country constitutionally and also got our economy up and running. This movie is powerful because Lincoln had a great impact on our country and the reason why the U.S. is the way it is today.

Top Five: Attracting a Diverse Student Leader Population

This post marks the start of our Top Five series, designed to provide practical advice on areas of interest and challenge in higher education. Today, we speak with Jamila Lee-Johnson and Walter Parrish, doctoral candidates at University of Wisconsin-Madison in Educational Leadership, about best practices for attracting a diverse population of student leaders on your campus. 

What sorts of experiences did you have as student leaders that led you to want to continue working with college students?
Like many other student affairs professionals, I was the over-involved student.  I was President of the Student Government, a member of the Honors program on my campus, an orientation guide and involved in numerous other positions on campus.  I did not fully understand what I wanted to do until I started working under the Vice –President of Student Affairs at Morehouse College during my junior and senior year, I loved being on a college campus, and I love helping others get to college, I felt like I was in my element.  I loved my college experience, and I wanted to help others get that same feeling I have and still have when I talk about my undergraduate experience, because my college experience definetly had a major impact on who I am today as an African American woman.

Walter: I was heavily involved since my first year of college. I created and developed a hip-hop dance organization, actively involved with the Black Student Union and diversity trainings, worked at the credit union on campus, student center, and in housing as a RA, etc. As I progressed in my college career and became more involved and engaged, I noticed my peers approached me for advice more frequently on how to operate their organizations, interpret policies, and navigate collegiate issues. It felt good assisting my colleagues and I wanted to provide students with the same excitement around campus engagement; it had a positive impact on our overall learning and development.

Jamila, having attended a historically black college (Clark Atlanta University), do you see any notable differences between your experience and that which your students have had?

Jamila:  Yes, I do.   I think one thing HBCUs do is cultivating leaders and allow students to feel empowered from Day 1. I think about when I first got to Clark Atlanta (CAU), I remember being inducted in into my freshman class, I remember thinking I belong here. At CAU, I was encouraged to be myself, start organizations, and just be involved not only on campus, but also in the community that surrounds Clark Atlanta.  What I have found is that when many students of color are at PWIs they often find themselves having to assimilate to the dominant white culture on campus.  I think that PWIs have more resources than HBCUs but often do not seek to see to learn what students of color may need in terms of providing support and for them to have a positive experience on campus.  When programs are created for students of color, they are often overlooked and do not have the proper tools in order to help the program maintain sustainability.  I also think that with universities facing budget problems, they will cut off programs that are meant for students of color. Which will often leave students not feeling like they can be apart of the campus of the college they attend.

I’ve often spoken to professionals that are concerned that their offerings don’t attract student leaders of color or other diverse backgrounds- are there notable mistakes that we make when framing these epxeriences that excludes underrepresented students?

Walter: I think the biggest mistake is not asking students what they want. As student affairs professionals, we often assume what our students need and desire. That is not the most effective way to engage underrepresented students (or anyone, honestly). Secondly, think about who is coordinating the initiatives and who participates. Programming is often sustained year after year with little to no modification or consideration for who participates (and who does not), why they participate, and what learning occurs. Due to the sometimes, hectic and demanding nature of our functional areas, assessment gets dropped or diminished. Yet, it is so crucial to our work. Also, if professionals want to attract and engage different populations of students, we need new faces at the planning tables to provide fresh perspectives and ideas. Not the same staff, planning the same events, every year. And if offices or campuses lack different perspectives and various identities at the professional level, that is also a problematic.

Now I want to get to our Top Five, in which you pose five points or tips for those looking to create a more inclusive and fruitful leadership experience for students of color or other underrepresented populations.

Point/Tip One: Diversify your staff.

This is particularly important at PWIs. Many, but not all, students of color and other underrepresented populations get excited to see faculty and staff who look like them and/or those who genuinely seek to understand students. Students of color, much like small children, are good at detecting faux-allies. Though, this does not mean that all students of color will connect with professionals of color. Additionally, this does not imply campuses should only hire professionals of color to exclusively work with underrepresented populations.

Point/Tip Two: Talk to your students.

If students of color are not engaged in programs and activities, perhaps they are simply not interested in the topic(s) or do not view them as relevant. So, ask yourselves, “why?” Then, ask them! The best way to understand students is to talk to them. Seek to understand, before being understood.

Point/Tip Three: Diversify programming and initiatives.

Our jobs are to holistically develop students. Not one particular population, but students of various and multiple identities. When we do not value the existing diversity on campus, we prevent students from engaging with each other and send them off ill prepared to partake in a pluralistic society. Simply because a campus is composed of majority White students does not suggest every experience should attract or cater to only White students. Stated differently, experiences at PWIs should attract students of multiple identities and not perpetuate the habit of conforming and assimilating to the majority, as most students of color endure. Yes, senior administrators are concerned with budgets, attendance numbers, and return-on-investments. Therefore, conscious and intentional planning is required.

Point/Tip Four: Help students understand the relevancy of campus engagement.

One reason students of color may not engage with the campus community is because they do not see the experiences as applicable or significant to their present and future. Campus engagement allows students to hone skills such as communication, organization, leadership, networking, and other learning outcomes that are transferable to the workplace. Discuss post-graduation possibilities and how to best gain (and communicate) the necessary skills to begin a successful career.

Point/Tip Five:  Make underrepresented students feel like they belong.

This is probably the most complex tip because it varies between individual. The unfortunate reality is underrepresented students (not all) tend to feel disconnected or have a low sense of belongingness. Professionals should be cognizant of verbal and non-verbal communications, understand their own privileges, and sincerely seek to gain a better understanding of the experiences of underrepresented and marginalized students.  Remember, all students have equal ownership of the space. It is our job, as professionals, to create and facilitate inclusive communities.

If you had to distill all of this into one suggestion for professionals seeking to create a more inclusive environment for attracting and engaging student leaders, what would you suggest?

Jamila: I would tell them to not just look at what the numbers are saying, but actually go out and talk to the students. Not just student leaders, but students who may not be as involved as other students who are repeatedly called on to represent all students of color.  Talk to students of color staff, and they maybe able to provide input on what is needed to engaged students.

Walter: Have sincere conversations with your students and speak up for them when their voices cannot be heard. Imagine being an underrepresented student on campus. What would you want and how would you want administrators to address and advocate for your needs?

Lead365 Conversations: Lauren Irwin on Social Justice and Leadership

On this edition of “Lead365 Conversations,” we speak with Lauren Irwin of California Polytechnic State University about social justice and leadership. We’ll learn more about what social justice means to her, how she sees it taking hold in society and with students, and how you can incorporate it into your own leadership style. Thank you so much Lauren, it was a pleasure talking to you and best wishes as you continue easing into your new role!

As promised, we wanted to share Lauren’s reading list with you- check out the titles below to learn more about your transformation into a socially just leader:

For Students

  • I wrote an article in April 2015’s issue of Campus Activities Programming, called Becoming a Socially Responsible Leader (pg. 22): http://issuu.com/naca/docs/april_2015
  • 35 Dumb Thing Well-Intended People Say by Dr. Maura Cullen (we recommend this one!)
  • Exploring Leadership: For College Students Who Want to Make a Difference, by Komives, Lucas, and McMahon
  • Leadership for a Better World, by Komives and Wagner

For Professionals (or More Ambitious Students!)

  • Alimo, C. J. (2012). From dialogue to action: The impact of cross-race intergroup dialogue on the development of white college students as racial allies. Equity & Excellence in Education, 45 (1), 36-59.
  • Broido, E. M. (2000). The development of social justice allies during college: A phenomenological investigation. Journal of College Student Development, 41 (1), 3-18.
  • Chase, S. E. (2010). Learning to speak, learning to listen: how diversity works on campus. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Dugan, J. P. (2006b). Involvement and leadership: A descriptive analysis of socially responsible leadership. Journal of College Student Development, 47 (3), 335-343.
  • Dugan, J. P., Bohle, C. W., Woelker, L. R., & Cooney, M.A. (2014). The role of social perspective-taking in developing students’ leadership capacities. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 51(1), 1-15.